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?