January 01, 2016

Resolution Realization: The Only Trick That Really Works. (For Me).



By Crabby McSlacker

So I used to think the whole idea of New Year's resolutions was stupid and arbitrary. But now I'm more like: "hell, why not?"

I'm always working on some sort of goal anyway. So why not take advantage of the timing? If I undertake a delusional quest for behavioral change at the same time everyone else is similarly psyched up, we can all pretend together that there is something magical about a date on a calendar!

Will it help our motivation? Who knows? But the fantasy of a fresh start is pretty darn enjoyable in itself.

This year, however, I cheated and started a while back, working on something I wanted to change.  I tried an approach that is anything but new, and you've already heard it a hundred times. I know I've written about it many times before. It's so simple and obvious you'll feel totally cheated when I remind you of what it is.

Yet if you actually use it, instead of saying "I know that" and ignoring it--well, damn it if it doesn't totally work. Could be very handy for use as a new year's resolution tool.

At least the results for me have been pretty amazing. Using this method I went quite quickly from Wishful Thinking to a full-fledged Sustainable Behavioral Change! And I felt the difference almost instantly. I'm actually pretty confident that as long as I keep applying this principle, I will continue to be successful.  And conversely, I suspect that as soon as I go back to "knowing it" but not "doing it," I'll be back daydreaming about accomplishments rather than having any.

Are there major drawbacks to this method? Of course there are! More about that later.

Meanwhile, here's your simple recipe for New Year's Resolution Success:

1. Take ONE and only ONE behavioral goal.

This may be the hardest part. You want to change everything for the new year! But the trick won't work reliably unless you take just one thing at a time.

My real life example: I needed to get back to writing my novel. I had become disheartened by how sucky it seemed and I was very close to giving up entirely.

2. Break the goal down into an insanely small, easy, incremental change. 

You may find that you accidentally do more, but do NOT start demanding more of yourself. Then you will start dreading the process, instead of feeling relieved every time that it was such a piece of cake.

Talk about small: I required myself to write one sentence in my novel every day.  Seriously, that's all.

Similarly, if you were trying to add more exercise to your routine? Try two extra minutes walking per day than you were before.

3. Find a natural, reliable trigger for the slightly-more-positive behavior.  

You want to link your new behavior to something that occurs regularly in your day, or set up a recurring timer or calendar reminder.

One thing that won't work? A non-specific hope that your future self will accomplish the behavior sometime during the day. You need to know when and where this easy-peasey activity is going to happen. Or the day will be done and you will realize you forgot.

Real life example: I must open my word document and write something while I'm drinking my first cup of coffee in the morning. And there is no chance in hell that I'm not having a first cup of coffee.

Here's a hypothetical exercise example: At lunchtime, before eating lunch, you could go outside and walk around your office building.

(Note: if you work somewhere like the Pentagon or on an oil rig out on the ocean, or if you are a pilot or flight attendant, you may need another plan).

4. Keep practicing using the trigger to initiate the behavior over and over--for a ridiculously long time.

You will be tempted to increase the goal behavior too soon.  It's fine to increase your activity, but you do not get to change your expectations about minimally acceptable behavior. At least not until you are so mindlessly consistent and proficient at overshooting your initial target that there is no danger of discouragement if you raise your expectations a little.

For example, I've been writing a few hundred words in my novel almost every day for the last 3 weeks or so, but my minimum is still one sentence. My thought is that once we get through most of this real-estate madness and drive to Austin, I may increase that target. But by then I'll have had a good long run of surviving the ego-deflating lameness of my creative process on a daily basis.

5.  Celebrate successes with great pride and smugness.

It may feel ridiculous to celebrate a miniscule daily accomplishment, but you are building consistency and changing the unconscious parts of your brain and this is HUGE.

Real life:  I actually do feel really psyched that I am still writing, even on days where I literally only write once sentence.

6. Acknowledge f-ckups nonjudgmentally, and tweak goals or triggers accordingly.

Even laughably small goals can be hard to meet consistently, especially if it's a totally new behavior, or your life gets crazy, or other priorities start to seem more important, or you haven't set up your environment to make success as easy as possible.  You may have to troubleshoot or pick an even easier target.

But DO NOT GIVE UP! Your subconscious mind will use it to mess with you. It will hoard the evidence of your failure and subvert you with it later, just for kicks.  Don't give it the ammunition!

7. Once the new behavior becomes so habitual that motivation is barely an issue anymore, then and only then can you add greater expectations.  

You will of course be tempted to make the next incremental change way bigger than the first.  Resist!

What Sucks BigTime About This Method:

It's incredibly slow. And it's not very sexy.

You may feel a like a pathetic loser setting the bar so low, and keeping it there so long.  And who wants to tackle just one change at a time when there are so many challenges in life to tackle?

But on the other hand, think of how many people make the same resolutions every year, and never keep them?

Are there other people who claim to have invented this approach?

Yes! Because it's not exactly rocket science.  Anyone who tends to overthink everything about their own personal growth eventually stumbles onto it. But if you want a whole program designed around a similar concept, there's a guy who does something like this over at tinyhabits.com.

