Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Three to Read: Self-Improvement Edition

Yes, the New Year is well underway and right now, most of the world has taken a New Year's Resolution or two and without any sort of scientific measure, my guess is that a fair number of people are approaching the two-three week mark and that commitment that was felt at the start of the month is beginning to wane.

Now, don't feel bad.  Part of the problem with New Year's resolutions, whether they are a matter of losing weight, or working out, or cleaning you house, budget or what ever, is that doing anything new over the long term takes a while to build the habit.  So here are some tips for helping you do that:

First, Make your Commitment Public
First from Stever Robbins, the Get It Done Guy on Quick and Dirty Tips.  The first thing to do is don't call them resolutions, call them commitments.  Next, this tip I love:
Now it's your turn. Once you've found your driving passions, find someone you trust and respect. Make them a promise about the steps you'll take to reach your passions more directly than you're doing now. You needn’t make a total life change, just promise to take the first few steps with limits in place to keep you safe. Then put your promise in writing and sign it. You'll feel your entire being start to gear up to make it happen.
It is the publicness of the commitment that may be the key to making the "resolution" stick.  You are free to put down below to put one of your New Year's Commitment, but it doesn't have to be put on the interwebs, maybe making the commitment to your significant other or a good friend.  

Make Steady Consistent Progress to Achieve Your Goal
Most of the resolutions people make have no mechanism of measurement, i.e. lose weight, or work out more, don't cut it.  so I am going to assume that you are smart enough to know that you have to be able to measure your progress at the end.  So what is next?  Well, Brett and Kate McKay of the Art of Manliness (if you are a man or know a man, this is a fraking BRILLIANT website that you should check out), have a question:  What is your 20 Mile March?  In other words, what is your daily task that you will do to achieve your goal, no matter what is happening, whether you are having a good day or a bad day.

The McKays talk about a book called Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen (I have not read the book myself, but I have read Good to Great by Collins and thought it a brilliant read, so Great by Choice is high on my "to read" list).  Collins and Hansen and the McKays discuss the race between Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen to be the first to reach the South Pole.  Amundsen succeeded where Scott did not because Amundsen developed a plan and methodically stuck to the plan, no matter what the conditions were.  This is not to say that Scott didn't haave a plan, only that Amundsen's success was, according to Collins and Hansen, the product of methodical adherence to the plan, even with the days were good.  

Collins and Hansen took the phrase 20 Mile March from a man who methodically walked 20 miles a day in an effort to walk across the United States.  The man walked 20 miles no matter what the weather conditions, rather than walking 40-50 miles a day in good weather and only a few miles or no miles when the weather was bad.  Similarly, Amundsen's team went 15 miles a day, no more on the good days, and no less on bad days.  

The lesson from the cross-country walker and Roald Amundsen is clear, stead progress will achieve the goal faster than spurts of huge success followed by no progress.  So develop a plan, with clear interim goals and every day make progress toward that goal.  For help, here is a list of seven attributes of a good plan that you should consider:

  1. Clear performance markers
  2. Self-imposed constraints
  3. Appropriate to the individual
  4. Largely within your control
  5. A proper time frame -- long enough to manage, yet short enough to have teeth
  6. Designed and self-imposed by the individual
  7. Achieved with high consistency

Of course none of these attributes is "magical" but a plan built around these principles will yield success far more often than failure, consideration of all seven attributes is key to success.

Resolutions Crash on the Shores of Failed Habit Formation
The most fundamental reason why resolutions fail has little to do with the actual resolution (in most cases--a resolution to build a rocket to the moon in the next year is not practical).  Rather most New Year's Resolutions fail because we do not allow enough time or make enough of an effort to build the new habit.  

If you Google how long it takes to form a new habit, you will get an answer of anywhere between 21 days and 28 days.  Well, that may be possible, if the habit is something simple, but in reality, our New Year's resolutions are rarely simple and the require the creation of new neural pathways so that the effort to achieve a resolution becomes a habit (a good habit obviously).  Jeremy Dean, author of Making Habits, Breaking Habits, in 2009 briefly highlighted a study out of England which suggested that habits can take as few as 18 days to form and as many as 254 days.  However, the key finding is that it takes on average 66 days for a new habit to become ingrained in our neural pathways and become automatic behavior.  

So now that we are at about the three week stage (21 days), on average you will need another 45 days (or over six weeks) to keep building that habit until it become a truly automatic habit.  The study found that early repetition is key to forming the habit.

So whether your habit to lose weight (the most common among New Year's Resolution) takes the form of eating healthier foods, eating less or working out (second most common resolution), the fact is it could take almost 8 months to form that habit.  Which is why the development of a plan, and a consistent, measurable effort every day is key to making your Resolutions Come true.

I don't mean to be a downer, truly I don't.  So for all of you out there who made a resolution, feel free to share it below.  I would love to hear about it.  Tell me your goal and your deadline.  

Check out my soccer blog at Nutmegs and Stepovers

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