New Year, new you – or so the adage goes. Each time the beginning of the year rolls around millions of us put together mini-manifestos of personal improvement to help cancel out those festive over-indulgences or finally quit those long-held bad habits, and this year was no different – but now that you’re back to juggling your usual responsibilities and the holidays feel like a distant memory, have your good intentions been swamped by old excuses?
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With the right attitude, tried and tested techniques, and a little perseverance, you can gradually build new routines that will eventually feel effortless – and you may even start to enjoy them. If you usually struggle to covert wishful thinking into positive action, follow our habit-forming tips to get you started.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”
– Lao Tzu
Don’t set yourself up to fail by setting yourself goals that are too big. If you want to start running in the new year, don’t tell yourself you’ll be completing marathons by May. Have patience, start small, and build on your progress. If you aim too high you will most likely fall short, and feel like a failure, whereas starting with the smallest possible version of your goal and gradually working your way up to greater achievements will build your confidence as it builds your competence.
“A habit cannot be tossed out the window; it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time.”
– Mark Twain
Quitting can be a habit in itself, and we all know our own regular reasons for giving up. Pre-empt your excuses, and get ahead of them. If you often tell yourself you’re ‘too busy’, make a schedule and treat your new habit like any other work appointment. If you’re always ‘too tired’, think ahead and get an early night. If you always ‘forget’, set yourself reminders. Your old habits will be competing with your desired new ones – make sure you’re supporting the right team.
Focus on the Reward
“Humans don’t do anything unless there’s a payoff.”
For better or worse, humans are hard-wired for reward. ‘Bad’ habits are often defined by instant gratification, whereas building ‘good’ habits brings lasting satisfaction. Be honest with yourself about what motivates your bad habits, and when you consider your new goals, don’t focus on the effort or the time they will take – visualise the reward. Don’t focus on the effort of exercising – think about the benefits of being healthier. Don’t focus on the anxiety-inducing interview process – think about landing that dream job. Tell yourself that your reward is obtainable, and that you deserve it.
Let Yourself Fail
“Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
– Samuel Beckett
Anybody who has ever mastered anything has failed more times than most people have tried. Elite athletes and superstar performers stumble just like everyone else – the difference is that they get up and keep going, as quickly as possible. Failure is never permanent, whereas giving up is. If you miss a workout, cheat on your diet, or accidentally interrupt ‘dry January’ with an impromptu glass of red – don’t tell yourself trying is futile. Dust yourself off, and start again. Effort is rarely in vain, even if you fail again – you’ll soon be sailing over the hurdles that used to trip you up.
Do It For Yourself
“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”
– Oscar Wilde
Choose your desired habits wisely, and for the right reasons. Too often our ideas about self-improvement are dictated by shallow fads and fleeting trends. Your new habit may involve changing, abstaining, or acting in ways that are not initially enjoyable – if you’re not inspired by rewards that are personally meaningful to you, it will be much harder to stay motivated. Don’t succumb to the bad habit of looking for external validation, even when you make progress – the key to self-improvement is doing it for yourself.
Whether it’s personal, professional, or physical, positive change is impossible without hard work and perseverance – but remember, breaking bad habits and building new ones takes time, so be patient with yourself. Commit to following just one or two of our change-making tips and progress will be inevitable – but don’t feel you have to do it alone. Seek out the resources and tools you need to keep you on track. And good luck!