Have any of you ever kept a behavior-change promise to yourself by making it tiny and slow, or do you like to go for it in a big way?

42 comments:

  1. Reminds me of the saying, "Slow and steady wins the race." As to how I make changes, it varies. I've actually told myself that as long as I've opened a document with the intent to do something it's a win.
    That said, your way works and I have done it. I've let walking go in the last few months as I was busy with a rewrite ( so I told myself). Now that it's done I went out for a walk before breakfast this morning and will likely do something similar tomorrow.

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    1. Love the opening of a document as a win, Leah. Because with that attitude, the document is way more likely to get opened! And nothings going to happen without that first step.

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    2. Slow and steady has a lot of logic behind it, but fast and now is how I have been going. As this is my 50th year, perhaps I am ready to try new things. Nice on the walking, Leah! Your area looks so beautiful!

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  2. Death Ride GrandmaJanuary 1, 2016 at 9:08 PM

    In a way, yes. That's pretty much how I started to get back in shape. I had to spend 30 minutes on the stationary bike every day. I was already spending some time at the gym, so 30 minutes wasn't huge; only the consisted was a big deal. I also had to write it in my little exercise journal. Actually, that made it easier to stay honest - a written record makes an effective conscience.

    I also find a variation on this very, very useful for getting annoying tasks done. I tell myself all I have to do is start them - then I can stop if they are just too awful. But of course, they almost never are. I sit wondering why I found it so hard to begin...then do the exact same little routine the next time the task comes around.

    This topic is of great interest to me just now. I retired - and after 42 years of knowing just where I'd be most days, I am a little afraid of letting my days drift too much. Also excited about all the opportunities. Anyway, we are now in New Zealand & I am trying to be sure to fit in a proper amount of exercise. I try to think of all your great vacation activity photos!

    It's great to hear that your novel is moving forward. It will really be great to see once it is ready!

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    1. DRG, I think your retirement is going to be a fantastic adventure--both in terms of activities as well as getting to know yourself in a whole new context. I suspect you will have no trouble filling your days! I do not see you as the soap-opera and bon-bon sort of retiree.

      Have a GREAT time in New Zealand!!

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    2. Agree with Crabby that your retirement is going to be fantastic--you have a proven ability to lead an interesting life.

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

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    3. Congratulations on your retirement, DRG! I am sure you will find ways to fill your days. Enjoy NZ! It looks so lovely there!

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  3. (Your novel is not sucky.)
    I guess the closest I've come to that method is telling myself to just deal with ONE piece of paper. But not on a daily basis. Mostly there are so many different things clamoring for attention that picking one would be disastrous.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

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    1. Mary Anne, I know how incredibly busy your days are, so when you try to take on a new challenge, I can see how it can't necessarily be a daily commitment.

      For my creative writing endeavor, I'm discovering that the monsters of Doubt and Fear and even Disgust start taking over my brain and it can lead to complete avoidance if I don't fight a daily battle with them. But once I engage, I find I actually enjoy my time in the trenches!

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    2. Good! Continue to slay the monsters on a regular basis.

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

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    3. Your method sounds nice and relaxing, Mary Anne!

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    4. Low stress, but not very effective. ;)

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    5. Death Ride GrandmaJanuary 2, 2016 at 8:52 PM

      Mary anne, as long as you keep finding time to come here, you clearly have set some good priorities!

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  4. A blessed and beautiful Happy New Year to you and everyone you love! Slow and steady does win the race, you know.

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    1. Happy New Year messymimi! And I know you are someone who accomplishes a LOT, so I'm thinking your "slow" in slow and steady is probably relative and would be anything but slow to most people!

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  5. Happy New Year!

    I totally felt/feel the same way about resolutions---I haven't been interested in them for years and this year I was all like, RESOLUTION TIME! :)

    All about the slow, small steps. We can do it!

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    1. Happy New Year and good luck with your resolution(s), Sagan!

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    2. Yay Sagan! And thanks so much Kimbereley for being so encouraging of everyone!

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  6. You may be on to something here. There was that one year where I resolved to meditate every day, it didn't matter if it was walking, chanting, sitting, etc. I just needed to do it every day for a year. And I did. I was quite pleased with myself.

    This year I have a couple things I am quitting and a few things I am starting or restarting. The one I must do every day is journal and I think that will help with the rest.

    Happy New Year and I wish you continued success with your writing!

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    1. I was SO impressed by your year of meditation Kimberley! And so I'll be really curious about how the daily journaling goes. Keep us posted!

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  7. I love this post and reading about your novel progress!! YAY! I am working with a nutritionist on campus and in our first meeting she talked about setting reasonable goals. Whaaaa?!? What is this term 'reasonable' and what could it possible have to do with goal setting?!?! HA! :-) Yep, I tend to lean toward 'all or nothing' thinking and am starting to understand that this doesn't serve me in the long run. So cheers to YOU, 2016, and reasonable goals xo

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    1. Thanks so much Theresa! And you crack me up with the whole "reasonable" question--'cause yeah, what fun is that? I actually have incredibly delusional ultimate goals, but its when it comes to actual actions I plan to commit to that I start getting all low-bar and mellow. And good luck on the nutrition stuff!

