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Your New Habits Will Stick With These 5 Killer Strategies

Your New Habits Will Stick With These 5 Killer Strategies

I’m sure you have been there. You write down goals and resolutions, clench your teeth and swear that you will follow through.

Then you miss a day. And another. And another…

Soon, days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months. Before you know it, that book you said you would finish has been lying under your bed for a year, and that diet you said you would follow has become the last thing that comes to mind when you are in front of a dinner table. At one point, you felt immensely guilty, but now you just feel numb. Your guilt from missing your goals has been squashed mercilessly and cast to the back of your mind so often that doing so has almost become a reflex action.

“It’s not like I don’t want to do it – I just don’t have time for it anymore,” you protest weakly.

It’s normal to be slow in our journey of forming habits.

Hey, it’s okay. Relax. We’re not here to yell at you for being human. The truth is, it is completely normal to run into obstacles on our trek towards building and forming new habits, especially when it’s something that we are not used to doing or even something that is the complete opposite of what we are used to doing. A simple and common example is making it a goal to completely cut out fast food and replace it with salads, fruits, and vegetables. The first few days might be all right, but as time goes on, the urge to revert to grabbing a burger grows stronger and stronger. Eventually, you throw your hands up and say, “whatever, it’s just one day,” and you know the rest.

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However, all is not lost. I turned my life around with five simple steps. Now it is your turn to do the same.

1. Gamify your life when building habits.

Gamification is a self-designed system that operates along a daily exchange of productivity and reward.[1] To put it in simpler words, it helps make completing chores and work fun!

It goes like this:

  1. Identify tasks you don’t like doing.
  2. Assign points to them – the more you hate doing it, the more points it should get!
  3. Set up small, regular rewards to keep yourself incentivized.
  4. Set long term goals and reward yourself with a super prize!

Ultimately, you want to use this system to achieve those long-term goals – your goal could be anything from eating healthy to getting a solid 8 hours of sleep every night! Just don’t forget to make it worthwhile by setting up rewards to give yourself when you succeed, like getting yourself that camera you really want or booking a trip to Japan!

2. Share your goals with the people around you.

This may come across as a little weird in the beginning. Broadcasting your goal of improving your eating habits to your friends sounds ridiculous. But is it really?

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Your friends might laugh at you if fall, but they will also be the ones who help you up from the ground. If you tell your friends that you want to eat healthier meals from now on, you can count on them to remind you to stick to your diet every time you meet up for lunch. When I was trying to go meat-free a few years back, I even had friends who were nice enough to pick restaurants with vegetarian options for meals out with me. Sharing your goals is more effective than you may imagine – so go ahead and talk to your friends!

3. Set your target as your wallpaper.

    It is difficult to forget something you see every day. In this age when smartphones and computers are more frequent companions than the people around us, you might want to remind yourself of your target by setting a quote or a relevant pretty image as your wallpaper. This way, every time you look at your phone, you will be reminded to drink a glass of water, get a quick workout done, or take whatever action you need to take to meet your goal.

    4. Put in the minimum effort needed to form a habit.

    What?

    You didn’t read it wrong. The key to habit formation is for it to be easy. The more difficult it is to follow through, the higher the temptation is to give up. In his article “The ONE Success Strategy that’s so Simple YOU may actually do it,” Greg Clement puts it like this:[2]

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    Instead of putting MAXIMUM effort into my goal each day, I decided to set a floor, a minimum.

    Anything above this minimum performance I’d consider a bonus.

    Set a core goal. It could be about work, relationships, personal health – something that covers an important part of your life. An example might be improving your relationship with your children.

    Then, create your Minimum Acceptable Day (M.A.D.). Following up on the previous example, it could be spending 20 minutes with your children. This is your baseline. Finally, every time you achieve this target, put a BIG CROSS on your calendar. Let them build up.

    If you managed to spend a healthy 2 hours playing Lego with your kids – awesome! However, it’s just as amazing if you can only spend 20 minutes with them. That’s because you are moving forward every day that you adhere to your minimum goal. This creates momentum for you to go on, and before you notice, you will have already been doing this for a year!

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    5. Crave the reward from your new habit.

      In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg proposed the idea of a habit loop. There is the cue: the trigger for your habit; the routine: the behavior itself; and lastly, the reward: the joy you derive from the habit. On top of that, there is the craving, which links the cue with the action and the reward.

      I used to work until 3 AM every day. Needless to say, my eyelids would start to droop after 1 AM (this is the cue), so I would head to the fridge and down a can of Red Bull (this is the routine), rejuvenating and preparing myself for the work ahead (this is the reward). Eventually, whenever I was tired, I would immediately think of getting a can of Red Bull because of the 2-hour energy spike I would get (craving).

      Therefore, herein lies the last tip for creating habits that stick: develop a craving that drives you to maintain the habit by connecting it with the action and the reward. In my case, I could train myself to crave a different reward (rest and better sleep quality) as soon as I encounter the cue (being tired). I could do this by developing a craving for becoming better rested and thus develop my new habit (going to sleep earlier)!

      Get moving!

      You have all you need – so set your goals and get moving!

      Featured photo credit: Picjumbo via picjumbo.com

      Reference

      More by this author

      Eamon Suen

      Student, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

      Life Is Not Supposed To Be Fair, We’re Supposed to Learn To Live With It If You Want To Be Successful, You May Need To Cut Off Something From Life The Earlier You Understand These Truths Of Happiness The Better Your New Habits Will Stick With These 5 Killer Strategies Accept Where You Are And Happiness Is At Your Fingertips

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      1 How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated 2 How Self Care Can Help You Live Your Best Life 3 How to Develop Mental Toughness to Help You Stay Strong 4 How to Calm Down When You’re Stressed and Anxious 5 How to Reinvent Yourself And Redefine Your Future

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      Last Updated on April 23, 2019

      How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

      How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

      Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

      While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

      For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

      While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

      I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

      Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

      Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

      Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

      The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

      Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

      What Is a Stretch Goal?

      A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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      In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

      For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

      This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

      It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

      The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

      The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

      I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

      Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

      1. Get Outside of Your Head

      If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

      If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

      I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

      Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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      2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

      When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

      I see this in so many areas of life:

      When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

      In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

      “Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

      Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

      3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

      When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

      The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

      For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

      We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

      From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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      When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

      Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

      4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

      S.M.A.R.T.

      is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

      While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

      Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

      For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

      By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

      5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

      I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

      The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

      When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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      One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

      Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

      I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

      A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

      As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

      From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

      The Bottom Line

      These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

      For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

      Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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