How to Eat a Bear! (Or: why good habits are better than resolutions)
It’s a new year! It’s a new decade! The motivation to start fresh is strong, and the desire to leave our “old ways” (whatever those are) can be overwhelming. (If, however, your new year’s “goals” are a reaction to a few weeks of holiday hedonism, just slide back into your pre-party routine and things will level out–no whole-life-overhaul required!)
Resolutions are nothing new. Humans have been “resolving” things as far back as the Babylonians who made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts, and the knights of the medieval era took a "peacock vow" at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.
A fresh start is a great motivator. In fact, a study found that 46% of participants who made common New Year's resolutions (weight loss, exercise programs, quitting smoking) were over ten times as likely to succeed than those who made changes at other times of the year.
However, a 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study's participants were confident of success at the beginning. Goals were achieved 22% more often when they were set as small and measurable (e.g., "lost a pound a week") rather than broad resolutions ("lose weight").
While new beginnings can spur a desire for change, winter is not actually a great time to disrupt your routine. If you look to nature, most living things are doing the bare minimum just to survive until spring. Plants aren’t doing much of anything. Bears are asleep. Most animals have stocked up and hunkered down and are generally trying to use as little energy as possible, yet humans have decided that this is when we exercise more and eat less! 🤯
It’s a great time for motivation and a terrible time for momentum, SO what’s a goal-oriented human to do? 😱
Make change the same way you eat a bear. (Or, for the vegans: a record setting pumpkin?)
One bite at a time! ;)
I'm outta here!
This is the Game of Incrementalism. Progress by degree. Small changes that build on each other. A staircase to success!
This is how you accomplish big things and capitalize on the energy of the new year, while also being mindful of winter energy levels and the realities of willpower, discipline and motivation. 😩
Now, I’m not going to use this opportunity to tell you about how you need to set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound, because if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already read the 3.2 gajillion blogs about goal setting. (If you have not, here you go.)
I am, however, going to remind you that small, specific, actionable goals are the way to go, far easier to implement, and more likely to be successful than unwieldy “resolutions.”
Before You Start: Set Your Why.
Motivation is defined as the reason you have for acting or behaving in a certain way. The initial excitement around your BIG NEW PLANS will eventually wear off (just how it is), so being reminded of why you took this on in the first place is key. Write it down, and put it where you can see it everyday. The refrigerator door and the bathroom mirror are great spots for a reason!
Step 1: Start Small.
No, I am not letting you off the hook, there is science that shows that small accomplishments lead to big accomplishments because the momentum of success builds on itself.
When changing a behavior, we usually go about it in one of three ways. We are either trying to:
- start a new behavior,
- stop an old behavior,
- or replace an undesirable behavior with a better one.
Replacement habits are generally the most successful because they require minimal disruption of your routine, which already has momentum, so why not start with what we’ve got!
If one of your resolutions for 2020 is to, say, drink less coffee (how very...convenient of us to suggest!) you are in luck. Since your coffee-making routine already has momentum, swapping it out with something else requires minimum effort because the action is already in place. (This also works well with dietary changes since meal times are already a part of your routine and have momentum.)
When motivation starts to wane (usually around the end of January), you are already in motion, and much more likely to keep going.
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Step 2: Start Early.
Behavior change is hard, and requires a combination of motivation, self-discipline, willpower, and straight up work. But focusing on changing your habits in the morning is the closest thing to a magic bullet that there is for two reasons:
- When you focus on your habits in the morning, you are starting the day on a positive note, which starts you on an upward, rather than downward, spiral. Even small positive changes slowly build on each other to create something great.
- In the morning, willpower is at its peak. Willpower is a finite resource, so after a long day you’re significantly less likely to follow through on your goals. (If you’re looking to start exercising / meditating / doing anything more… waiting until the end of the day after a long day of work probably isn’t the best option.)
🧬DROPPING SCIENCE 🧬
Starting your day with Rasa is a small change that has big results. In most healthy people, cortisol is naturally highest first thing in the morning (around 6 am). Coffee causes a cortisol spike, which is part of why you feel like you can conquer the m-fing world when you drink it.
However, when you have coffee in the morning (before 9 am), you’re raising cortisol levels higher than normal. Over time, this means your body will produce less cortisol on its own in order to compensate for the coffee, making it harder and harder to wake up without caffeine, and leading to bigger afternoon crashes!
🧬Science lesson over! 🧬
Of course, with any new behavior, you’re still going to have to do the actual work, but starting early in the day will make things that much easier, especially with new habits!
Step 3: Stick With It.
When motivation starts to wane, and the little voice in your head repeating your why grows fainter, you need straight up self-discipline. Motivation is the reason you’re making a change, but discipline is how you’ll actually get there.
According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, it can take 18-254 days to form a new habit and it takes approximately 66 days (your mileage may vary) for a behavior to become automatic. According to motivational guru, Zig Ziglar, “Motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing–that’s why we recommend it daily!”
We like the 21/90 rule when it comes to starting new habits. The rule is simple enough: commit to a goal for 21 days straight. After three weeks, that goal is close to becoming a habit. Once you've established that habit, you continue to do it until you hit 90 days, by then the new behavior should have become automatic. If you start a new goal every 90 days, you’ll have added four new behaviors over the course of the year!
But the reality is, with anything worth doing, you have to actually do it. Don’t just talk about it, don’t just post about it, don’t just dream about it. Actually. DO. THE. THING. And the longer you do it, the easier it gets, and once this new habit becomes an automatic behavior, it’s time to…
Do it again!
Every sports team will tell you, they all play their best coming off a big win. When your new good habit becomes your old good habit–an easy part of your everyday routine–that’s when momentum, motivation and willpower are high and you’re primed to add the next thing.
What are your goals and resolutions for 2020? Leave them in the comments, we 💛to hear from you!
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Author: Catie Webster