It’s become a cliché for people to announce defiantly their New Year’s Resolutions on January 1st, only to break them the next day—or perhaps the end of the month if they’re lucky. It becomes a cycle where the end of December reminds them of their long-forgotten resolution, and they state ever more defiantly the next year that this will really be the year where they will exercise more often, eat healthier etc. And the cycle repeats until one December they stop trying to resolve to do anything because it has turned into an annual ceremony of self-defeat.
There are two reasons why this is a terrible cycle to find yourself in: 1) your self-efficacy (the strength of one’s belief in their ability to reach goals) takes a beating every year, and 2) nothing’s changed.
So how do you get out of the cycle? The answer is simple: successfully achieve your goals to regain your sense of self-efficacy, so you can go on to tackling other goals with more confidence. Of course, achieving this is easier said than done.
So here are some ways which I’ve found helpful to getting on the path to successful habit changing: 1) developing a new habit while trying to break an old one, and 2) thinking of setbacks as obstacles on the road to success instead of a brick wall of failure.
When I was trying to break the habit of buying coffee every morning to save money, my efforts were fruitless. I would wake up the same time every morning to go to class and resist buying coffee along my route—only to purchase a cup during break. However, by reformulating my goal by adding a new habit of waking up a little earlier to make my own coffee—it made the goal much easier to reach. After all, we’re better at doing what we can do, instead of what we cannot do.
I’d also fallen into the trap of thinking of setbacks in my efforts to change habits as failures. By thinking this way, it ultimately led me to stop my efforts completely because I didn’t see the point in continuing if I’ve failed already. Overtime, I learnt that setbacks are quite common, and are actually excellent for evaluating my strategy for habit change. When I tried developing a habit of eating meals at consistent times during the day, I failed because my unpredictable student schedule often took over. However, I learnt from this setback that a better way to go about achieving my goal was to change my expectation and pack my lunch and snacks for school each day instead of requiring myself to go home to eat.
What habits are you trying to break or develop this year? Let me know what strategies you’re using and how it is going for you!
For any smokers trying to quit, check out Leave the Pack Behind (LTPB)—a tobacco control initiative, specifically for young adults on campus. Free NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy) is available directly online from LTPB or at the Health Services clinic.