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Category: habits

10 tips to make your Resolutions stick this year

Now for the post you have been waiting for (all twenty of you). I am going to give you ten hints that will help you make and maintain habits. These habits will o help you achieve results. You are going to make resolutions, to create habits, which will lead to your goals.
Not My Belly

1. Know Your Destination
If you don’t know where you are going, you can’t know how to get there. The first thing we need to do is to create a set of destinations. Start with a high level abstract outline of the results you want to achieve. I want you to think out into the future and think about what type of life you want to lead and what type of person you want to be. Keep it vague. I want to be healthy. I want to be financial secure. I want people to view me as competent.

2. Lay Out Your Path
In tip two we are going to lay out the practical milestones to get us to those destinations. The paths are specific goals along the path not the actual steps to reach those goals. Look at the vague destinations you laid out in tip 1 and make specific milestones that will help you reach those destinations. We are talking very specific goals. I want to be 170 pounds by Jun 1st. I want to be able to run a 5k by May 1st. I want to have zero credit card debt by Jan 1 2017 etc.

3. Pick Your Habits
Now you want to make a list of habits that will help you walk down the paths to your destinations. These habits will become you resolutions over the coming year. A habit is a reoccurring activity that you will make into an ingrained pattern of behavior. I will bring my lunch to work. I will work out five days a week at 7 am. I will wake up at 6:30.. etc.  Don’t worry about practicality right now. Just make a long list of all the specific actions you want to take to reach your goals.
4. Limit Number of Changes
Now we are going to start applying the things we learned from the second post in this series. One of the main reasons your New Year Resolutions fail is that you try to make too many changes at once. Also they probably aren’t particularly well thought out. You only have a certain amount of will power. You can only resist temptation so many times. The plan is to make changes habits so they no longer require as much energy. Since we can only work so hard on changes we are going to limit them to a couple/few/maybe one at a time.
5. Choose Complimentary not Contradictory Habits
If you are going to try and build more than one habit at a time, it is very important that you choose habits that compliment each other. Two habits that contradict each other will quickly use up your willpower reserve and most likely lead to failure. Don’t try and quit smoking and lose weight a the same time. Do try and wake up earlier and go to bed earlier. 

6. Know Yourself
This may take some time to figure out. You need to learn yourself and what can help you build habits. Let me give an example. Two people have decided to make the same habits: wake up early and work out a few days a week. Person A needs a reason to get up early. So they decide to wake up early and then work out. Person B is discouraged by the prospect of having to both put out the effort to wake up early and then put themselves through a workout. Person B plans their workout for later in the day.
7. Be Fine With Failure
You are going to mess up. You are going to eat over your calorie goal or miss a workout for a lamereason. You are going to blow your budget. Don’t take it to heart. Come back at the next opportunity and do the resolution. People have a tendency once they blow a goal to completely go off the rails.  If they go over the budget by ten dollars, they then go and blow a couple hundred. Just let it go if you mess up.
8. Establish the Habit
A commonly repeated refrain is that it takes a month to make a habit. This is not completely true. The length of time and effort it takes to build a habit depends on the habit being formed and the individual. Some take as little as a week to become ingrained, others can take months and months. So what I recommend you do is to pick two complimentary habits.  Then spend a month concentrating on building those two habits. After a month move onto working on two more habits. The habits from the previous months should continue without a whole lot of effort.
9. Re-enforce the Habit
As you go on working on new habits some of the old ones might flag.  It can be necessary to go back and work on an old habit. If you find yourself failing at a previous habit I recommend taking a week and concentrating on re-enforcing that habit that you’ve been blowing. For example, I was failing badly at a new habit recently when I realized that I had eaten out for lunch three times in a week breaking one of my old habits.  I shelved the failing new habit and spent a couple of weeks working on my lunch habit.
10. Know that the Hard Things are Hard
Some life changes are extra difficult. Anything that involves an addiction, whether physical or mental, will take more than just effort and habits to change. These things are completely different animals than just wanting to walk 10000 steps a day. If you have an addiction you are going to need much more and perhaps professional help than can be provided on a blog post.
More To Come
Tomorrow New Years Day, I am going to be posting a more personal post looking back at last year and looking forward to what I hope to accomplish in 2016. I’ll link to it here when the post is live. Check it out to see these tips being put into action.

The Science of why your New Year Resolutions Fail

This is a re-written version of an older post and the second my series on habit formation and self improvement. I found the original version a little confusing.


Much of this post is based on a book called Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. It is not a self help book. It is a book by a psychologist and a science writer. They delve into actual scientific studies about willpower, impulse control, etc. The birth of this science was a study often referred to as the Marshmallow Study. You can read the details at the link. The gist is that children where tested if they could resist a treat for greater reward in the future. At a later point, researchers went and tracked down the kids as adults. Almost universally the kids that had been able to resist the temptation had become successful and happy adults. This led to thirty years of studies and debate as to the role of self-esteem*, impulse control, upbringing, etc in success. I highly recommend reading the book. I am going extrapolate a lot from what I read and not go into the specific details covered in the book.

Two Concepts

Understanding two important concepts can really help us on our quest for self improvement. Our brains use up fuel or power to do anything. Habits are ingrained behaviors that take very little effort to continue and can be hard to break once established.

