Habit Forming Strategies From Our Founder
This may be surprising, but I don’t set New Year’s goals. (Gasp!) That’s right – no goal setting here.
While I don’t set goals for the new year, I do follow a different type of strategy to start each new year with intention + aspiration, and it revolves entirely around habits.
Let me backup on this a bit! For several years, I would set 5-10 New Year’s goals for myself. A few weeks or months in, I would feel a deep sense of disappointment set in upon realizing that I hadn’t stuck with any of them (and sometimes couldn’t even recall what my goals even were).
Our confidence as individuals is deeply connected to our ability to keep the promises we make to ourselves. When we set goals or intentions but don’t follow through, it affects us on a much deeper level than we realize. We actually start to lose trust in ourselves. That’s a big deal, and not something I wanted for myself.
Looking back, I now see that there were several problems with my New Year’s goals/resolutions.
For one, I usually didn’t write them down. But this part is huge. There’s so much more firepower behind the things that we write down. A study done by psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews at Dominican University in California actually found that participants were 42% more likely to achieve their goals when they wrote them down. Amazing!
Additionally, my goals were usually centered around fixing a problem. If I wasn’t feeling great about the physical shape I was in, I’d set a goal to go to the gym 5x/week. If I felt like I should be reading more, I’d set a goal to read one book every 2 months.
Totally uninspiring and random. Not tied to a bigger vision of any kind.
I was stuck in this pattern of goal-setting with a lack of follow through up until a few years ago when I listened to this podcast episode where Rachel Hollis interviews Brendon Burchard. He talks about how goals should be inspirational and tied to a long-term dream, rather than focused on just fixing things that suck. This resonated with me SO much.
I’m a big believer that the small decisions we make every day can lead to powerful, game-changing growth over time. So for the last few years, I’ve taken up a habit-centered approach to starting the New Year. And for the first time in my entire life, I can proudly look back on past years and actually see/measure the changes I’ve made (so exciting)!
I can’t wait to show you guys the process that has worked so well for me. But please keep in mind that there’s no right or wrong way to do this, so feel free to tweak it and make it your own!
The *most* important step in all of this (other than grabbing a pen and paper to write with, which is an absolute must!) is to, in the words of my friend Kate Eskuri, make this process sacred. Brew a cup of coffee or tea, diffuse your favorite essential oil and savor this time to channel your biggest + boldest hopes and dreams for your life!
STEP #1: VISUALIZE YOUR FUTURE SELF
Before you skip this step because it feels too “out there”, hear me out!
A few years ago, I would have never made space for this sort of thing. I also didn’t realize the power it held. When habits are directly tied to a bigger vision, they resonate on a deeper level and are easier to keep. Habits become less random and more meaningful when our “why” is placed at the forefront.
For me, this part of the process starts with thinking about what I want my life to look like ten years from now.
Why so far into the future, you might be wondering?
Something about describing my life ten years from now feels really BIG to me. It allows me to connect with what I really, truly want for my whole life. You can certainly describe your five year self or any other number that resonates best, but I like ten.
When you think about your future self, be specific. How do you spend your mornings? What do you eat and drink? Are you working? What are your hobbies? How do you interact with others? Where do you live?
Another thing that’s helpful for me in this process is to connect with the feelings I want to feel over the course of a day, week, month, etc. ten years from now.
For example, one thing that comes to mind whenever I do this exercise is that I want to feel a deep sense of connectedness with my husband and kids. In order for that to be a constant thing, family has to be a priority in my everyday life. Relaxed (not rushed) mornings, frequent family getaways, breaks from technology, and family dinners every night are a few things that come to mind when I think about the specifics of what this looks like.
Think about alllll of the feelings, details, etc. and then write. them. all. down. Describe whatever comes to mind for you – have fun with it! Let the words flow from your mind + pen.
STEP 2: DEFINE YOUR AREAS OF FOCUS
Now, based on that bigger vision you just laid out SO beautifully, identify four areas that you want to really focus in on in order to make that big picture vision a reality. These can be super broad!
