Quit smoking. Lose weight. Exercise more. Take a class. Do any of these sound familiar? Each of us has areas about ourselves that we’d like to improve, goals we want to achieve. But so often our resolutions break as they batter against the rocky shores of our day to day lives. How then, can we reach our goals?
The answer lies in our habits.
Habits and routines fill out days, pushing and pulling us towards good and bad outcomes. They can lead us towards health and longevity or towards sickness and chronic illness. How do we make sure that we develop good habits and let go of some of the other patterns acquired over time that may not be so healthy?
The truth is that it’s going to take a little time but that it can be done!
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, breaks down the steps to changing our habits into four rules. Let’s look at each rule now and how what it means. The first rule is to pick a simple goal or change that you want to make. Sure, it would be great to run five miles a day, but if you currently get winded walking to the mailbox, setting yourself a goal like that right out of the gate will only set you up for failure and feeling miserable because you haven’t achieved your goal. Maybe you do want to run five miles a day. Make your first goal something clear and achievable. Say running for 15 minutes three times a week? Now, you’ll notice that our goal wasn’t run five miles a day by August 31st, or even be running 15 minutes three times a week by August 31st. If you set a goal date rather than a schedule, you haven’t given yourself a clear path to get from where you are now to where you want to be.
Next, make sure you have a compelling reason to achieve your goal. For the example above, this could be to feel healthier, to set a good example for your children, to relieve some symptoms of a chronic illness, or even simply to tell people that you are a runner! The reason should be ones that are important to you so that you will have the motivation to stick to them.
Now, make your goal something easy for you to fit into your day and with reminders to do it. For example, maybe you’re not a morning person, so getting up at 5 AM to run is simply not going to happen. To solve this, you could try running after work in the evening, bringing running shoes to work and run during your lunch break, or enlisting the help of a running partner to help keep you accountable and make running a little more fun. To help prompt that run, put your car keys by your shoes so when you go to leave work you see them, or make as standing date with your running buddy so you know exactly what you are going to do when you go to meet them. It’s like putting the floss next to your toothpaste. When you see one, you’ll remember the other!
Lastly, make achieving your goal satisfying. On those days that you did get out and run, take a moment to reflect on the reasons that you wanted to do this in the first place. Congratulate yourself on taking steps towards better health, or setting a better example for your children, or maybe even just admire how toned your body is getting from the exercise. Whatever feels like real positive reinforcement.
None of us is perfect, so there will be times when you’ll break your streak of a good habit. Acknowledge that you didn’t meet your goal for the day and move past it. Just because you didn’t do it for one day doesn’t mean you should scrap the whole thing. It simply means you should take a look at the reasons you missed your goal today, and see if there’s anything you can do to change that for the next time. Then take a moment to congratulate yourself on the number of days you did manage to stick to your goals and know that you can do better than next time around.
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