Establishing New Habits This Year

Establishing New Habits This Year

“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord” ~Lamentations 3:40~

 

The following post is a revised post from 2016. As I am getting ready to begin our annual 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting, I decided to look back to this post because it made an impact on me when I wrote it back in 2016.

 

While I still make “resolutions” from time to time, I try, instead, to create new, healthy habits throughout each and every year. Another habit I’ve started is to find A WORD that will be my year-long reminder about what I should be focusing on throughout the year. Words I’ve chosen in the past few years have been: Servant, Intentional, Focus, etc.

 

This year’s word will be “Presence” because I feel I need to be in the “present” more on a daily basis. With that word and goal in mind, I have decided to fast social media during this year’s 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting (2018). I’ve fasted food/meals before and it really does help me focus more on the Lord for strength and relationship, but I’ve realized lately that social media, especially Facebook and Pinterest, have distracted me from things I really should be focusing on and accomplishing. I know as a blogger, writer, and teacher social media is a great tool for connecting to readers and students, so this is sort of a big risk I’m taking to go off the grid for a while.

 

With that being said, I’ve felt the tug of the Lord telling me to take a break and get some things done. I’ve almost finished my book about my journey as a living organ donor, but now I need to focus on getting edits and revisions done, along with a cover, and other marketing elements to actually get the book printed and out for sale. So, I will spend the next 21+ days getting all of the pieces finished in order to come back refreshed (hopefully!) and ready to write more blog posts, social media posts, etc.

 

I will also pray that you all have a great beginning to your 2018. Prayers for physical and emotional health. Prayers for mending relationships. Prayers for financial breakthroughs. Prayers for growth in your relationship with the Lord. I simply ask for your prayers to keep me focused and to bless the work I feel the Lord wants me to do.

 

Why Do We Make New Year’s Resolutions Anyway?

 

Did you know the practice of celebrating the New Year and making resolutions has been going on for more than 4000 years?!?!? Who knew?

 

Evidently, the ancient Babylonians celebrated the first new moon following the vernal equinox. (A day in late March when there are equal amounts of sunlight and darkness. Yeah, I had to Google that one!) They would make promises to the gods in hopes of earning good favor in the new year. Sound familiar?

 

The vernal equinox was considered the beginning of the “new” year until the Roman king, Numa Pompilius added the months Januarius and Februarius. Well, that just messed up everything, so in 46 BCE the emperor Julius Cesar solved the problem by introducing the Julian calendar and declaring January 1 as the first day of the year.

 

Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and namesake for the month of January, had two faces allowing him to look back to the past and forward into the future, so this may be where some of the “getting rid of the old” and “making all things new” came from.

In other words, there is a LONG history of celebrating the new year and making resolutions again and again.

 

Why Can’t We Stick to Our Resolutions?

 

Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution and actually kept it? I know before 2015 I would have said, “No”. For the first time EVER, yes, EVER, I kept a “resolution” last year. (I’ll explain a little further down.) After doing some research for this post, I found simply making “resolutions” is not the trick, but rather making or changing our habits is really what works.

 

So, I really didn’t keep a resolution last year, I created a new habit!

 

James Clear lays it out better than I’ve ever heard it explained. His article, How Long Does it Actually Take to Form a New Habit? (Backed by Science) really made sense to me and hopefully, it will for you too.

 

Clear reminded me that we often see the END result of someone who’s lost weight, gotten out of debt, stopped smoking, etc., but we never see the long, hard process that it took to get that way. We want the awesome results, but we’re not willing to do the hard work to get there.

 

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we didn’t get overweight, in debt, or develop limited lung capacity overnight, so we’re not going to see results overnight either.

 

It took a little nibble here, an extra helping there, and BAM, we’re 20+ pounds overweight! Each “little” nibble, credit card charge, or cigarette puff grew into a habit we became accustomed to doing and now we don’t even think about it. We will have to develop alternative habits in order to break the old ones.

 

“Your life today is essentially the sum of your habits.” ~James Clear~

 

So, the answer to the previous question is if we set our sights only on the outcome and expect a transformation to just happen, then there is no way we will keep our New Year’s Resolutions.

 

HOW TO CREATE NEW HABITS

 

Now that we know WHY we can’t keep our New Year’s resolutions, how are we going to create new habits instead?

 

I’m glad you asked!

 

Before we get into the day-to-day, nitty-gritty of developing new habits, the first things we HAVE to do is pray. You’re probably saying, “Pray! Really? Is she serious?” Yep, I’m serious. This entire blog is based on the power of prayer. I’ve seen its power in my own life and now I don’t do anything, I mean ANYTHING, without praying FIRST. And that’s the key, pray FIRST, listen, THEN act.

 

Pray First and Pray Often!

