“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
New Year resolution(s) has become part of the holidays festivities. It mark the end of the previous year and the willingness to have a better one. It certainly constitute an interesting opportunity to add or change something to your life. It could be anything: being better at writing scientific manuscripts down to losing weight 😉
In fact, most of the time what you are really doing by pursuing a new resolution is in fact modifying an old habit or adopting a new one. There are however some hurdles in successfully getting it done!
It reminds me of the new year special GYM program you have on TV, in the newspapers and so on. For as low as 30$/month (with a 12-month plans, less than 1$ per day!) you will loose weight and be in better shape guaranteed. Year after year the picture is the same (when I played volleyball on a regular basis, the gymnasium was right beside one of these training place), in January, the parking lot was completely full. By Valentine Day, you could see the difference and by Easter, you could tell that most simply stop going.
There is in fact good behavioral reasons why failures happen (apart from serious health, addiction or other major life events). If you Google terms like “time to change a habit” or “how log to habit”, you get a lot of hits saying 21 or 30 days. If you truly want to change or achieve a new habit, the Star Wars wisdom seems to apply very well: “be patient young padawan”. This means you’ll have to stick to it.
The figure below is from PSYBLOG and resumes the data presented by Lally et al in the European Journal of Social Psychology (a nice read by the way). You see that the time necessary to acquire or modify a new behavior is about 66 days, or two months, on average. However, the spread is important.
A rule of thumb I use in talking to students, colleagues or friends is that if this is important to you, stick to it for 4 months, even if it make no sense at first and seems more work than your old habit. After 4 months, you are allowed to revert back if it does not work for you. Most of the time, you will not go back, at least entirely, to your old habit.
Of course by “sticking to it”, I really mean 100%. For example, I was helping a friend to the GTD method. The most difficult portion for that person was the weekly review. After two weeks, this person told me that it did not work and decided to stop. Of course it did not work, it was a major change to this person approach to task and time-management.
Another important advice, less is better. This means pick one thing at a time.