New Year, New Intentions
Written by Emily Hanna, LLMSW
“The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.”
― Maya Angelou
With the passing of a year, many use this natural benchmark as an opportunity to reflect – how have I, or aspects of my life, changed this past year? What no longer serves me? What do I want my life to look like in a year from now? What changes do I need to make to get there?
This introspection often leads to contemplating potential areas of personal growth, whether it be creating a grounding morning routine, committing to exercise, eating healthier, spending less time using social media, learning a new language, or ceasing to engage in a harmful habit. However, only 20% of New Years resolutions are carried out beyond a month (U.S. News, 2015). There are many reasons for this. As humans, we desire to strive and evolve. However, we tend to forget why it is we want to improve an aspect of our lives - and as time goes on - we revert to our old habits.
Therefore, habit formation is critical to one’s journey in personal growth, whether it be a New Years resolution, or creating positive change at any point in one’s life. A 2010 study by Phillippa Lally and colleagues found that it takes 66 days on average to form a habit (Lally et al., 2010). In this habit formation phase, there will inevitably be times when motivation wanes and the pull towards old habits grows strong. This is when it is important to harken back to your initial source of motivation - why it is you want to take steps towards change.
A few tips:
Ask yourself a few questions: Why is it I want to make this change? How will it change my life for the better? If I were to not make this change, how would my life look in the future?
Write these answers down. Place your answers somewhere accessible, whether it be on your phone, or a notecard to leave on your mirror, nightstand, or in your wallet. Read your answers to remind yourself of your why, especially when you feel stuck or as if your motivation is waning.
Anticipate barriers. Write down what you anticipate getting in the way of you moving towards change in as much detail as possible. What circumstances, or even thoughts, may get in the way? Take some time to write down how you would address these barriers, as well as motivating statements you can tell yourself when thoughts may get in the way.
Set small, specific steps. One of the biggest deterrents to change is setting too high expectations, and then perceiving it as a “failure” if they are not met. Instead, set realistic, manageable steps, and reward yourself for achieving these steps along the way. Plan ahead, and make each step as specific as possible.
Find a source of accountability. This may take the form of an online or offline course, enlisting a counselor for support, enlisting a friend to join you with your resolution, or using a form of personal tracking (planners, journals, apps, etc).
Anticipate setbacks. As mentioned above, a sense of perceived “failure” can cause a downward spiral, including self-deprecating thoughts that deplete motivation and confidence in self. Appreciate the fact that change is difficult, and the journey is not typically linear. After all, “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” - C.S. Lewis
“Stay Focused” Google Chrome Extension
“Mindful Browsing” Google Chrome Extension
Happiness Planner (https://thehappinessplanner.com/)
Passion Planner (http://www.passionplanner.com/)
The 5-Minute Journal (https://www.intelligentchange.com/products/the-five-minute-journal)
The Morning Sidekick Journal (https://shop.habitnest.com/)
Coursera Personal Development courses (https://www.coursera.org/)
Sounds True (https://www.soundstrue.com/store/)
Rec & Ed Adult Enrichment courses (https://www.a2schools.org/Page/4356)
Lally, Phillippa, et al. "How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world." European journal of social psychology 40.6 (2010): 998-1009.
Luciani, Joseph. “Why 8- Percent of New Year’s Resolutions Fail.” U.S. News, 29 Dec, 2015, health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs-eat-run/articles/2015-12-29/why-80-percent-of-new-years-resolutions-fail.