Statistics show that 60 to 70% of people give up their new year’s resolutions by the 2nd week of January, 85% by the 2nd week of February. That’s the bad news.
The good news is, calendar is arbitrary. As Anthony Robbins said, there’s no rule that tells us we must start making changes in our lives at 1 January and do it perfectly throughout the year. Instead, we can start at random dates or we can just re-start again today if we have already derailed. What really matters in the end of the day, according to Simon Sinek, is the underlying reason and/or the main motivation to do the resolution, and what are you going to do with it.
I like the idea I saw recently in a 9GAG post, that we should treat January as a trial month, to see whether the goal is worth the effort, to see what’s been missing in our effort, etc, and then become more serious come February. But still, when February comes we shouldn’t expect it to be smooth, as Robin Sharma put it “change is hard at first, messy in the middle, gorgeous at the end.”
Messy in the middle is what usually causes people to quit, that’s where their motivation runs out and their monkey brain starts to talk them out of it. But everything has its process, has its trial and errors, and the struggles before we can do them the right way. You can’t expect a crawling baby to suddenly run a marathon as much as you can’t expect someone who loves to eat junk food to suddenly have the discipline to do intermittent fasting and eat nothing but healthy foods. Everything is trainable, but they take time.
So the obvious question then becomes how to do it properly? First and foremost let me ask you one thing, is your new year’s resolution a dream or a plan? A dream is only a wish list, but a plan is something actionable with a deadline. Charles Duhigg emphasis the importance of having a structure, a detailed plan that becomes our habits, since studies by neurobiologists, cognitive psychologists, and others indicate that 40 to 95% of human behaviour fall into the habit category. So having a willpower on itself is a useless concept if we have unstructured habits, no habit, or worst of all have bad habits.
So how to create a good habit? Firstly, we need to make a clear and concise plan, which can be broken down into small daily parts. Because how do we eat an elephant? One small bite at a time. A good plan, according to Vishen Lakhiani, is the one that gives us small wins everyday, like reading one chapter a day, meditate for 5 minutes each morning, not eating rice for today, or it can be as simple as not reacting to those assholes on the street on your drive to work (small bites).
And once the plan is in place, Tom Peters add that no matter what the situations are, just show up [to our plans]. Discipline, here, is the key. Former US Navy Seal commander Jocko Willink still get up everyday at 4:30am and work out, come rain come shine. Tim Ferriss point out that the hardest time to do something is usually exactly the time you should bring extra effort to do it, for example: if you can’t do a push up, that means you don’t have the sufficient muscle power to perform it, and that’s exactly why you need to practice push ups everyday.
But remember that if you do skip a training session or unable to resist the hardest temptations, it’s okay, don’t be too hard on yourself and immediately get back to your plan (you can probably switch the training to the evening, and/or can simply stop eating junk after this one last bite).
Second most important thing to create a good habit is to create the environment in which we can maximise our efforts, and minimise the temptations. You know that popular saying, we are the product of our environment? Marshall Goldsmith rise it up a notch by saying if we don’t control our environment, the environment will control us. So if your goal is to lose weight, get rid of the snacks and junk food at your house and put healthy foods readily available at the dinner table. If you want to quit drinking, stop visiting pubs and no stocking at home. If you want to quit doing drugs, stop seeing your drug addict friends. Unfollow the ex that you want to move on from. If you want to start regularly exercise, buy the necessary equipments, stop reading trashy gossips or irrelevant world news and switch them with articles, books, YouTube videos, magazines, social media accounts, etc about sports and healthy lifestyle (that creates the right environment in your head).
And that’s it, just two. 1. Create the detailed plan down to the daily bite-size winnable progress, and have the discipline to show up everyday so that it becomes a habit. 2. And create the environment to support it.
Now that we’re snap bang in the middle of the two quitting statistics, on this day, 1 February, what are you going to do? Because according to the Stoics everything in this world can be divided into 2 categories: 1. The things we can’t control 2. The things we can. And it is up to us whether our new year’s resolution is a dream outside our control, or an actionable plan attainable within our control.