Resolutions are like beauty – the value lies in the eye of the beholder. Maybe you want to integrate new practices or habits that will change the “look” of your life. Big changes that will show up in a tangible way. Or it could be that you want to change the “feel” of your life.  Much stays the same but you savor it more.

 

More often than not it goes one of two ways:

 

Scenario One

You find a process, learn some skills and make room in your day to practice the new process. Day follows day. You stay pretty much on track. At some point in the future you have a result that you’re really, really proud of.

 

Scenario Two

You find a process, learn some skills and make room in your day to practice the new process. Day follows day. You fall off track on day 4 or 5. You run conversations in your head about all the times you’ve tried things and they didn’t work. You rationalize why it was a stupid idea in the first place. You feel a bit negative towards the people who’ve mastered this goal.  You feel even more negative towards yourself.

 

Each scenario has its own set of challenges and its own approach for success. Most of us want to initiate action in our lives and see results — we dream of Scenario One. But what we mostly experience is Scenario Two. 

 

And one truth shows up quickly . . .

 

it’s amazing how fast Scenario One turns into Scenario Two, isn’t it?

 

This has been the work of BJ Fogg, director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford. He and his students developed a formula that helps you tweak your habits:

 

Habit or Behavior = Trigger + (Motivation + Ability)

 

That’s a smarty-pants way of saying that your motivation and ability (know how) will get the job done, as long as you remember to do it. You may want to go out for a run at the end of the day. You may have all the groovy gear. But if you don’t remember and make it easy to get out the door it’s less likely to happen.

 

The Wildcard is Motivation

 

The biggest difference between the two scenarios is how well we understand our motivations. When we’re clear on our motivation we can set up the triggers and tools to take us to our goal. If we’re not clear — and we have competing motivations we don’t completely understand — we’ll slump into Scenario Two once our willpower is exhausted.

 

So how can we spend more time in Scenario One?

 

So let’s imagine for a moment that your motivations are clear. Make your plan, brush up on your skills and knowledge, and then set yourself some triggers and reminders to nudge you to the habit. When you start seeing results you’ll stick to the program. You’re just some period of time away from success. Maybe a few weeks or months, but you’ll get there.

 

Start with a very small, minute version of your habit. If you want to floss your teeth regularly you start with one tooth. The important task is to get a beachhead for the habit and grow it from there. Trust yourself that if you can floss one tooth today you will be able to floss all of them in the near future. Just make the habit stick first.

 

Pull the trigger

 

Jerry Seinfeld has one of the simplest trigger systems going. He puts a big calendar on the wall and he puts a big red X on every day that he writes. He explained:

 

“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.

 

If calendars aren’t your thing, your smartphone can become your best, naggiest friend. I’ve been using an app called Lift.do that is a version of “don’t break the chain.” It reminds me every day of my commitment and keeps track of when I do it. You can do it with friends who will cheer you on and keep you honest. There is also a whole bunch of already-existing programs that you can jump into and just follow (I’m doing planks every day).

 

If you’ve done all this and you are still lurching into Scenario Two there is most likely a disconnect between what you think you want and what you really want. I’ll touch on that nest of bees next time.

 

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