Our Brains Need Fuel

Our bodies take the food and drink we consume and turn them into energy. A bunch of other stuff also happens but that’s not important for my point. A  lot of the energy goes to power our brains. About 20% of the energy our body uses, gets sent to the brain. This is way more than any other organ. 

Every time we do anything with our brains we use up some of this energy. Learning a new task at work, resisting the temptation to eat a brownie, trying to win an argument in a meeting, these all take up the amount of available fuel your brain can access. We replenish that fuel through eating. Those snicker commercials aren’t far off.  You aren’t you when you are hungry. You have a harder time doing things and making decisions.  When and what we eat can help keep our brains stay fueled. Foods that release their energy slowly, such as nuts, can keep us going while sugar will give a quick but short burst of brain power.

This is why losing weight can actually be very difficult. You want your body to use the energy that it has stored as fat. In order to make this happen you need to consume a calorie deficit.  Doing this means your brain might not have the fuel it needs to help resist a doughnut at that early morning meeting. This in no way means weight loss is impossible. It takes some tricks and planning. 

The research points to two interesting caveats. There does seem to be an inherited amount of willpower. Some people are just born with more than others. Most importantly it can be trained like a muscle. They studied people who showed the attributes of having a lot of willpower. These people did things  that “flexed” their willpower.  Stand still for long periods of time hold you hand for as long as possible in a bowl of ice water will all, over time, increase your willpower. It seems that exercising your willpower makes your brain more efficient at using the available fuel 

Willpower can be described as a combination of the amount of fuel our brains have available and the efficiency in which it is used. 

Habits Conserve Brain Fuel

One of the most important things they found about successful, was that they seemed to use as little willpower as possible. They designed their lives around not having to use a lot of energy for the mundane thus saving their power for the important decisions and moments in the day. Many people in leadership positions who are making important decisions throughout the day do not pick out their own clothes in the morning. They either Steve Jobs  it and wear the same thing everyday, or maybe they have someone pick out clothes for them. I’ve taken to just lining up my work shirts in the closet and just going down the line each morning. Thus I use little to know brain power in the morning. 

Habits are simply behaviors ingrained through repetition over time. To do a habit takes little to almost no energy. In fact it takes a conscious effort to not do a habit you have formed. If you have made the habit of always brushing your teeth in the morning it will actually take more effort to not do it. Obviously, habits can be either beneficial or detrimental. You can have a habit of going over all the things that happened in a day that made you thankful or joyful, or you can have a habit of dwelling on all the things that made you made or resentful.

I am convinced of the need to create  conscious positive habits in order to live a good life.  In the next post in this series I’ll tell you about the practical steps I have chosen to take to create good habits.

*The Self Esteem Myth

The early chapters of the willpower book deal with the self esteem myth. There has been a prevalent belief for awhile now that if a person feels good about themselves they will before better and actually be a better person. A series of studies in the late70’s/early 80s showed that successful people had high self esteem and the unsuccessful had a low self esteem.  It was surmised that if we elevated everybody’s self esteem performance would increase.

The same psychologist (not gonna bother looking up his name) who began the self esteem movement continued to study the issue.  By the 90s he realized he had made a big mistake. To simplify it, the people who were good at things had a high self esteem because they were good at things not the other way around. They found almost no improvement in performance based on increasing self esteem. In fact if people were below average at something and you increased their self esteem, they became worse at those things.

Introvert or Extrovert – A Brain Fuel Connection?

In a previous poorly written and confusing post, I tried to explain the correlation between the energy our brains use, habits, and self improvement. Every time we make a decision we use up some of the energy that we have available. Deciding what to eat for lunch, deciding/resisting the temptation to eat a cupcake at work, all take up energy and make us mentally tired. Some decisions use up way more energy than others. One way to reduce the amount of energy we use is to make habits. Habits end up existing as pre-made decisions. If you line up your clothes in you closet so that in the morning you just put on the next outfit, you won’t use up any brain energy deciding what to wear.  I had a friend who always ate the exact same thing for lunch and made it the night before. He never had to put out any effort into lunch either in the morning or at lunch time. We regain this energy through sleep, relaxing, and eating.

What does any of this have to do with extroverts and introverts? The current definition of an  introvert is someone who re-energizes through being alone or with a small number of people in quiet situations. An extrovert replenishes their energy from being in public loud and active situations that involve a lot of people. I bet you can see where I am going with this?

Maybe the reason people recharge is because they are doing the thing that requires the least amount of effort. For the  person who is used to coming home and going out with friends or stopping for happy hour on the way home being with people in a social environment takes almost no efforts. This allows them to rebuild their energy. It would take way more effort for them to say no to going out with their friends and staying in to read a book. The opposite for introverts.

The main reason I think there may be something to this idea is my own life.  And as we all know science is powered by personal anecdotal evidence. In my life I have flipped multiple times between being extroverted and being introverted. I have had long periods of time where I would just stay at home and play video games and watch tv and times were I would go hang with friends almost every night.

Some circumstance in my life ususally precipitated these shifts.  I moved or some event ocurred that I repsonded to by changing my behavoir for a long period of time until that became my new behavior.

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