Thinking about the New Year and habits, both good and bad, I came across an article in The New York Times that offered scientific tips to help with beginning good habits and ending bad ones.
One of the ones I liked was taking things slowly.
The author of the article, Susan Shain, had pieced together advice from several experts, including James Clear, author of Atomic Habits. Shain focused on Clear’s “two-minute rule.” The rule has one finishing just the beginning steps to a new habit and gives the example of driving to the gym every day, exercise for a few minutes and then go home if you want to start the habit of daily exercise.
That reasoning kind of follows what I once learned in a psychology class in college. And that was that it takes repeating something at least seven times to start a habit. Of course, in the class it was also noted that you could influence someone else to pick up a habit the same way. Such as speaking a phrase or word at least seven times in conversation with someone. Without realizing it that person will pick up the word and begin using it.
Upon learning this I had to try it and I have to say, the experts know what they are talking about. The hardest part was picking a word that was not one the other person used on a regular basis and then figuring out how to slip it into the conversation without it being obvious.
The New York Times article has sparked that need to see if such tactics do work to change one’s habits in the long term and not just in getting someone to pick up a phrase for a few moments. The article did say that the “mini-step” of going to the gym and only exercising a few moments and then leaving needs to be done for six weeks in order to become “the type of person who works out every day.”
One part of the article I thought was very realistic was the idea that we should plan to fail. How many New Year’s resolutions have we made to get in shape or to begin to exercise on a regular basis and yet here we are another year, another resolution, and the same goal.
Too often I’ve made a resolution to eat healthier but find myself slipping back into old habits and grabbing something that may not be the best choice just because it’s convenient in a busy lifestyle. We don’t realize or maybe it’s more of a case that we ignore the fact that selecting a healthier food item takes just as much time as selecting one that is less healthy.
Or maybe it’s not realizing that we’re really fighting two battles – to reach a goal of healthier eating and to stop a habit of unhealthy choices. A bad habit can become so ingrained that it’s second nature to us – we do it without thinking. Not realizing this duality, our resolutions can set us up to fail and may make us think we just don’t have the will power to achieve that resolution.
That just makes the idea of starting small; finishing a small step of a much larger goal seems a good way to keep those bad habits from getting in our way.
I think many times it’s because we put such high expectations on ourselves that we forget it is a process. It is how we react to the failures that signify whether the goal will be met.
Take baby steps and be prepared to fail and to start again. Isn’t that how we learn anything new.
It could also be a mantra of how we can deal with life. Step out into life one small step at a time. Be prepared for struggles and to sometimes fail. Then just dust yourself off and get back on your feet and continue on, all the while learning from the failures and building a strong character. The important thing is that we do step out into life and we get back up when we fall.
Maybe there is more to these New Year’s resolutions than just losing a pound or two.