When I wrote out my visualization this year, the four areas of focus that came to mind for me were faith, family, health and career.
Some other possibilities include personal growth, school, finances, sense of adventure, friendships, etc. – the options are endless!
And while it can be tempting to identify several areas of focus during this step, keep in mind that a leaner list tends to be more effective. Better to hit a home run with the few things we set out to do rather than accomplishing none of the many things we commit ourselves to.
Once we dive into the next step, it’ll become even more clear why it’s best not to choose too many areas of focus. Four seems to be a good number for me, but one less or one more area could work well also.
STEP 3: PICK FOUR NEW HABITS FOR EACH AREA OF FOCUS
This is where the real magic happens! Once we’ve defined four big areas of focus for the coming year, we’ll create four habits to support our growth in each area of focus (sixteen habits total).
Four big areas of focus, four habits to support each area. BUT you’ll space out these four new habits for each area of focus into one habit per area of focus each quarter – making a grand total of sixteen new habits implemented over the course of the year.
Sixteen new habits over the course of a year may seem like a lot – and it is! Especially if we were to attempt to implement all sixteen at once. (Not recommended!)
But the cool thing about habits is that once they stick, they become a seamless part of our everyday. They take a ton of effort, until they don’t. And once we master one habit in any given area, we can stack on the next one – slowly but surely moving ourselves closer and closer to that bigger dream.
Once a habit sticks, move it on over to your list of non-negotiables. If you don’t have a list of non-negotiables, I highly recommend starting one! This is simply a list of you things you know about yourself – things you do and don’t do.
Here are a few of the things on my list of non-negotiables:
– I spend time in prayer every morning when I wake up.
– I take my kids outside for a short walk or run almost every morning.
– I take a cold shower every day.
– I go in the infrared sauna at least 4x/week.
– I put on my blue light blocking glasses at least an hour before I go to bed each night.
– I don’t scroll on instagram.
– I don’t consume gluten, refined sugar or chemical ingredients.
– I don’t open my computer after 8 pm.
So every time a new habit sticks, add it to your own list of do’s and don’ts. A year from now, you’ll be able to look back on your progress and see all of the incredible new habits you’ve implemented – things that are now an effortless part of your day to day life.
At the beginning of each month, I set aside an hour or so to check in with myself.
I read my visualization. I sit with it. I think about what it will feel like when my dreams become a reality.
I review the four habits that I’m currently focusing on and ask myself if there any roadblocks getting in the way of implementing any of these habits.
For example, I was having a hard time organizing my mornings for awhile. I knew that I wanted to make exercise and getting sunlight + fresh air a priority each morning, and I wanted my kids to be a part of that.
But there were several other things that needed to happen in the morning with my kids (breakfast, getting dressed, packing a lunch for my 4 year old to take to preschool, etc.) and the time in-between when they woke up and when their sitter arrived often felt chaotic. As a result, we only ended up getting outside for a walk or run 20-30% of the time.
I knew there had to be a way to make this happen more regularly, so I thought through everything that was getting in the way. Several things came up. I started putting them to bed a little sooner to give us more time together each morning. I started getting dressed in my workout clothes before they woke up, eliminating that excuse. They were often hungry first thing upon waking up, but instead of going right into breakfast like I used to do, I began immediately plopping them into the stroller in their PJs and giving them each a bag of blueberries to occupy them + hold them over.
Such simple things that made a huge difference. These days, we make it outside for an early morning walk or run 90% of the time.
Lastly, I review my list of non-negotiables each month. This is so helpful in reinforcing all of my current habits. And once I’ve mastered a new habit, I add it to the list.
Simple enough, right?
“Consistency compounds” is a quote by John Maxwell that I love. When we’re consistent with the small stuff, BIG change always happens in time. I keep this in the back of my mind whenever I struggle with a new habit, however small or insignificant the choice to stick with it may feel at the time.
So what do you say, will you join me in creating habits that will take us to where we want to be in 2021 and beyond? What are some of the habits you’ll be implementing in the new year?