Here's a disheartening self-improvement statistic: we're a week and a half into the new year, and a good 25 percent of us have already abandoned our resolutions. Even if you're off to a rough start, don't be a quitter — you can still make 2015 your best year yet by turning your New Year's resolutions into tiny habits instead. Wait a minute, what's the difference? Let me explain: The holy grail of a resolution is keeping it, right? Well, you can give yourself a hand in doing that by recycling your vague, seemingly overwhelming resolution into something small and actionable, a bite-sized behavior that keeps you motivated — and thus making it easier to keep. See I told you, we can still save 2015!!!
I was introduced to the idea of tiny habits through this podcast, in which Marcie Sillman of KUOW-FM in Seattle reunited with BJ Fogg one year after they made on-air resolutions together. Fogg is the director of Stanford's Persuasive Tech Lab and creator of the Tiny Habits behavior modification system, which he describes as:
...a method that I created that helps people bring new behaviors into [their lives] without relying on willpower. So it's a way to have a very, very tiny behavior, find where it fits in your normal routine, and then you feel good, what I call celebrate — you congratulate yourself for doing it. Together those three things help you bring behaviors into your life quickly and easily, [without tapping] into willpower.
Basically Fogg and his system advocate taking goals that are normally big and abstract (like to write more), and making them small and specific (i.e. every day I'm going to write four new sentences)... you know, taking baby steps.
Which is exactly what makes this method effective. By breaking up your overarching goal into little, manageable pieces, you're reducing the amount of willpower — a finite resource — necessary to complete each step, making it all the easier to maintain. Caroline Arnold, author of Small Move, Big Change, backs this up. She says, "'Microresolutions' — tiny behavioral modifications that can be incorporated into daily habits — are the key to making lasting changes for life." And making these changes small is crucial because our minds and bodies are programmed to resist any changes that deviate from our autopilot settings.
So how did Sillman and Fogg do with their 2014 tiny habits? Well, Sillman struggled to decide on a resolution, but once she landed on stepping away from her desk every day during lunch, she was able to keep it because it was an easy and welcome adjustment. And for Fogg's part, he began with the goal of becoming a better sketch artist, but soon after he started making the habit, he found himself working on his handwriting instead — an even more desirable outcome he hadn't initially considered — and indeed his handwriting has improved from his efforts over the course of this year.
According to Fogg, these are both considered successes that illustrate one of his key points about resolutions: If your original plan isn't working or you discover something better in the process, do not hesitate to give it up or revise it for something that works better/makes you happier.
So pull that resolution out of the trash, it just needs a different approach. Here are a handful of popular resolutions translated into tiny habits — obviously each of these can be miniaturized in countless different ways.
1. Exercise More
You can lie to yourself and say you're going to go to the gym every day, but here are a few smaller, simpler ideas to help you stay active — no gym membership required.
- Do 30 sit-ups first thing every morning. (I did a variation of this my freshman year of high school, and my abs got surprisingly ripped. Still riding pretty high on that accomplishment today.)
- Forgo the elevator at work, and only take the stairs.
- Run five miles each weekend, all at once or broken up.
2. Eat Healthier
Who hasn't made this resolution? Before you give up solid food altogether and go on an ill-fated mission to eat clean, all the time, here are three more manageable habits to try out first.
- Pack a healthy lunch for work every Monday.
- Replace your mid-afternoon vending machine run with fresh fruit from home.
- Eat breakfast every weekday morning. (And facilitate that by stocking your pantry with whole grain cereal and granola bars for mornings on the go.)
3. Save Money
So your savings account has been feeling neglected, and you want to actually put a few dollars away in 2015. Here are three simple actions to get you started.
- Nix the daily Starbucks run and save that coffee money this year instead.
- Limit dining out to weekends only.
- Save $20 a week. (Or try this version to slowly ease yourself into a saving habit.)
4. Read More
2015 will be the year you step away from the Netflix — at least for a little bit. Here's how:
- Read for 15 minutes every night before bed. (Which will also help you fall asleep faster, that's my non-scientific guarantee!)
- Set aside an hour every Sunday to read The New York Times.
- Join a monthly book club and actually read the books. (Novel idea, I know.)
5. Be a Better Person
Honestly, this is one of the easiest things you can tell yourself you're going to do, just because there are so many ways out there to give back in this world. Looking to pay it forward? Try these:
- Volunteer to read to a class of students once a week.
- Check in on your grandparents every Sunday.
- Carry $10 in singles for homeless people each week.
Now go in peace and make those resolutions, err tiny habits, happen!