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  8. I can't believe I forgot to mention this. I am so excited about it being a leap year and having an extra day. I hope my fellow Cranketeers plan something special for February 29. Even if it is just having a fancy coffee or taking a nice, long walk. I am considering all the possibilities and plan on doing SOMETHING!

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    1. What a great idea Kimberley! I never thought about treating it as special, but what a kick to think of it as an "extra" free day?

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  9. This year is going to be all about recuperation for me so I imagine that small goals are going to be the key once I have my damn hip surgery and keep trying to heal the fractured spine to avoid that surgery (long sigh here. . . ). So, I think this is just what I needed to hear, Crabby. Thanks.

    The good news is I've kept the weight off (even lost a few more) with sheer meanness and a recumbent bike. This is the only exercise the doctors will agree to allow me. This, for me, is the absolute most boring form of exercise EVER. But do it I will!.

    A novel in progress is never sucky. It it in progress. Keep writing! A goal like that is thrilling!

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    1. Genie, that's great news about the success you've had with your "meanness" plan! Unfortunately, I'm much better at being mean to others than myself, but it sure sounds effective.

      But so sorry you're dealing with the stupid hip and spine thing, that sounds so frustrating! Good for you for not letting it stop you.

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  10. I have not been into resolutions for years & years but this is a great read Jan & awesome post. I do think people try too much, expect too much rather than focusing one thing. It is like all my posts about baby steps for food & exercise.

    Happy to hear the writing is going well!

    I am in job search mode again so that is my focus right now. :)

    HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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    1. Happy New Year to you too Jody! And good luck on the job search, you would certainly be an asset to any potential employer. Hope it's a great year!

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    1. Back atcha LuckyMama!

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  12. HAPPPPY NEW YEAR.
    NEW HABITS (ok none of those here :))
    and SOON TO BE NEW TOWN TOWN TOWN.

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    1. Gotta say I'm excited about the new town town town... see you soon I hope!

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  13. What I love about this method is that even though it can be slow, and not so sexy, it gives you a little boost of happiness every day when you succeed, which is then more incentive to continue. Go for the quick win. I am a night owl and am trying to adjust my schedule to get up earlier. I have been trying and mainly failing for the last few months. I took the new year, and the lack of a consistent schedule around the holiday, to reassess my strategy. I have been moving my wake-up time earlier by 5 minutes every few days. I am not leaping out of bed when the alarm goes off yet, but I am slowly getting up earlier, even if it is only a few minutes. And, at night, I am not lying in bed awake stressing about not being able to fall asleep. So far I think this strategy will work.

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    1. What a great way to approach a bedtime shift Kate! That seems like a perfect example of something that is a lot less frightful to contemplate bit by bit. Way to go!

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  14. The trigger is a great idea that has worked for me with several tasks. It's a good reminder if nothing else as I sometimes just forget to do what I had newly planned to do on a daily basis.

    Nice article! Happy New Year, Crabby!

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    1. Happy New Year to you too Dr. J!!

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  15. As we in the fitness industry know, overwhelm and trying to make too many changes at one time is what usually causes people to crash and burn. It is the same in all areas of life.....only if we make small incremental changes, concentrate on the process and develop new habits can we really make change and experience true growth. In this era of "instant gratification" people don't seem to understand that time is really on their side, and that consistency is the most important element of success. Like you, Crabby, I have a book I need to finish, so your idea of writing one sentence a day appealed to me. Who knows? Maybe I'll through caution to the wind and go for two sentences.

    Thanks for your words of wisdom and Happy New Year!

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    1. Thanks Anita, and good luck with your book! It really is weird how much more appealing the creative process got for me when I set such low expectations, hope it works for you too!

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  16. Great advice! I love the idea of having a "minimum" goal, especially since I have a tendency to give up if I think I've failed.

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  17. Find the right diet and fitness progam that fits your interest and life style. Staying on track with you diet takes time, dedication and commitment. Plan you meals in advance to avoid eating the wrong foods when cravings hit. Give your body the right foods and serving perporitions to avid hunger cravings later in the day. Prepair healthy snacs like a pice of fruit, cut vegitables, nuts and seeds that offer a nutritious alturnitive to fattening foods like chips and dip, cookies,cake and other fat ladden foods.

    If you are going to a party where you know ahead of time all sorts of food will be served. Make sure you eat well in advance to avoid being tempted at the party. If you decide to eat those tempting treats go right back to eating a healthy diet and fitness plan each and every day to keep and maintain a good weight. Just say no to the junk food. Stay on track and you will live a happy and healthy life.

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  18. Where has this blog been all my life?! I totally feel your pain! I love to eat, hate to exercise. It can be so tough to stay positive all the time, especially when the scale refuses to budge. I'm pretty sure I'm about to go read every post you've ever written, but I would love to do a guest post for you some time! Crabby stalking begins now!

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