Changing Your Habits for GoodA New Year's resolution can feel like a new door has opened. But getting into the right mindset and staying there are two different things. Keeping up with new goals can be exciting at first, but as the year progresses, it's not uncommon to stray. Here are five tips to help you turn your New Year's resolution into a lasting habit.
1. Believe You Can Change
Belief is one of the main cornerstones of change. It's truly a powerful contributing ingredient when it comes to new habits taking hold. Believing that change actually is possible, whether that belief comes from within or through an external source, adds a tremendous resource to your toolkit. Belief helps to cultivate a powerful mindset that's more critical than perseverance, willingness or personal commitment. Start by believing and take it from there.
2. Visualize the Change
Once you've opened yourself up to the reality that change really is possible, visualization will become a lot easier. Visualization is an essential tool for building new habits. In addition to offering relaxation, inspiration and improved focus, this important step of the process allows you to fully immerse yourself in your goal in order to build your confidence, reinforce your purpose, and actually see yourself meeting your goals at the finish line.
It might sound like a bit of fiction, but visualization can actually implant memories as if they were real. Visualizing each step of a process helps to ingrain habits until they become second nature, which makes it that much easier to stay the course even when the unexpected happens.
This technique has actually been a key ingredient for athletes' success for many years. Olympic swimmers including Michael Phelps are famous for utilizing this process so often and with such efficacy that they attribute it to their success. By visualizing each stroke needed to propel himself through the water in a race, winning became second nature. That's how he landed a new world record in Bejing even though, for much of the race, his goggles were filled with water. The power of visualization is real. It works for world class athletes and it can work for you.
3. Break it Up
In order to visualize achieving your goal, you'll need to be able to clearly think about each piece of the puzzle, not just the end result. But breaking up the task serves another important purpose: Giving each goal a milestone along the way will provide clear-cut markers for success and more reasons to pat yourself on the back along the way. Goals aren't achieved overnight, and that's true for the big tasks as well as the smaller ones.
No matter the size of your goal, your initial milestone should be small enough to be totally attainable. This is particularly true for large, long-term goals and goals that require you to change an ingrained habit. For example, if your goal is to lose 30 pounds, don't immediately make weight loss your milestone. First, consider that replacing one bad food with a better one is already a huge success. If you can replace one food once a week, you might set a new goal to replace two foods in the week after that; goals of this proportion help keep your momentum up and will boost your confidence to keep you working toward your goal. An ideal first small goal should be attainable within 5-10 days. Once you have a few small goals under your belt, you can begin to up the ante.
4. Set a Date
Procrastination can undo even the most ambitious planner's goals. Without a deadline, things tend to get pushed aside in favor of other tasks.
Whether your own bad habits are keeping you from achieving your goal or your lifestyle keeps you endlessly busy, setting aside time each day to work on things like visualization is necessary in order to get you closer to your objective. Getting into the habit of setting a target date for each individual milestone will keep you from getting off course and derailing completely. That being said, if you do happen to get off track, don't spend too much time dwelling. Give yourself permission to fail and fail quickly. Use your failures as a learning opportunity rather than a tool for personal punishment; getting back up after any damaging setback is how you'll grow and eventually accomplish your goals.
5. Loop Someone In
Telling someone about your goals might be just the support you need to keep going even when times get tough. A support group might give you something to believe in or it might just hold you accountable. When you're accountable, you're more likely to follow through on a task because of the power of social expectations. Social expectations give you one more reason to stick with your new goals, whether that's to eat better, quit smoking or finish school. Having a buddy with a similar goal by your side allows you to check in, measure and record your progress regularly,giving the both of you a real reason to follow through. Telling one or more people about your goal also provides you with the support you'll need when you may feel like giving up. Like a coach by your side, an accountability friend or support group will be able to rally around and encourage you to finish this week's goal even when you're not feeling up to the task.