“In 2020, I vow to drink more water, eat more mindfully, practice my art, meditate, use my time more wisely, clean my house every day, only buy organic and spend time in nature!”
Sound familiar? Most of us have plenty of habits and practice that we want to change, and the dawning of the new decade feels like just the right time to instate ALL of them, right?
Sorry to burst your bubble, but the human brain just isn’t wired to change EVERY habit, all at once. According to Wendy Wood, a psychology professor at the University of Southern California, habits are more accurately called “mental associations”. “About 43 percent of everyday actions are done repeatedly almost every day in the same context,” Wendy says. “It’s very much like driving. We have this general sense that we’re doing things but it’s not driven by an active decision-making process.” There are ways that we can “stack” new daily practices together (more on that later), but for most of us, single focus and intention will help us more successfully reach our goals.
By combining research, mindfulness, and experience, we’ve come up with a surefire recipe to help you commit to new routines and keep them! And remember, new habit formation doesn’t need to be reserved for January 1st; we can all start fresh daily.
1) Create a SMART goal or intention
This cheeky little acronym used by CEO’s and businesses works just as well for personal goals! It helps us break down the most important aspects of an intention: the Why and the How.
- Specific: You have clearly defined what you want to accomplish.
- Measurable: You have identified targets and milestones to track your progress.
- Attainable: Your goal is realistic and manageable.
- Relevant: You have identified a goal that aligns with your higher Self.
- Time-Based: You have identified a specific period of time for the goal.
For artistic types, we know this can feel rigid, so let’s offer another way to look at it:
Simply ask yourself, “What is the new behavior I want to establish? Why do I want to practice this behavior? How will I execute this plan?” Be sure to express it positive terms as well: Rather than saying, “I will not eat processed foods,” try “I will focus on eating whole foods at every meal.”
2) Create a Cue
This cue can be as straightforward as a specific time: “I always journal from 8- 8:30 am”;
Or it can be “stacked” onto a habit you already have: “Whenever I leave from work, I change into my gym clothes and head to the gym.” Another hack is to use a big environmental change, like changing your job or moving to a new home, to build in new habits. However you decide to initiate your change of pattern, be clear about what the trigger is! This will be key in helping you remember to keep up with your goal.
3) Reduce Friction
Let’s say this another way- Make it easy to change! This might mean sleeping in your running gear, intentionally buying only healthy foods or keeping your dance bag packed in the car. When we get really honest with ourselves, we can see how easily we’ve skipped out on something we really wanted to do, in favor of an easier, more frictionless choice. If you’ve ever eaten a bag of chips for dinner instead of going shopping for healthy foods, you know what we’re talking about.
Meditators have been using this strategy for centuries: They learn to eliminate distractions by practicing early in the morning; they keep an altar to put their teachers and intentions at the top of their mind; they put out their cushion to remind them of their practice. They PLAN for follow through. How can you plan to accomplish your goals?
You want to put most of the thought into the planning phase, so when you finally get your cue, you can dive straight into the practice. Create a training regimen for yourself- just so it’s there- and let yourself be inspired to add or make changes as you go. Remember that when it comes to building a new pattern, it’s consistency over quantity. Don’t burn yourself out with overly-rigid training schedules!
4) Give Yourself A Gold Star
We joke around a lot about handing out gold stars in the studio, but the truth is, our brain is evolved to respond to positive reinforcement, no matter how trivial the positive is. As part of the SMART model, you’ve already chosen a measurable goal that you can track, and this is where the tracking comes in. Imagine what your milestones could be: Running a 7 minute mile, taking 10 classes a month, or entering a piece of art into a competition. Now, when you reach your milestone, you get a reward!
A note on choosing rewards- It’s important that your reward does not undermine your goal. Read: A slice of cake for going on a run, or a shopping spree for paying of a credit card is NOT going to help you with long-term behavior modification, even if it feels justifiably good in the present moment. Instead, choose a supporting reward: Substitute a bubble bath for the cake, and a gathering with friends for the shopping spree, and you’ve got yourself some healthy and supportive rewards on the horizon!
We hope you feel ready and equipped to accomplish all that you set out to do in 2020, and we leave you with this sage advice from LionsRoar:
“Remember, this is about celebrating your accomplishments, not beating yourself up when you miss a day. Through daily small changes of routine, your whole life can shift over time to a new trajectory. Just remember to enjoy the journey.”