Small Changes. Big Gains.

New Year’s Resolutions in the Time of Covid 

The presence of Covid has created many challenges in our day-to-day lives. Because of this threat, we are all, at some level, in the fight or flight response most of the time. With these challenges, though, there have been some unique opportunities as we evaluate our lives pre-pandemic compared to our present circumstances. 

Many of my alum clients have told me that they see their personal and professional lives very differently than they did prior to the pandemic. It’s as if the pandemic forced them to stop and really think about whether or not they were happy and fulfilled with life. Many have expressed gratitude, certainly not for the pandemic, but for the opportunity to have been forced to look at their lives more closely and with greater clarity. 

If this has happened for you, and you’d like to make some changes based on how you feel about your personal and professional life, I’d recommend being gentle with yourself by making small changes that will eventually lead to big gains. Not only does research show that you will be more successful in achieving your goals if you start small, but starting small honors the fact that you might not be at your best right now. You might not be ready to tackle huge changes, no matter how much you might want to. 

I recommend the methods laid out by B.J. Fogg in the book “Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything”

How to start – Anchoring

Research shows that people have the most consistent routines that they can tap into in the morning. As the day goes on, unexpected things come up that can easily throw things off track. So, the morning is a great time for creating new habits to build into the routines you already have. 

As you start the process, make a list of all your daily habits. Use this list to anchor in new habits. This process works best if you attach the new habit to something you already do. It’s especially helpful if they have the same theme, like flossing one tooth right before or after brushing your teeth or wiping down one counter after you have fixed your breakfast and are just about to leave the kitchen. 

Make sure the anchors are specific events. You could think of them as “anchor moments” which indicate a precise moment in time. Let’s say that you want to start exercising regularly, eat healthy, start meditating, floss regularly, and get better sleep. Start pairing each new habit with the best anchor for that particular habit that you want to start. Beware, if it’s fuzzy like “after dinner” or “whenever I feel stressed” it doesn’t work to use them as an anchor behavior.  

Keep these things in mind:

  1. The physical location. Consider the physical location of the new habit and pick an anchor that you already do at that location. If you want the habit to be wiping down the countertops, have the anchor be something that you already do in the kitchen. If you need to switch locations, you are less likely to carry out the behavior. So you wouldn’t want it to be something like, “After I load the dishwasher I will clean the trash out of my car”. Being in the same physical location is the most important aspect of pairing anchors to new habits.  
  2. Match the frequency. Look at your existing routine and decide how often you want to do the new habit. If you want to do it once per day, then attach it to an anchor that happens once per day. If you want it to happen 4 x’s per day, then attach it to an anchor that happens 4 x’s per day.  
  3. Match the theme/purpose. Examples might be, 

“After I water my jade plant in the morning, I will drink a full glass of water, so that I nurture both the plant and myself.”  

“After I brush my teeth, I will sweep the garage” doesn’t match location, frequency or theme. If it’s not working, just change it.  

Experiment until you find what works. Discover what anchor works with what new behavior. 

Why tiny habits?

Three things need to happen at the same time, for a new behavior to occur, and for it to turn into a habit: Motivation, Ability, and a Prompt.   

When a behavior doesn’t happen, at least one of these three elements is missing. If a behavior is easy to do, the prompt is there, and the motivation is high, the behavior will happen. So if it’s something really small, then you have the ability to do it. If you attach it to something you already do in your routine, that serves as the prompt. If it’s really small and you know that you’ll feel good about it and celebrate it, then you’ll likely have the motivation to do it as well. If you’ve picked the right tiny habits, you will eventually scale them up. 

Tiny habits grow and scale 

You might wonder, “When do I scale up?” About a year ago I started doing two kitchen counter push-ups each time I went into the kitchen to get another glass of water or tea because I was recovering from rotator cuff surgery and it was part of what I was supposed to do for physical therapy. Doing just two became too easy, so after a couple of weeks, I scaled up to 10 every time I went to the kitchen. After 10, I worked up to 20. I don’t need to scale up any further than that because it leads to at least a 100 per day. When it comes to scaling up, there are two general categories: habits that grow and habits that multiply.  

The essence of the habits is the same, but as you do more of them, the success in one area multiplies into other related areas. So when you achieve a bunch of tiny habit successes, rather than one big one that takes a long time, you’ll progress more quickly.  

Craft your behaviors by selecting and adjusting the habits you want in your life. Some people like to work on lots of little, easy habits. Others like to tackle things that are a bit more challenging. Even if you go bigger, you’ll find it better to first break them down into small habits that you can achieve right away, and then build from there.  

Many people who use this process pick three small habits and add three more each month. Starting small is the ultimate key to your success. You’re less likely to fail and you’ll build your skills for that habit over time. Feeling successful leads to more new behaviors, more successes, and so on. When you succeed at something, your overall level of motivation goes up and you try harder behaviors, which lead to bigger overall successes. 

I wish you all greater clarity and success in the New Year. Feel free to e-mail me at Angela.Hayes@colostate.edu if you would like help creating your plans for change. 

You may also be interested in:

Successfully Change Careers

Most Needed Job Skills in a Pandemic and Postpandemic World

Helping CSU Students Navigate Their Future

 

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