 

Praying first for new habits in this new year means praying for God to make you aware of bad habits you need to break and to direct you toward what good habits you should develop. *This is what I’ve heard God saying to me lately….”Get off social media for a while. You are not focused on what you should be focusing on.” Pray for Him to show you resources (like this post!) to help you develop a plan of action. Pray for Him to walk beside you and sustain you as you develop this new habit. Thank Him for every step along the way and praise Him name with each small success.

 

Only through Him can you truly develop and keep new habits because He’s changing you on the INSIDE!

 

How Long Will It Take for My New Habit to “Stick”?

 

As I mentioned in the 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting Journal (get your free copy here – and yes, it was originally posted in 2016, so don’t let the title of the post confuse you), developing a new habit will NOT happen in 21 days. Again, sorry to be Debbie Downer and burst your bubble, but 21 days just gets you STARTED.

 

According to James Clear and other behavior researchers, it usually takes more like 2+ months (66 days if you want an exact number) to get a new habit to stick. Researchers also found it can take some people as few as 18 days, while it takes others more than 250 days.

 

Malcolm Gladwell, in his awesome book Outliers, says it takes over 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. So, get ready for it to take a little while!

 

Daily Nitty-Gritty Stuff

 

Once you’ve prayed and decided on the habit(s) you want to develop, then it’s time to set up an environment so you will be successful. If you continue to do things like you’ve always done, yet expect different results, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. Something has to change!

 

James Clear, Charles Duhigg, and now me J have three key steps to help develop and sustain new habits. I will detail each step below with illustrations of how I formed my new habit in 2015.

 

1-Develop a Trigger (Clear calls it a Reminder, Duhigg calls it a Cue)

 

Developing a trigger simply means you need something to signal you to actually DO the new habit you’re are trying to master. Remember, it’s not a “habit” yet, so you have to do it enough times, over a long enough time period (2+ months) for it to become part of your muscle memory.

 

What I Did:

 

Okay, I have a small confession…I actually started trying to form my new habit July 7, 2014. I know the exact date because my daughter’s birthday is July 6 and I saw a picture of myself that day in 2014 and thought, “Oh, my! I have to do something about this weight gain and I have to do it NOW!”

 

So that was my tipping point. I had talked about losing weight. I had thought about it, but I had not done anything about it, until that day. I also knew I had to change things, so the very next day I started walking. Nothing big. I didn’t set out to run a marathon. I walked as far as I could and vowed to do a little more the next day, then a little more, and a little more, etc.

 

I continued to do this every day for five months straight, lost 20 pounds, and ran my first 5K race in November.

 

Did you catch that? I did it for FIVE MONTHS! I had to do a little more EVERY DAY in order to get the results I did in November.

 

To stay on track I had to purposely set up triggers to remind me to do this new “habit” I was trying to develop. During the summer, when I was home, I laid out my running clothes the night before. I set my alarm a little earlier so I could get up and get out early and still get things done that I needed to do. When I went back to work in August I took my running clothes to the office each day. I scheduled the time I would run each day based on my teaching schedule, then I would set an alarm so I would stop working, go run, and either go back and work some more or go home for the evening.

 

I had to purposely set triggers so I would be reminded to do this new thing I hoped would become a habit. The first day I didn’t do it (it was well into September by then), I felt like I had forgotten something! That’s when I knew it had finally become a habit. The moment I felt lost or like I had failed to do something was also a trigger that reminded me what habit I should be doing.

 

My “resolution” in January 2015 was to keep up my new “habit” and to keep the weight off. I fluctuated in weight about 5 pounds or so, but I kept the habit of running and eating better ALL YEAR LONG! That’s the FIRST time I’ve ever been able to say that! Feels great, btw!

 

What You can do:

 

Put it on your schedule – “Things that get scheduled get done.” (Michael Hyatt)

 

Set an alarm. On your phone. On your computer. Alarm clock. Or all three! Whatever it takes to remind you. Do it!

 

Post a visual. Visuals are great triggers to keep the new habit constantly in view. Put a visual on your frig, car, desk, television, computer, writing pad, etc. wherever you will see it all day!

2-Do Something (Clear & Duhigg call it a Routine)

 

The “something” that you do might be not eating as much, not eating or drinking a certain food or drink, exercising, saving money, etc., but it’s the action YOU HAVE TO DO. The food won’t cut itself in half or go away. The running shoes won’t run for you. The credit card won’t stop itself from being swiped. YOU HAVE TO DO IT!

 

Clear and Duhigg call this action Routine. You do something enough times, it becomes routine!

 

What I did:

 

I set up all my triggers (alarm, notes to self stuck everywhere, schedule, etc.) and then I actually RAN. I’m a big checklist person, so the fact I ran and then marked that one off my list felt like an accomplishment for the day.

 

I also weighed in every week as another visual reminder of why I was doing this. The weight was coming off and I was feeling SO MUCH BETTER, which leads to the next step: celebrating.

