You’ve got new year’s resolutions? So does E&M. Our next step will be improving our availability on social media to be closer to our followers. Get in touch with us via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter! We are curious to hear about your plans for 2020. In what follows, E&M editor Jurek Wötzel explains why you shouldn’t try to start new routines on the 1st of January – or Mondays.
It’s that time of the year again. Our overly motivated and socially adapted friends enthusiastically tell us about how they are going to change everything next year: their diet, their workout routine, their mindset. Sure thing, you think. But the worst is, some people actually succeed. So what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do it?
Well, there are a few things you should watch out for to make your journey to a better self easier. But before I disclose some of my insights, remember that you should ask yourself whether you really want to do this. Do you really want to be in pain just to lose four or five kgs? Skinny people aren’t happier. Your life won’t change dramatically. In the end, you’ll feel better for a while, until your emotional state rebounds back to normal. That’s just how we humans work. For sure, some changes will have a real effect: nutrition, sports, meditation. Yet, many projects of that kind are short term fixes to deeper problems.
Now, all warnings aside. Here are four rules that you should definitely obey when trying to introduce new habits into your life.
1: Don’t start on Mondays.
Monday seems like the perfect start to a new life. There’s plenty of people who believe in a so-called fresh start effect, which is supposed to help you with introducing new habits into your life. Days that seem like transition points give you the impression that you are entering a new era.
Why I don’t buy that? Because Mondays are difficult days. And that little additional challenge will actually make your day disproportionally harder. Mondays are difficult for a variety of reasons. You have to go to work or school again, after blowing your brain out with drugs or Netflix for two straight days. You’re probably tired, since instead of having a lie-in you’re abruptly torn from your sweet, pleasant dreams by a mind-hammering alarm at 7 in the morning. You know that the next alcohol-binge is at least five days away, and you do your best not to fall into a state of absolute self-loathing.
The point is, willpower is an actual thing, and it’s directly correlated to tiredness. In a landmark study, a team of American psychologists concluded from a large-scale metanalysis that self-control resembles a muscle. It depends on blood sugar, tiredness, alcohol consumption etc. It also gets depleted the more unpleasant things you have to do. So if you wanna change your life on a Monday, make sure it’s a holiday. Or at least make sure you do not completely go crazy during the weekend before.
2: Don’t try to change everything at once.
Again, the concept of willpower is real. And it becomes smaller and smaller the more you’re trying to get yourself to do things you don’t want to do. So don’t overload yourself with habit changes. Especially if one of the habit changes is a new diet, which almost always means cutting carbs. Another variable that your willpower is closely linked to is your blood sugar level. I’m sure you’ve experienced a state of complete sugar depletion before: at that point, everything becomes meaningless compared to the strangling need for a quick glucose fix. Low blood sugar levels literally kill your willpower. You wanna try a new diet and new workout routine at the same time? Go ahead if you’re the 21-century impersonation of Nietzsche’s Übermensch. But probably you’re not, so just take one step at a time. Like a mortal human being.
3: Have the right expectations.
Be modest. Don’t expect a fundamental change to your wellbeing within the time span of a few weeks. It takes a long time until things become a habit, and it can take even longer until life changes reflect themselves in your everyday mood. On average it takes people just over 2 months to make something a habit that they don’t have to think about anymore. But the variation is considerable: for some people, it will just take about 3 weeks. For others, it can take even up to 8 months. This, of course, also depends on the kind of habit you are trying to form.
Be realistic. There are some life changes that will actually improve your mood for good: sports, meditation, proper nutrition. There are some life changes that I suspect won’t improve anyone’s mood, mainly those that are merely driven out of narcissistic perfectionism: striving for the perfect body, trying to live perfectly moral, always overachieving at work or in uni.
Be concise. Say “I want to be able to do 10 pull-ups”. Say that “I want to stop eating dairy for 3 months”. This way, you can actually measure your success, and you don’t fall into unproductive thought patterns of underestimating your progress – and you won’t stop before you’ve actually achieved something. Well-specified targets are key to form a habit successfully.
4: Choose the right goals.
Easier said than done. How can I know what the right goals are? Well, we can at least say what the achievable goals are. We can say which kinds of goals will yield higher motivation: Goals that are more in line with your general values in life. Those goals that are more compatible with your sense of self simply have greater subjective importance in your life. This is super-intuitive: If you’re an environmentalist wanting to improve their nutrition, adopting a vegan diet will be the better choice than adopting a paleo-diet. If you see yourself as a reserved person, trying to become clearer, or more assertive in the things you say will be the better choice than trying to become an extrovert. Makes perfect sense. In the end, isn’t that what habit formation should be about anyway? An attempt to become truer to yourself?
So that’s it: the new year’s resolutions starter kit. Let me remind you of one thing, though: with all the things that you’re planning to do, bear in mind that you are still you. With your genes, your past, your faults. Before trying to change something that you think is wrong, talk to your friends, family, meditate about it, whatever. Think long and hard whether it may not be better instead to learn to accept yourself because one thing is for sure: self-acceptance is THE one big step on the path to happiness. But if you end up deciding that a change is what you need, then go ahead. I hope this simple guide helps you to form a new habit.
Cover Photo: Swimmer in a Lake / Mali Maeder (Pexels)