Living

Instead of resolutions : 5 ways to build better habits in 2019

The promise of a shiny new year brings so many possibilities. A time to reflect on our lives, consider our priorities and make plans for the future.

There’s something special about opening up a new calendar, all that blank space calling out to be filled. Encouraging us to consider how we want our lives to look, to ponder our mission and contemplate our legacy.

There are so many competing demands on our time and a myriad of distractions pulling us this way and that. We want to live an intentional life, to pursue our dreams and to spend our time wisely. But sometimes life sweeps us along and before we know it another year has passed. But with it, there’s hope – another round of new years resolutions.

Determined this year that it’ll be different. We’ll focus on what we want to achieve and nothing is going to derail us.

Sounds wonderful and sometimes, it is. But the statistics show that many of our good intentions will not stand the test of time. And that can leave us discouraged, demoralised and feeling like a failure.

New years resolutions can certainly help move us in the direction we want. They focus our mind on what’s important and help us identify what we’d like to change about our lives. But to make those changes sustainable, we need more.

We need to build better habits. Habits that support us to live with intention, mindful of the impact we have on others and our world.

The choices we make and the actions we take on a daily basis will add up to a life well lived.

And the best bit, the fresh start and new beginnings we seek can happen anytime. Each new week, day and even moment offers us an opportunity to start afresh.

But as we’re here, the first week of the new year, today is as good a day as any to consider what we can do instead of resolutions. These five tools can support us to live intentionally in 2019. And those resolutions we’ve already made? Well, they can help with those too 🙂

Practising a monthly habit

Given that it can take anywhere from 21 days to 254, or more, to form new habits. A calendar month is an ideal opportunity to focus our energy on an area of our lives we’d like to improve. A short concentrated boost can lay the foundations to effectively transform our routines.

Whether it’s drinking more water, taking more exercise or following our joy. If we can stick to a new habit for a month we’ll have a pretty good chance of carrying on with it once the month is over.

A couple of years ago, inspired to create my own happiness project, I chose 12 habits I wanted to build more intentionally into my life. Each month through the year I practised a particular habit. In January reading aloud every day, in February walking 10,000 steps a day, and so on.

Experimenting with different reminders and ways to include each habit into my days, this practice both boosted my enthusiasm in the short-term and maintained my momentum for change in the longer term.

Joining an annual challenge

While the 30 or so days in a month is a good start to building habits, sometimes it takes longer to establish habits that stick and have a lasting impact on our lives. Signing up for an annual challenge can give us a better chance of making this a reality.

Whether we choose to accomplish a specific goal over the course of 12 months, like reading a certain number of books in a year. Or we want to commit to taking action every day on decluttering and organising our homes, annual challenges can be just what we need to get the job done. Many annual challenges offer the opportunity to join a community of like-minded people all committed to completing the challenge together. Who doesn’t love a good challenge? Having fun with our new habits will make them a whole load more likely to stick.

Habit tracking and stacking

And two more great ways to make those new habits stick – tracking and stacking them. Tracking our new habits helps us to see how far we’ve come – a useful reminder and a visual celebration of our achievements.

Using a checklist or tally chart to record each time we practise our new habit can motivate and inspire us. And it helps to turn the process into an enjoyable game, one we’re determined to win. Whether it’s repetitions, time spent, steps taken or a quick summary of what we’ve achieved, the progress we record soon adds up and can spur us on to keep going and get more done.

Habit stacking is a process where we attach a new habit to one that is already established. For instance, drinking a glass of water as soon as we get up and then one glass before every meal. Boom, four extra glasses of water each and every day, easy peasy.

Short daily to-do lists

To-do lists have a tendency to spiral out of control, getting ever longer and exhausting even to read. Never mind putting them into action.

Rather than helping us to organise our time efficiently they can become debilitating and weaken our resolve to get anything done. When our to-do lists become ridiculous and we live in fear of reading them, something needs to change.

Creating a catch-all reference list of all the items that we’d like to get done, sometimes called a brain dump, is an important organisational step. And if we can separate these items into categories – work, home improvements etc – this can be a useful reference tool. A centralised record of all the projects and tasks we want to get done, someday. We can refer to this at regular, specified intervals. But we can’t do it all today and it doesn’t need to be on constant show threatening to overwhelm and derail us.

What we need is a shorter daily to-do list, the most important tasks (MITS) that we can focus our attention on and get done today. Limiting our daily to-do list to a maximum of three MITs, or five if we really must, makes it far more likely that we’ll actually complete them. And then tomorrow we can choose three more. Gradually we’ll chip away at our bigger list, remembering that none of us will ever get it all done and that’s okay.

A word of the year

Picking a single word as an annual focus can give us clarity and vision for the year ahead. Symbolising what’s most important in this season of our life, a word of the year can guide our actions towards the pursuit of our goals and our dreams.

When we’re tired and confused, unsure of the path ahead, our word can act as a beacon, reminding us of what we hope to achieve and how we want to live. Taking the time to meditate and journal around our word can help clarify our intentions and revive our energy when motivation’s running low. 

I’ve been choosing a word of the year since 2010 and this year I’m loving the word ‘Boost’. Conjuring up images of superheroes, speed, high energy and dizzy heights – that’s my plan for 2019 in a nutshell :).  In the past I’ve also used kindness (no surprise there!), trust, connection, play and blossom.

Mottos and mantras

Just like a word of the year, mottos and mantras can support our intentions and help us to design our lives. Still short and sweet, and easy to remember, they can give more detail and depth to those intentions, guiding our actions in the direction we want to be travelling. We could even try cross-stitching them into our Nana’s old doilies to make sure we never forget, just like the lovely Lucy 🙂

Reciting mantras can be a quick way to transform our energy, pick up our activity levels and regain our focus. The power of five, ‘just do it now’ and ‘you can do anything for 15 minutes’ are simple mantras that are great for overcoming procrastination and kick-starting us into action when life threatens to overwhelm us.

Mantras have a calming, meditative effect that can help us to handle stressful situations and keep control over our emotions when we might be inclined to panic or lash out in anger. Ideal for helping us to focus on what’s important in our lives and live our dreams.

So whether you’re sticking with new years resolutions, trying something different or mixing and matching I’d love to know what tools have helped you become more productive and intentional with your time. Let us know in the comments below.

Wishing you all a wonderfully happy and fulfilled 2019, enjoy!

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