The power of habit

3 mins

Welcome to 2020! The first month of any new year is always filled with hope, promise and special resolutions… until you gobble that chocolate cookie like…

A familiar friend

Well, Cookie Monster.

Habits vs. Resolutions

Resolutions sound like law students who promise to take better notes at the start of every new semester. Get to the end of the semester and you realise that your notes are barely legible. The same goes for exercise. The gym is bustling this time of year, but get to November and you’ll hear the crickets. Sounds familiar?

Habits, habits, habits. Good or bad, they sure are difficult to keep or kick. The research tells us that unless we create a habit, resolutions based on willpower alone are often pipe dreams. But the good news is, without sounding like your local snake-oil vendor, that when your habits fit into a bigger, long-term goal—it can be empowering.

Benjamin Franklin (the famous inventor, statesman, etc, etc.) had a pretty interesting way of thinking about character habits. He would get up at 5 am and ask himself, “what good shall I do today?” and end the day at 10 pm with, “what good did I do today?” Intense!

Franklin also had a table of 13 virtues that he would add a black mark to if he didn’t achieve that virtue that day. The goal was to reduce the number of black marks on his running sheet.

  M T W T F S S
Temperance X         X  
Silence              
Order   X          
Resolution              
Frugality         X    
Industry              
Sincerity       X      
Justice              
Moderation              
Cleanliness              
Tranquility              
Chasity              
Humility              

Did he ever get to clear? Well, it was pretty darn hard to do, even for a freakish polymath like him. The Pessimist might say, “what hope does that leave us mere mortals?”, to which the Optimist would respond “it’s the journey that matters”. Franklin took the latter view and said in his autobiography that:

… though I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been had I not attempted it…

If you’re a busy person, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of the “now”—focused on quick gains rather than the long-term. It’s time to switch over from thinking about resolutions to thinking about habits.

2020 Challenge

Here’s a challenge for you:

  1. Make a list of all the scary things (or challenges) that you’ll like to do this year; and
  2. Make a list of habits that you need to create that will help you achieve your list of scary things—often this involves setting aside a consistent block of time to do this each day or week.

Need a simple way to track your habits? I’ve found this app to be particularly handy.

And look, I’m excited about what YOU are going to achieve this year!

Further listening:

Image credit // Nathan Lemon

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