I woke up this morning thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. Whether your goals revolve around family or another area of your life, there are specific things you can do to help you maintain the changes that can, in fact, be transformative.
Why Developing Healthy Habits is Good for Us
According to James Clear in his book, Atomic Habits, researchers estimate that nearly half of the things we do each day we do out of habit. If that’s not enough to get you thinking about your habits, these automatic behaviors also drive our actions that follow: If you text sweet nothings to your partner every day during your lunchtime, you’re more likely to do other things for your partner and give the relationship even more of your attention. Building habits and maintaining them is the goal, and when we do that, other good things are likely to follow.
Change Happens by Taking Small Steps
Some of the clients I worked with in the past would become impatient with the changes I recommended, because they were only interested in making changes that would change their lives overnight. Most change doesn’t happen that way. When we make one small change at a time, and really focus on developing it, we can build on it. It will also likely lead to other positive changes. So no, the resolution you make in January probably won’t change your life by February. But if you’re patient with yourself, that change will grow and lead to other changes. With commitment, your life can transform.
How Do I Do That?!
Although this is a simplified list, these five steps will help:
- Tie your habits to your values
- Determine a small step you can commit to on a regular basis
- Focus on the process
- Anticipate roadblocks
- Be specific about when and where you’ll do it
One of the most important things is to tie your habits to the things that matter to you most. When you align your habits with your values, it becomes a lot easier to stick with them and make them part of your regular routine. If something isn’t meaningful to you, it will likely be harder for you to create a lasting habit around it. If you’ve never taken the time to consider your values, I highly recommend you do so.
If you reach for the ideal version of the new habit right out of the gate, you might find it harder to maintain the effort. For example, if you want to connect with your kids more regularly, instead of planning on checking in with them every day before and after school and before bedtime, plan for smaller steps that will be easier for you to maintain. You could start with committing to checking in with them after dinner Sundays and Thursdays. You can adjust and build from there.
Goals are important for the direction they give us, but it’s best to focus on the process of achieving the goal rather than on the goal itself. So, if your goal is to get your kids to open up to you more, think about what parents who have good relationships with their kids do: they listen, set appropriate limits, and they negotiate with them (in other words, they practice authoritative parenting; see my blog for more on this topic). This is where you put your energy. By focusing on the process, you’ll be more likely to stick to those practices, reach your goal, and maintain that goal.
It’s important to think about what might get in your way. Some of you might think, “but I should imagine myself achieving my goal, not the problems with the goal!” The reality is, we do encounter challenges when building habits. When we anticipate them, we can make a plan for what we’ll do when we hit rough spots. If you want to build a habit of spending more time connecting with your kids, and anticipate it being harder to be patient with them after you’ve had a stressful day, plan to meditate on those days right when you get home from work, or do something else that helps you to calm your nervous system before you knock on their door.
Specify when and where you’ll do the thing you want to do. You’ll do “A” on this day, at this time, and/or following this other thing you regularly do. Put it on your calendar, too. You’re more likely to do follow through on a commitment if you get specific about it.
There are additional things we can do to help us make lasting changes to our lives, including getting support. If you need some support in creating new habits that will benefit you and your relationships, feel free to reach out to me.