—Amy M. Gardner
“I’m too old to create new habits,” the client told me.
(We had been discussing his desire to start a new habit he felt it would be advantageous to his career.)
“What do you mean?” I asked, assuming I was misunderstanding. Nope, I was not:
“I’m too far along in my career and too set in my ways at this age to learn a new habit,” he clarified.
“Aren’t you 30?” I asked.
“No,” he said – “I’m 31.”
Can you imagine? The average American lives into their late 70s. Yet not even halfway into his life, he thought it was too late for him to adopt a new habit. He was wrong, of course, but I’ve been thinking a lot about that conversation as we are in the midst of what seems like prime time for people to talk about – if not necessarily adopt – new habits. In case you, too, might be thinking about new habits you’d like to adopt, I’ve assembled five tips that helped me – and my clients – create new habits in 2018.
1.) Go streaking.
No, not that kind of streaking. In 2018, I set what was for me an ambitious goal for running a certain number of miles. I promptly fell behind, so much so that I thought meeting the goal was hopeless. Then I learned about the Runners World Run Streak. The concept is simple – run at least one mile per day starting Thanksgiving Day and ending on New Year’s Day, for a total of 41 days and miles.
I needed much more than 41 miles to meet my goal, but I realized that as long as I was going to the trouble to run anyway, I might as well divide the miles I had remaining by 41 and go for it. 40 days later I met my goal, and by day 41 I had shifted my thinking from “am I going to run today?” to “when am I going to run today?”
In other words, by adopting a streak, you take the decision making out of the equation – rather than relying on your own willpower to get you to do the habit you’re trying to adopt, you simply focus on the logistics.
You can use the streak technique for any other habit; I have a client who is using the streak technique to focus on networking. Each business day he contacts one person and asks them to coffee or has coffee with someone, and sends out an email to someone in his network to nurture that relationship. The goal was for him to do this every day for one month, on the theory that after 20 work days he would have enhanced at least ten relationships. Several months later, he’s still “streaking” – even pre-programming emails to go out during his vacation because he didn’t want to break the streak!
That client aside, a streak doesn’t have to be intended to last forever. Research shows that it takes anywhere from 66 to 250 days to adopt a new habit. Even if you plan to use the streak for 70 days before cutting back to a few days a week, a streak can still help you create lasting change as you see that it’s possible to work the new habit into your life and schedule.
So if you’re having trouble getting started, consider a streak.
2.) Keep track of your progress.
The client mentioned above printed off a monthly calendar and shades it in each day after he sends one of his emails or has coffee with a contact. Jerry Seinfeld famously puts an X through the date on his calendar each day when he writes. There are also apps you can use to track habits. (Lifehacker has an extensive roundup here.) I used to use one of those apps because it gave me notifications on my phone reminding me to do certain things at certain times. Now I use an analog solution – the Full Focus Planner, which includes habit trackers where you cross off each day you complete a new habit. Whatever method you use, don’t underestimate the satisfaction you might get from checking off the day/coloring in a box/marking the task off in an app. Plus, the visual of seeing how long you’ve been maintaining your new habit (and not wanting to break a chain) can be a great motivator when you are tempted to skip a day.
3.) Use your phone.
You’re carrying it with you anyway, so why not use your phone to help you adopt new habits? As noted above, many habit apps include notifications to pop up at noon, for example, to remind you to do any morning habits you haven’t checked off. Because I now use the Full Focus Planner to track new habits I’m trying to adopt, I use the alarms on my phone for various reminders. For example, if you’re trying to stretch every hour, you can have a notification pop up on your phone to remind you to stretch, or anything else. If you’re trying to go to bed earlier at night, you can also set an alarm to pop up an hour before you want to go to sleep to remind you to start wrapping up for the day.
4.) Have some skin in the game.
Having a financial investment in meeting your goal can be a good motivator. One way to do that is to stop trying to go it alone, and instead bring in an expert to help you. If you’ve always wanted to learn Italian but haven’t moved beyond the first lessons on Duolingo, maybe it’s time to hire a tutor. Or if you keep telling yourself you need to decide whether to push for a promotion or leave that job that’s making you miserable, maybe it’s time to hire a career coach. Whatever it is, a financial investment can be a good motivator, and if it’s an investment in an expert who can help you save time and stress, you’re likely to get faster and better results.
5.) Decide what you’ll do when the novelty wears off.
You can do just about anything once. Maybe even for a week. But once the novelty has worn off – you’ve emailed the “easy” people on your contacts list, or the excitement of new running shoes is forgotten – you need to be able to keep the habit going. Three different things can be useful and have helped me – and my clients – adopt new habits.
First is an accountability partner – someone else who will serve as a check and encouragement for you to keep going. The drawback is that accountability partners often lose interest, and may not be willing to hold your feet to the fire.
Second is a coach, as mentioned above.
Third is a mastermind. As I’ve written about before, a paid mastermind group gives you financial incentive to keep pushing on your goals, and the help and accountability to do it. Suddenly instead of one person alone trying to keep going, you are part of a supportive community of people trying to adopt new habits, push themselves further than they thought possible, and encouraged and helped along by a qualified coach. Having someone who can both hold your hand and give you a kick in the pants, depending upon your needs, can help you save untold amounts of time and energy and allow you to conserve those vital resources for the real work: adopting and maintaining your new habits. Whether an Apochromatik Future in Focus 2019 Mastermind or some other option, consider whether a mastermind can help you adopt habits that can propel you farther.
There you have it – five tips to help you create new goals in 2019. Do you have goals to adapt new habits in 2019? What habits do you want to adopt? Please let us know in the comments.