What You can do:

 

Follow through. It’s one thing to set an alarm, write yourself notes, etc., but if you don’t actually do what you say you’re going to do, then what’s the point. If you don’t have any intention of losing weight, cutting your debt, or stopping smoking, then don’t put it down as a new habit. YOU HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!

 

And that can also mean NOT doing some things. If you are trying to cut debt, which is one of those new “habits” I’m still working on for 2016, then you CANNOT do some things.  You CANNOT go run up another credit card, but you CAN pay a little extra each month on the one you’ve already maxed out. If you’re going to lose weight, you CANNOT eat the second piece of pie, but you CAN cut one piece a little smaller and therefore lessen the amount you’re eating without depriving yourself.

Just like the leaves changing in Autumn. We don’t notice all the individual leaves changing colors a little bit every day, but then one day we look around and say, “Oh, look at all the trees! Autumn is here!” YOU have to do a little bit every day too so you can eventually see big transformations over time.

 

3-Celebrate (Clear & Duhigg call it Reward)

 

This last step to the 3-part process probably sounds like a no-brainer, but is actually the most unconscious decision we make when we’re performing a habit and often the hardest to identify. We got into our “bad” habits because there was something about what we did (the routine) that satisfied us (the reward). Initially, the trigger may have been a hunger craving or a nervous feeling, so we ate or smoked. But what was the reward? It may be the taste of a certain food or feeling full, or the calming effect of a cigarette, (Just for the record, I have NEVER smoked! I’ve had people tell me that’s what it does.) or the satisfaction of buying a new pair of shoes (Okay, I have done that one, many times!).

 

According to Charles Duhigg, you have to identify what it is that is actually driving you to do the things you’re doing by changing up your routine. Instead of grabbing a candy bar at 3 PM every day, try getting up and walking around your building, talk to colleagues, etc. Try something different for a few days and see if the act of eating was a routine of actual hunger or a routine to break the monotony of the day. Duhigg lays it out in greater detail here.

 

What I did:

 

I had a bad habit of eating junk food around 3-3:30 PM every day and then eating a fairly large dinner when I got home. I finally identified the trigger and reward around this habit was formed while I was growing up. Mom always had a “snack” for us when we got home from school and she, my sister, and I would sit around the table and talk about our day and eat. Then a few hours later we would eat dinner.

 

I related this routine to good memories of family, comfort, and love. That was my “reward”.  I’ve also realized this is the time of day my sugar levels also drop, so I do need “something” to eat around that time of day. To this day, I still have a “snack” around 3 PM! I don’t always have someone to talk to or share my day with, but I’ve continued the eating part of my routine.

 

Once I realized the reward I was still seeking, I had to change it. I do need a break and a little boost of energy around that time of day, so instead of eating half a bag of cookies (I know! Don’t judge!), I now have a 7.5-ounce Coke Zero and a handful of trail mix or a small cup of low-fat yogurt. This choice is small, filling, and a break in my day! I still get my reward of food and caffeine but in smaller, less fattening versions. I also get up, walk around the building, and stop to chat with whoever is around, so I also get my break and time to share with friends just like sharing with Mom and sis so many years ago.

 

Another type of reward or celebration I did allow myself to have in 2014-15 was once I lost ten pounds, I bought myself some new running shoes. This type of celebration is a way of keeping the momentum going. I didn’t go out and buy everything new, I bought one thing that celebrated my success and then set my sights on the next goal in forming my new habit.

 

What You can do:

 

Experiment.

 

***You may have to try several different “rewards” to see what you can actually replace your bad habits and rewards with. Your change may not be as simple as replacing one for another, but by consciously researching what works for you, you CAN make positive changes and rewards for your new habits.***

 

So, yes, you should celebrate when you have success or do something positive while forming your new habit, but step back to realize WHY you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place. Replace bad habits with good ones by rewarding yourself in positive ways.

                        

Wrapping It Up

 

Here’s hoping you take a few minutes this first week of 2018 to really think about what habits you want to conquer this year. By praying for guidance and direction, setting up triggers to keep you focused, doing something, and then celebrating small victories, I bet you will look back in December and say, “I FINALLY kept my New Year’s resolution habit!”

 

I actually looked up the definitions of resolution and habit. Which would you rather claim to do this year?

 

Resolution - a firm decision to do or not to do something. (a statement)

 

Habit - a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. (an action)

 

For me, resolution sounds rather “demanding”, like a declaration. But a declaration, or statement, without action, doesn’t make for change. Habit, on the other hand, sounds like you’re doing something. Something done “regularly” and is “hard to give up”. That sounds more like what I want to do! Actions trump declarations anytime!

 

Until next time! With our church approaching our annual 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting (January 8-28), I am fasting social media so that I can finish my book and rejuvenate myself to get back to blogging and posting art projects on a more consistent basis. In the meantime, follow us on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. ~Romans 12:2~

 

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