Many people set New Year’s Resolutions or goals, but it is pretty widely known that few actually stick to them. In fact, 40% of people in the US will set New Year’s Resolutions and 80% will fail within 30 days. While everyone paying for gym memberships that they aren’t using helps keep costs down, I didn’t want my 2020 challenges to likewise be tossed into the forgotten resolutions of history. So from all of the research I’ve done, the best ways to stick to habits are to start small and to incorporate accountability.
Starting small is all about minimizing the energy barrier in order to begin the habit that one wants to start. Many people might do this by setting out their gym clothes the night before (or even sleeping in them), for example. In James Clear’s Atomic Habits book, he introduces the concept of Habit Stacking as follows: “After/Before I [Current Habit], I will [New Habit].” Current habits are all around us; indeed, they are how we do most of the things in our lives without completely melting our brains. Making coffee, brushing teeth, watering plants, etc. can all be existing habits used to anchor new habits. If that is paired with an extremely small goal, then it becomes much easier to build up momentum. Last April after reading his book, I decided that I wanted to begin daily journaling, a practice that I had occasionally done but with which I had never built up a consistent habit. So I decided that after I took my anti-coagulant pill for my blood clot in the morning, I would write for one minute. I set a timer and at one minute I would stop. For the first week or two I forbid myself from continuing. Slowly, I allowed myself to continue if I wanted to, but still the goal was one minute. As time progressed, the habit became more ingrained until I didn’t need a timer or even the habit-stacking part anymore. Since then I’ve probably written 80-90% of days, and I almost assuredly would not have tried to tackle twelve one month challenges this year if I hadn’t already gone through that exercise.
Accountability is the other helpful tool to push through the days when you really just don’t feel like it. This can be having a coach, personal trainer, or workout buddy who will give you a bunch of shit if you bail. It can also be more formal and explicit. James Clear introduces the concept of a Habit Contract, which formalizes a concrete, quantifiable goal in a signed contract with at least one other party that has actual consequences if not achieved. Accountability can also be even just announcing my goal on Facebook to friends and family in the thought that you’ll bust my balls if I don’t post one day. But losing money is also a terrific motivator to ensure compliance. So following in the steps illustrated by Thomas Frank in his Skillshare Productivity class, I set up automated accountability via Beeminder. The goal is linked to the RSS feed on my blog and my credit card. If I don’t post every day, it will charge me $5. While not the end of the world, the hope is that if one of the days this month I realize at 10pm that I haven’t posted anything, that monetary commitment will help to combat any “ugh, but I’m too tired today” feelings.
Feel free to reach out if you want any help or advice setting up your own new habits, or how to link them to things like Beeminder, and thanks for reading friends.