If you could pick one and only one, what habit would you change to improve your life? Who we are today is a summary of our habits. 2019 is right around the corner. The new year offers us the chance to get intentional about how we’ve lived, and how we want to live. Instead of resolutions, I prefer to talk about habits. Why do 90% of people fail at keeping what at one time seemed important enough to set? James Clear, author of the Atomic Habits, outlines 5 common mistakes on why habits fail. How about exploring how we can ensure they stick? I’ll apply these 5 strategies to my 2 personal intentions for 2019:

My Personal New Year’s Intentions 

1. Write more
2. Spend less time on my phone

1. Choose a keystone habit

Before you blurt out – I want to lose weight or start exercising more. Choose a “keystone” habit. A keystone habit is one that impacts other areas of your life. For example, spending less time on my phone offers me the chance to be more mindful, creative and focused. If those things occur, the relationships that mean the most to me will be improved. Another example would be getting more sleep. Logging a few more minutes or hours in sleep would improve every aspect of your health. For instance, you might have more energy to hit the gym or eat less at night because, well, you are sleeping!

2. Start small & get specific

Starting small and getting specific increases the likelihood of success. For writing, I’m aiming to write for 30 minutes every morning after I drop off my kids. For the phone, I’ve decided to put it in the console when I drive. I’m also limiting email to 3 meals and 2 snacks a day! Checking my inbox at 6:30 am, 9 am, 12 pm, 4 pm, and 8 pm. To enlist support, I’m going to check my phone usage weekly to see if I’m spending less time than the current average. Once I’ve got it down to 5 hours a day, we’ll see if I’m ready to establish another small change. 
screen shot of my phone usage time

3. Make it easy & enlist accountability

Success breeds success. By writing more, my hope is that my writing not only improves but gets easier. Thirty minutes a day is do-able. Many people want to exercise more each year. However, if you’re not currently working out, and you decide to go 5 times a week, you’re likely to fail. Start with goals you know you can rock and enlist help. A personal trainer could be worth the initial investment. The best way to change a behavior is to start with a remarkable easy one and assign a means of accountability.

4. Attend to the process, not the results

Are you waiting to be “happy” once you’ve achieved your goal? Learning from the bumps in the road is the part that leads to transformation. One of my clients often expresses how tough weight loss is for him. And, my answer to him is yes, change is not easy. If you run from the pain, you lose the opportunity to grow. Reflecting vs. avoiding why he overate during a high period of stress is empowering. It provides him the chance to tune in and learn how to address the stress better the next time. 

5. Change your environment

Removing the pings/notifications from my phone reduces the attraction to check my device. Healthy habits won’t survive well in an unhealthy environment. If you want to drink less alcohol, but all your friends imbibe after work, you’ll have to make environmental changes. You’re not going to ditch your friends, but you might decide to connect in another way. If you want to make healthier food choices at home, rearrange your kitchen. Make it easy to select healthy foods and hide the Oreos in the downstairs freezer.

Who we are today is a summary of our habits.

Who we are today is a lagging measure of our habits. Our life is based on years of small habits we consciously or unconsciously engage. As you think about how you want to live better in the New Year, visualize yourself being “that kind” of person who does those things. When you make your bed daily, you embody the life of an organized person. If you hit the gym enough, you embody the life of a fit individual. When you order salmon and veggies at the restaurant, you embody the life of a healthy eater. Continue to build up that evidence of who you strive to be. And, remember, to try to enjoy the process, especially the bumps along the way.

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.