New habits

The beginning of a new year is a popular time for New Year resolutions. However, I prefer to pick up new habits instead of making resolutions for the year. This was inspired by Leo Babauta’s post on Zen Habits and I have since embraced this philosophy.

I picked up a few habits in 2014 and that made me realise how new habits benefit me more than making resolutions or setting goals. New Year resolutions often fade away after an enthusiastic start. I find that it has a lot to do with how we define our resolutions. These goals are what we want to accomplish by the time we review the past year. They are vague statements that focus on the end result instead of the steps needed for us to reach the goals.

In contrast, setting new habits means looking at the process instead of the end point. These habits may or may not lead to certain goals, depending on whether they are aligned to with your goals. The right combination of habits might even work synergistically to help you reach your goal faster.

Getting fit

I picked up the habit of doing push ups daily in 2014. I downloaded the 100 pushups app out of curiosity after Dave blogged about it. The app allows you to set reminders to do the workouts, and it has a training program that ramps up the reps and sets as you get more sessions under the belt. I also adopted a new habit of eating only one serving of carbohydrates in a day and replaced the other serving with vegetables and proteins. These two habits propelled me towards my goal of getting fit faster than expected.

I would probably have lost my drive to get fit if I had only set a goal of getting fit. I would have focussed on the end point without thinking of how to get to the destination, and end up being overwhelmed when I set out to achieve my resolution. This shift in mindset helped me accomplish a lot more. By focussing on the process, reaching the goal was a reward itself. The goal was secondary, but something good to have.

Getting the right mindset

Moreover, developing new habits means that you stick to them for the long term. Compared to having a resolution that you complete in a year, your habits stick with you for as long as you maintain them, which could very well be years or even a lifetime. You might argue that you can set the same resolution for the next year. Both might seem the same on the surface but they are very different mentally.

Your mind sees the resolutions as something to be completed within a year. Even if you set the same resolution in the next year, you subconsciously compartmentalise it within the frame of a year. However, working on your habits daily or weekly puts you in a different mindset. You know tasks to be repeated and you are prepared to keep working on them for the long run.

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”

For example, if you want to do 52 photo shoots in the year, you mind sees it as having to complete 52 shoots at a rate of about one shoot a week. Compare that with wanting to do a photo shoot once a week. Your mind is framed to view it as completing a shoot every week with no end point considered. You might toil away to reach 52 shoots but that’s a big number. And you might hit 52 and then taper off, or even start to drop out of the race even earlier.

If you want to shoot once a week, you know that you will continue doing it for as long as you can. By making such repetition, you will gradually become more settled in the routine. When the habit sticks, it would not matter if you reach 52 or 104 shoots. To you, it is just another shoot in a week.

Getting started

So how do you form habits? You start by identifying the task you need to complete. It is perfectly fine to start small. The key is to repeat the task consistently so that it becomes part of your daily or weekly routine. And when you diligently go through your routines, they eventually become habits that are almost a second nature to you.

If you have already made your New Year resolutions, that’s great. Look at the list that you have made and think of how you can accomplish them through picking up new habits. Remember, it helps a lot if your habits work together to achieve your goal.

I find that it helps immensely if you are able to incorporate the new habit into your existing routine. I do my workout first thing when I get home from work. Reaching home was the trigger for me to do my habit and I eventually stopped relying on the pushup app to remind me of my workouts. I take out my journal at around midnight daily and keep it only after I have completed my entry for the day. The entries are dated so I would immediately notice if I missed a day.

Getting into the groove

When you become comfortable with the routine, you can start to increase the frequency or increase the workload. This would greatly impact the effect of your efforts.

I picked up the habit of writing by hand daily in 2014. I started of writing a sentence daily, and then it became a paragraph daily. Within a few weeks, I was writing a page every day and filled up my notebook within a couple of months. My words started flowing better and my cursive handwriting improved vastly. Such changes would probably not have come about if I merely set the resolution to learn cursive handwriting.

“Good habits, once established are just as hard to break as are bad habits.”—Robert Puller

It might sound too good to be true. I did not quite believe it initially but when I started settling into my routines, I found that it was easier than I expected. However, it was not all smooth sailing. There were some changes that were too drastic for me to sustain, and I had to make them less ambitious. I have learnt that the key is to make gradual changes and change one habit at a time. It is hard to sustain simultaneous changes in several habits. Pick up another habit only when you have settled into previous one.

Sometimes things crop up that throw you out of the routine. Such disruptions might even be inevitable. But it is crucial that you don’t allow the interruption to put you off from the new habit. The key is to get your rhythm back as soon as possible. Accept that setbacks are expected and focus instead on getting back on track.

Getting support

I find it an immense help to have people around me who help to push me to keep up with the new routines. Surround yourself with friends who are not afraid to criticise you and would crack the whip if you start to lose your discipline. Declare your intentions to them. By making yourself accountable for the change you intend to execute, you put yourself in a position where you are obliged to answer for what you set out to do.

Update them regularly on your progress. It brings immense satisfaction when you reach your milestones or progress beyond your expectations. But if you falter, your support group is there to remind you why you embarked on this journey and to encourage you.

If you can find friends who are keen to adopt similar habits, it might make it easier for you to stick to the habit. It is like having a partner to run a marathon with. You encourage each other and push each other to stay in the race. You share your successes and empathise with each other when you falter.

“You can do anything as long as you have the passion, the drive, the focus, and the support.”—Sabrina Bryan

My buddy Thy is also maintaining a workout routine and adopting a healthy diet. Whenever we dropped out of our workout routines, we would remind each other to get back into the groove. We share our meal plans, and confess our cravings and sinful cheat days. It is an understatement to say that having Thy picking up the same habit helped me to stick to the routine.

It is even better if you are able to make yourself announce the new habit publicly. Make yourself accountable so that you will have more incentive to stick to the routine when you feel like giving up.

Pick up a new habit this year instead of working towards a resolution. You might end up with life-long habits that might prove life-changing.