Do you often find yourself failing to keep your New Year’s resolutions? Or have you given up on making them, sure that you will not keep them? You are not alone! A 2007 study concluded that only 12% of people succeed in keeping their resolutions. More recent and slightly encouraging data from the University of Scranton posted on the Brain Research Center states that while only 14% of people over 50 achieve their resolutions, 39% of people in their 20’s achieve them.
Don’t be discouraged! With some fine-tuning of your resolutions, you can make it more likely that you will succeed. It might be harder to teach an older dog new tricks, but it can be done! And, to those of you in your 20’s, you definitely can do this! Our brains are far more malleable than we think, and we can start new habits at any age.
It Is Not About Your Willpower
According to James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, the problem with achieving our goals is not our willpower; the problem is that we focus on the goal and not on a system of attaining our goals. We need to concentrate on a system and look for small habits that support that plan.
Think Of Habits Like Small Sections Of Music
When faced with a challenging piece, we would advise our students to examine the music, find a part that is just a little bit hard, break it into small pieces, and learn one small section at a time. Then put it together to create our best work. Look at our self-improvement habits like those tiny sections in music. They are the building blocks that will help us develop our optimal selves. Find little areas to work on that, once mastered, will be the stepping stones toward making the changes you desire.
New Beginnings Can Help
Research from Katy Milkman, the author of How to Change, tells us there is power in new beginnings when making life changes. She calls it the Fresh Start Effect. You are more motivated to commit to a change in behavior if you connect that change to a fresh start, such as a new year, birthday, season, month, or even a Monday!
The blank slate of a new beginning makes it more likely to make and keep our goals. The fresh start helps us gain perspective and realize that today is a new day, and our failures in the past do not have to define us. The late, great Stephen Sondheim also weighs in with the last line of the musical, Sunday in the Park with George:
“White: a blank page or canvas. His favorite—so many possibilities.”
Our possibilities, and our students’ possibilities, are far more than we think. We need to dream big, and at the same time, support our dreams with tiny steps.
Focus On Who You Want To Become
In Atomic Habits, James Clear suggests that instead of focusing on what we want, we can be more successful if we focus on who we want to become. He states:
“It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I am the type of person who is this.”
He also tells us that behavior change is a two-step process:
- Decide the type of person you want to be.
- Prove it to yourself with small wins.
Here is one more helpful hint: Adding a positive habit is easier than breaking a bad habit. So, to gain confidence in your new system, start with adding a positive new habit.
Fine-Tune Your Resolution
If you have made a resolution, take a moment, and run your resolution through the following tools. And if you have not made one yet, let’s get on that!
Let’s get started with James Clear’s question,
“Who do you want to become?”
After you have answered that question, take a moment to answer this question posed to us by the poet, Mary Oliver:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
These are not always easy questions to answer, but see what answers you come up with and keep visiting these questions often.
Now, pick a small habit that gets you closer to being the person you strive to be and helps you do what you plan to do with the gift of your one wild and precious life.
Many habits will take you there. Do not worry if you are not sure you are picking the “right” habit. Just pick one related to who you want to become and get started.
To get started, put your new habit through the tools below.
Habit Success Tool # 1: Tiny, Tiny, Tiny.
Make your new habit so small it is almost impossible to fail.
Take your new resolution and make it small. Next, make it smaller. Then make that habit ridiculously small! So small that it is almost impossible to fail. You could JUST SHOW UP!
If you want to practice more, you could resolve to JUST SHOW UP to your practice area. Or, if your goal is to exercise daily, decide to JUST SHOW UP on your exercise mat every day (my personal favorite!). You have now made it easy to be successful.
Habit Success Tool #2: Attach Your New Habit To An Existing Habit.
Habit stacking is a term for attaching a new habit to an existing habit. Examples include:
- When I brush my teeth or go to bed, I will be grateful for one thing.
- When I take a shower or bath, I will do a breathing meditation for 10 seconds.
- When I watch TV at night, I will SHOW UP on my exercise mat.
- When I wake up, I will meditate for 1 minute.
This technique is a powerful tool to help jumpstart almost any new habit. As the Star Wars movies remind us, “Don’t underestimate the power of the force [of habit stacking].”
Habit Success Tool #3: Keep Track Of Your New Habit And Try Not To Miss Two Days In A Row.
Research shows that walkers who wear a pedometer walk, on average, 1 mile more a week than walkers who do not have a pedometer. Weight Watchers, NOOM, and many other self-improvement programs know this and have their members track their progress. You can keep track of your new habit in many ways. Free habit tracker apps include Streaks for iPhone users and Loop for Android users, or you can use a printed page like my JUST SHOW UP habit tracker that you can find in the resources section of my website, TeachingPositivity.com.
I have also created a free JUST SHOW UP practice record for your students that you can also find on my website. We all know that practice records can be challenging at best, but research supports that your students will practice more if they keep track.
Also, try not to BREAK THE STREAK. We are all human, so we need to build in the flexibility to miss a day now and then. But missing two days in a row can derail your habit.
Habit Success Tool #4 – Celebrate Your Tiny New Habit!
In his book Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg tells us that celebration is the key to establishing any long-term habit. After we perform our new habit, a celebration will release dopamine in our brain, making us happier and more apt to repeat our habit.
Hurray for your effort! You are a person of action! You can celebrate with a small treat like a bit of dark chocolate, a reward of time to watch a favorite show, a cup of tea, by taking a moment to flex a muscle, by putting a check on a habit tracker, or by simply saying to yourself, “That’s like me!”
Remind yourself to celebrate your students’ progress too. The power of celebration works with everyone! A high five, a name on a chart, a genuine smile can go a long way to motivate them.
Habit Success Tool #5 – The Power Of “Oh Well” and Start Again
An old Japanese proverb states, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” We are human. We will fail. So, when you do fail, just say “Oh well,” and start again. This might be the most important tool!
It Is A Question Of Time, Patience, And Intelligent Work
The esteemed flutist and music educator Marcel Moyse tells us, “It is a question of time, patience, and intelligent work.” Just like mastering your instrument, life change does not happen overnight. Be patient, be consistent and work on your habits each day. Aristotle eloquently says, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
If you would like to learn more about habit formation, dive into some awesome tiny habits, and hear a few bad jokes, watch my SmartMusic Webinar, “Fine-tune Your Resolutions for A Major Change.”
May 2022 be safe, healthy, and happy for you and your students. And may it be full of HAPPY TINY POSSIBILITIES!