Guest post from Mystie Winckler
Many of us use the opportunity of a new year to assess our life, our situation, and resolve to make improvements. Even if we make no formal resolutions, there are probably lots of self-improvement or home-improvement ideas rattling around in our heads this time of year.
The problem is that we often think that accomplishing this or that task or project or reaching a certain goal will usher in an era of success and joy in which we will no longer have to exert effort. We think that if we reach our weight goal, we will be happy and be able to end our diet and exercise. We think that if we de-clutter and organize the closets, they will always remain de-cluttered and organized.
But weight loss and organization are like laundry and dishes. They require constant maintenance, and are not once-and-done projects.
So, instead of listing off once-and-done projects you hope to accomplish in 2013, think rather of habits you want to learn to make that maintenance stick as a lifestyle change. What changes in your eating habits do you need to make, not for the duration of your weight loss, but to be a healthy person the rest of your life? What changes do you need to implement to keep the clutter down and keep things tidy, not once for all, but each day and every day? Think about daily changes to your personal “default settings” in how you handle incoming things, how you shop and cook, and how you keep track of items and information. These are the changes that will have lasting effect and cause you to grow and mature as a person.
3 Tips for Establishing Habits
1. Take it 1-3 habits at a time, for 4-6 weeks. Focus on a small number of small habit changes for a full 4-6 weeks. You will be more likely to integrate them into your life if you persist and focus with a laser focus, not a scattershot approach. Decision-making is fatiguing, and making the effort of choosing your new habit is more likely to happen if you keep the number of decisions and choices you’re working on small and few. The small and few will add up, and your skill at focusing and integrating habits will grow with practice.
2. Attach your new habits to a current trigger habit. You already have habits. Hook your new habits to current habits to help you remember them and to help them become your default more readily and smoothly. Don’t try to completely remake your life from scratch. Rather, add few small changes to your current routine. Drink a glass of water before each meal (the meal is the trigger to drink water); sort your mail as soon as you bring it in (getting the mail is the trigger to dealing with it); take your vitamins when you give your children theirs (getting out the vitamins triggers your own vitamin reminder); check your calendar and to do list while you eat breakfast (eating breakfast is the trigger to look over your day). Whatever new habit you want to establish, pin it to something that already happens routinely every day.
3. Forging new habits requires willpower, and willpower works like a muscle. It is exhausting to exercise and needs rest after exertion. It will give out if you attempt to overwork it (by taking on too many changes at once). But, it will also grow in capacity as you exercise it. Making positive changes is something that will become easier with practice, even if it wears you out at first. You might start with small baby step changes to begin with (like walking around the block), but if you persist and stretch yourself consistently, before you know it you’ll be able to tackle big and momentous changes (like running a 5K). Don’t lose heart and be discouraged in the day of small beginnings.
If you want to be encouraged in making lifestyle habit changes this year, you can follow my own weekly series on habits I am tackling this year: The 2013 Habit Project. We also have an email list you are welcome to join with daily accountability for organization habits called The Organization Project. If we tackle the foundational habits of organization and health, we will grow in energy and ability to handle the other goals and projects we hope to accomplish.
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