During the final weeks of a year, it’s natural to spend time pondering and reflecting over the past 12 months.
- What remarkable things happened?
- What goals did I complete?
- What goals did I NOT complete, and…
- Do I still care about them and want to recommit to them for this year?
Reflecting over the past year caused me to think about my habits.
There are several definitions of habit. Merriam Webster Dictionary defined habit in the early 2000s as “a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously.” A similar definition by Collins Dictionary is “a pattern of action that is acquired and has become so automatic that it is difficult to break.”
Most of my habits are repeated actions that I do without even thinking. A lot of my habits are simply that…habits! I didn’t consciously decide to do them, but instead, I fell into a pattern unintentionally. Some practices serve me well. Many others do not, and I want to change.
I want to be more intentional in the coming year. Some people choose a word of the year, but I’ve decided on a motto of the year.
Intentional habits lead to desired results.
I’ve set goals for the new year and chosen new behaviors to create intentional habits to reach my goals.
3 Powerful Tips for Creating Intentional Habits in the New Year
1. The Traffic Light Analogy
I like to think about habits and relate them to a traffic light.
🛑 What habits do I need to stop doing?
⚠️ What habits do I need to adjust?
✅ What habits do I need to start doing?
For example, let’s consider my diet.
🛑 I need to stop eating so much sugar! Sweets are my greatest vice! I know sugar is not good for me, yet I grab unhealthy snacks embarrassingly often! I know it’s because I don’t plan well, and then by the time I’m starving, I want something NOW. I usually grab a quick and easy choice that is not healthy.
✅ When trying to stop something, it’s best to replace it with something else. I need to start eating more vegetables and whole grains. Imagine how my health would improve if every time I usually would have a sweet instead, I grab some veggies! I can plan for this by cutting up veggies once a week and having them in easy-to-grab containers for convenience. I actually like veggies and healthy options. I just need it to be easy.
⚠️ I need to increase my water consumption. I already drink water, but I know it’s not enough. I looked up signs that you don’t drink enough water and I exhibit the first two. One tip that works for me is to set alarms on my phone and get a drink when it goes off. Again, planning makes a big difference. When I take a water bottle in the car with me while running errands, I drink a lot more water.
2. Start with a Small Intentional Habits
Often at the beginning of a new year, we plan on creating BIG changes. We start with a lot of enthusiasm, and within a few days or weeks, we come to a grinding halt.
It’s better to start with a small habit that gets us into the routine and then slowly increase or improve upon the practice. For the example above about drinking water, I can start by having an alarm to drink a 1/2 cup of water in the morning the first week. I could add another alarm to drink another 1/2 cup at noon during the second week. During the third week, add another alarm in the middle of the afternoon. And during the fourth week, add an alarm before dinner. It would be great to increase the amount of water to a full cup and then eventually two cups of water during the following weeks. Building up over a few months is more likely to create lasting change and for the habit to stick.
My husband has recommitted to working out and stopped at the gym for just a few minutes on his way to work on Monday. He wants to build up the time he spends there, but his first step is to be there for just a few minutes each day and get in the habit of going each weekday. I recently heard James Clear recite the quote by Ed Latimore, “The heaviest weight at the gym is the front door.” Isn’t that the truth?
3. How long does it take for new intentional habits to stick?
You probably have heard it takes 21 days for something to become a habit. That actually isn’t true! The amount of time to establish an intentional habit depends on the person, the task’s difficulty, and the circumstances. Research by Phillippa Lally at University College London shows it takes 66 days for a new habit to become automatic. Still, it can be much longer if you are working to override deeply ingrained habits or create a new challenging task.
Understanding this from the beginning makes it easier to manage your expectations and commit to making small, incremental improvements — rather than pressuring yourself into thinking that you have to do it all at once.James Clear
I love the concept that James Clear shares in his book Atomic Habits about making minor 1% improvements each day. By making small improvements, it feels easy and do-able! Yet, the results are phenomenal over a month, a year, or multiple years.
So please stick to your new behavior until it becomes a habit! And if you miss a day, just start up again and keep going! Don’t beat yourself up or give up entirely because you didn’t do it “perfectly.”
Read more about goal setting in The Goal Guide E-book. It is a tremendous resource all about setting and achieving goals! It’s a quick read but packed with valuable tips and motivational quotes to help you make real progress!
Achieving our goals is about more than just saying we want to do something. It’s about real intent and understanding the motivating factors behind anything we want to accomplish. The most important thing I try to remember is to take bite-size pieces. Small, deliberate actions can have broad, long-range effects. It’s the little things you do today that will make you into the person you are tomorrow.The Goal Guide
What area of your life are you seeking to improve in the coming year? Can you break it down into habits that you need to stop and replace with better habits? Is there something good that you are already doing that you can just adjust to make it even better? What’s a small habit that you can start doing and slowly build upon?
It will be so fun to look back a year from now and see just how far you have come! Intentional habits lead to desired results!