As I have written countless times, New Year’s Resolutions fail because we make too many, or ones that are too big. Instead, breaking down our goals into small pieces, and tackling one at a time for the 21 days it takes to create a habit, is the way to go for real progress – for habit changes that stick.
January isn’t the only time to strive for habit change. And whenever it is you are working on changes, “tricks” for making changes easier can help. From a piece in the New York Times about ways to make habit changes easier, Tara Parker-Pope starts with the obvious, “…if you figure out how to make a goal easier, you’re more likely to succeed.” Obvious, yet important to state, because so many people quickly give up on habit changes without trying to first make change easier.
“In the scientific study of habit formation,” she continues, “the thing that makes it harder for you to achieve your goal is called friction. Reducing friction means removing an obstacle or coming up with a strategy that makes a task easier to do…Friction typically comes in three forms — distance, time and effort. For instance, living far from the gym or a favorite walking trail makes it less likely that you’ll go…Time constraints can also get in the way of new healthy habits. If you don’t have much free time, it’s harder to start meditating or working out. And if something requires a lot of effort — like healthful cooking in a disorganized kitchen — you’re less likely to do it.”
Parker-Pope shares these friction-busting ideas (written when the pandemic was raging in early January, 2021):
Hang hooks by your door. Whether you’re always losing your keys or forgetting your mask, creating a station of hooks or shelves by the door for masks, keys or any other essentials you need when you leave the house will help…
Put extra masks in your coat pockets.
Stand on one leg while brushing your teeth. Standing on one leg while brushing your teeth is a way to practice balance. (Change legs after a minute of brushing.) Or use tooth-brushing time to practice mindfulness…When you add a new habit (like meditation or a balance exercise) to an old habit (like brushing your teeth) it’s called “stacking.” Stacking your habits makes them easier to remember.
Organize your refrigerator. Often the tipping point in a kitchen is the refrigerator. When your fridge is a mess, it’s hard to know what you have available to cook, what food might spoil soon and what you need from the store.
Buy partially prepared food. Buying chopped up food and meal kits costs more, but it does save time.
Put a notebook and pen by your bed. Keeping pen and paper by your bedside allows you to do a nightly stress-dump of all the things on your mind that might otherwise keep you up at night. You get a head start on tomorrow by creating a to-do list. And you can end your day with a simple gratitude practice — writing down three things for which you are grateful.
Create a device charging station outside your bedroom. The blue light in your screen has the same effect on your brain as sunlight, which means it wakes you up just when you want to be drifting off. If you’re trying to cut back on screens at bedtime, add some friction by setting up a charging station in your work area, the kitchen — anywhere but your bedroom. “If it’s in the bedroom, it’s easier to use,” said Dr. Wood. “That’s part of the temptation of always staying online. Keep devices out of the bedroom.”
And these two suggestions, which I shared in an earlier post:
Sleep in your workout clothes. If you’re trying to start a morning exercise routine, make it easy to get dressed for a morning run or workout. Sleep in some or all of your workout clothes. Put your shoes and socks by the bed. It’s one less obstacle to slow you down in the morning.
Put hand weights by your desk. Keep light hand weights nearby and do some reps while you’re on a Zoom if you are off-camera.