Create New Year’s Habits To Enjoy Lasting Change

Enjoy lasting, positive changes in your life by creating New Year’s Habits rather than a New Year’s Resolution. 

read time:  about 2.3 minutes

Happy New Year!

Did you make a New Year’s resolution this year?  Whether you did or not, you’re probably familiar with the most common ones.  Lose weight.  Get organized.  Spend less.  Save more.  Stay healthy.  Fall in love.  Spend more time with family.  Live life to the fullest.

I gave up making them years ago.  It’s not that I failed entirely –  I did manage to become a more patient parent one year and lose a few excess pounds in another.

The problem was that my results were temporary.  My renewed patience lasted only a few weeks.  I gained back the few pounds I lost.  Like a majority of people who set New Year’s resolutions, I didn’t enjoy any lasting changes.

Research shows that most change efforts, whether personal or organizational, yield only temporary benefits and aren’t sustained over time.  Consider the billions of dollars we spend annually on weight loss, personal training, skills training, and leadership development to get a sense of how important, and difficult, it is to achieve lasting positive change.

How is lasting change possible?

This question is not insignificant.  Our individual health and well-being, and that of our relationships, families, organizations, and society depend on the answer.

We know about strategies that increase the odds of success.  Set clear, value-based goals.  Work with an accountability partner.  Break larger goals down into smaller, more manageable parts.  But that’s not enough.

Lasting change requires an actual behavioral change.  Our behaviors form habits.  Our habits govern everything we do and don’t do.  We need to actually create a new habit and do things differently to see a different result.

According to brain scientists, healthy and unhealthy habits create connections that form neural pathways in the brain.  The more ingrained the habit, like brushing our teeth after meals, the stronger the neural pathway.  Picture a channel of water that deepens and widens as it rains.

Unfortunately, an unhealthy habit like reaching for a soda instead of water also has a fortified neural pathway in the brain.

Change is hard.

Habits are hard to break.  But when we form new ones, new neural pathways emerge and strengthen with the repetition of practice.  The old ones weaken and eventually cease to exist.

So this year, instead of a New Year’s resolution, try creating a New Year’s habit.  Instead of “losing 10 pounds by April 1″ work on adding more vegetables to each meal or replacing one daily soda with water.  Instead of “living life more fully,” work on using a strength in a meaningful way each day at work or expressing gratitude daily at family mealtime.

In other words, live the change you’d like to see. 

Below are some tips for making lasting change easier:

  • Repetition is key, so remind yourself to practice a new habit.  Set a daily reminder on your phone.  Schedule your practice into your calendar.  Create a visual reminder.  It takes about 14 days for the brain to begin changing and longer to strengthen the new neural pathway.
  • Give yourself permission to struggle as you create a new habit because change doesn’t usually happen on the first few attempts.  Picture those developing neural pathways.
  • Expect to struggle, but focus on returning to your practice when things aren’t going so well, not on berating yourself or giving up.
  • Work on only 1 or 2 things at a time to avoid stress and getting too far outside of your comfort zone.  Then move on to 1 or 2 more habits.

Over time, these small changes will snowball into many healthful habits you’ll carry into your relationships and daily activities.  This year, commit to living the change you’d like to see as you practice the habits of lasting positive change.

With gratitude for putting happiness first,

Jane

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References

Doidge, Norman, MD.  The Brain That Changes Itself  New York: Penguin, 2007.

Senge, Peter M.  The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization  New York: Doubleday, 1990.

 

 

 

 

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