Add a New, Positive Habit to Actually Keep Your New Year Decisions
The beginning of the new year is, of course, the perfect time to start over. There is metaphorical power, plus the numerical simplicity of counting the days and months of success since January 1st. But unlike holiday frills and holidays, New Year’s resolutions can, unfortunately, tend to be abstinent.
This year I am quitting smoking. This year I will lose weight. I’m quitting Diet Coke this year. This year I will be a better, cleaner and stronger version of myself.
Better and stronger is cool, but here’s a tip: be successful without saying no to yourself.
Deprivation is disgusting. It’s woven into a puritanical work ethic that’s so much woven into American culture – the idea that abstinence is a virtue and willpower is spiritual strength. Of course, there are bad things in life, and it is better to stay away from them, but the ethic of deprivation is a slippery slope to a life of asceticism.
Deprivation also often leads to unpleasant relapses. Willpower, to the extent that it exists, is a finite resource . When you assign yourself a new zone of self-control, if you don’t do the work of replenishing your mental energy, you will run out of “strength.” Imagine a rubber band being pulled and pulled until it clicks. This click is your fault, and the harder you strain, the more it hurts. (If you’ve ever been on a restrictive diet and, after a few hours or weeks, found yourself overeating in a way that you never overeat before the diet, you are familiar with this feeling.)
Okay, so: how to achieve your goals without saying no to yourself? In most cases, this is a simple flip:
- Stop eating junk food. → Eat more vegetables.
- Lose weight. → Do 5k couches or go to yoga classes once a week.
- Stop over-engaging in social affairs. → Book one night per week to stay.
- Avoid Diet Coke → Drink plenty of water.
- Stop watching Twitter in bed. → Read a book ten minutes before bed every night. (Or: start using Freedom .)
These are not straightforward coincidences – you can eat unhealthy foods and vegetables, and jogging does not necessarily lead to weight loss. But these positively formulated solutions reflect the core value you’re trying to develop in yourself by focusing on adding a new habit instead of taking away an old one, whether it’s fitness, relaxation, or hydration.
Even if your solution is really, at its core, about the termination of bad behavior, it is useful to combine the termination of bad behavior with the addition of a new positive habit – but in addition to the denial. Otherwise, you will find that on your 3:00 pm smoke break, you are just looking around, doing nothing and feeling a terrible desire. A habit is easier to replace than to erase. Think about where, when and how did your old habit, and be ready for replacement – what will you do to replace what you will not do.
Remember that any solution requires energy to become durable and reliable models. Be gentle with yourself and you can do great things.