December 26, 2020
Are you a resolution-maker? The end of the year is just days away and at least 50% of Americans will be making resolutions about everything from losing weight to eating right to being a better person/spouse/parent. The start of a new year is a great catalyst for these changes but the truth is only 10% of these resolutions will last the entire upcoming year. Resolutions fail for many reasons, but instead of teaching our children how to set a resolution which will promptly be broken, I propose teaching our children the habit of making new habits. In this post, we’ll cover the top 3 reasons why resolutions don’t work, why building a healthy habit is better than a resolution, and how to actually succeed when creating a new habit.
Vagueness allows you to stop fairly easily. These resolutions are quantified with modifiers like “more”, “better”, and “less”. This is the same trap we try to avoid when setting S.M.A.R.T. goals for business. Narrowing your goal to make it Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely increases your success rate. When your resolution is specific and detailed, it’s harder to walk away and forget about it.
When you resolve to “stop doing” something, the brain doesn’t hear the “stop” part and skips to the part you don’t want to do. This can cause you to focus more on the thing you want to stop, making it even harder to keep your resolution. By reframing the resolution or goal into a positive statement, there are no lost words which allows your brain to focus on what you want to achieve.
Diets, exercise, even career goals are all examples of resolutions people make based on what they think other people expect them to do. These resolutions don’t work because they usually aren’t what the individual actually wants to do or be. To make real change in your life, you have to be invested in the outcome, which means it must mean enough to you for you to continue even when things get hard as they inevitably will.
What if we taught our kids how to make lasting habits, instead?
The more new habits you create, the more you train your brain to form new habits. This makes new habit formation easier over time. You can increase your success rate by following a systematic process, such as James Clear’s “Atomic Habits”, as you create your new habit.
You don’t have to wait for the New Year. You can start a new habit today, if you choose to do so. The important part is to be clear about why you chose this particular habit at this particular time and what you expect the outcome to be.
In fact, we expect new habits to take time and effort, so when we commit to beginning a new one, we are willing to do the work to achieve success. When forming a new habit, it’s helpful to start small and build on previous successes. In this way, you increase your chances of forming a habit that sticks with you until you choose to change it.
Creating a new habit is a skill everyone can learn with time and practice. Each new habit you create strengthens your ability to make the next and the next and the next.
This can be as simple as a certain time or location. Exercising before your morning shower (time), for example, or taking the stairs at work (location) instead of the elevator.
Attempting to stop an old habit without replacing it will usually end in failure. This happens because you’re essentially leaving space for the old routine to creep back in. Most habits are ingrained enough to be almost subconscious behaviors. They happen even when we don’t think about doing them. Instead of leaving a space, choose what your trigger will prompt you to do (instead of what it will prompt you to not do). For example, when you hear your morning alarm you get out of bed.
Having a friend or accountability partner going through the same thing you are makes it easier to stick to your habit. They can give you support when the habit seems hard, and you can do the same for them. That’s why having a “gym-buddy” makes it easier to exercise - you’re less likely to let them down when you commit to that early morning workout.
There will be days when you don’t want to do the new habit. There will be days you forget. There will be days when life tries to get in the way. These are all times when you need to be clear on your “What” and your “Why” for creating the new habit. Write these down and post them in a highly visible place, such as on your bathroom mirror, refrigerator, or at your computer. And on those days when you fall short of the mark you set for yourself, reframe the experience by using phrases such as “...not yet, but I’m working on it…” This allows your brain to see the good in what is happening and keep working towards your goal.
I believe that modeling healthy habit formation is a key skill we can teach our children. When our kids see us working through the challenges of becoming a better person, they learn how to do the same. And it can prompt some interesting and heart-felt conversations, ultimately increasing the connection you have with your children.
At KOMA, color belt students visit habits four times each year. That means from white belt through to 1st degree black, a student is asked to set and accomplish a new habit 14 times. These habits are designed to enrich their lives. Although the general topic is selected for them, each student gets to choose the specifics of the habit. Topics include:
Students are then asked to reflect on the habit and how/why/what difference it made in their life. The challenge increases as the students increase in age and rank. Black Belts recently completed a 70-day habit challenge for the last cycle of testing.
Only about 10% of resolutions are carried through for the entire year. Reasons resolutions fail include being too vague, being framed negatively, and being influenced by others rather than by your own desires. Habits can be started at any time during the year, are a buildable skill set that can be learned, and are usually expected to succeed. Successfully forming a new habit requires retraining your brain and is made easier when you follow a framework, have a source of accountability, and commit to the time and effort required to replace the old habit with the new. We can lead by example and teach our children how to form habits instead of how to break resolutions.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”