By Brittany Carlson
Like many of you, I was relieved and excited to see the end of 2020. The start of a new year always gives me hope, and this year it feels more magnified as the world collectively looks for the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and some semblance of normalcy in the near future. I’d love to set some goals for this year involving travel, lots of playdates, and throwing away those face masks!
But if 2020 taught me anything, it’s that I’m not always in control of my circumstances. The only thing I can control is what goes on inside me – my thoughts, my actions, and my reactions. These are the things that, with God’s help, I hope to continue improving in the new year.
I’ve been thinking about how these new habits are made and chatting with friends on how to make New Year’s resolutions that stick.
Here are some of their main ideas, which have really impacted how I think about resolutions this year.
Set Realistic Goals – and Celebrate Small Successes
B.J. Fogg, author of the book “Tiny Habits: Why Starting Small Makes Lasting Change Easy,” talks about this idea in an NPR Life Kit podcast called “‘Tiny Habits’ Are the Key to Behavioral Change.”
Fogg says that the harder the behavior change, the more motivation people need to make it happen. Conversely, if you can scale back your larger goal to a small one (such as reading one paragraph a day instead of aiming for a certain number of books in a year), and reward yourself for getting it done (doing a fist pump, singing a song, etc), you can greatly improve your odds of not only achieving the goal, but making that behavior into a habit.
Side note: This is something I’ve actually been trying with my kids lately, and it works! I sing a superhero song about them after they eat their vegetables, and it really does make them want to eat more.
Similarly, another friend’s family just completed 1000 hours outside last year, and they used a chart with circles to color in throughout the year to mark their progress; each time they spent an hour outside, they colored in another circle.
If that inspires you, check out www.1000hoursoutside.com, where you can get more information and download a free tracker sheet.
In order to be successful, goals also need to be specific. “Tiny Habits” author B.J. Fogg also talks about this on the Life Kit podcast. He says that if you put your desired behavior change before or after something you already do every day, it’s much easier to remember and do it. For example, you could decide to read each time you sit down on the subway, or to floss your teeth right before bed.
Similarly, my friend Holly advises making an actual list to check off so that it becomes “tangible and not just idealistic.”
A daily list of tasks works much better for me than a general idea of what I need to do. If I write down “clean the playroom,” I’m much more likely to do it (or at least get started).
Make Deadlines that Work for You
A year-long goal can be daunting. Creating mile markers, or smaller goals on the way to larger goals, can keep you motivated and focused.
For example, you could break a goal down into 12 parts, one per month, like my friend Rachel suggested.
There’s also no rule that says you have to make a resolution that takes a year to achieve.
My friend Cassie plans to commit to 21 days to work on some personal resolutions. “They say it becomes a habit after 21 days, so here’s hoping that it true” she said.
Another friend, Sam, advised starting with a small resolution, and once that is accomplished, setting a bigger one. “The satisfaction of completion is its own reward,” he said. “That’ll give you a mental boost to set a slightly bigger resolution next time and you’ll be more than likely to achieve it because you already have the discipline and know the rewards.”
“If you fail,” he added, “don’t tear yourself up and pick up where you left off.”
I love Sam’s final advice because the truth is, setbacks will happen. As 2020 so clearly demonstrated, life is unpredictable. But our own habits and behaviors don’t have to be.
We can make small changes within ourselves that become new habits over time.
My hope this year is that more of us take the time to make those positive changes, which can then influence those around us, one small, focused step at a time.
Brittany Carlson is a lifelong lover of words and all things chocolate. She is an Army wife and has two sons that are 5 and 3 years old. She has written for several Army community newspapers, including the Stuttgart Citizen (Germany), Fort Leonard Wood Guidon (Missouri) and Fort Belvoir Eagle (Virginia). Brittany holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She and her family live in NC.
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