I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions any more. I know that nearly half of the population does. But I also know that less than 10% of those folks actually are able to follow through on keeping those resolutions and doing something. Not my kind of odds. I like things that work in my favor. New Year’s Resolutions don’t.
Instead, I participate in the OneWord365. Each year, I choose one word to reflect the person I want to work on becoming for that year. Last year, my word was persevere. I certainly was a year to practice perseverance! I’m still ruminating on this year’s word — I’ll post here when I settle on it. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’ve also been answering quite a few questions about this practice as friends, family and colleagues have begun joining me and selecting their own words.
I was looking at some research for changing habits (occupational hazard of mine) and thinking about the word of the year practice. Here’s what I realized:
Name the change! This is a fundamental principal of teaching and learning and changing behavior. We name the skill we want to master. We name the strategy we’re practicing. We name the habit that we’re embracing. With OneWord365, I name the focus for the year. And I name it in a one word imperative.
Write it Down! Its common knowledge that a goal written down is far more likely to be achieved than one that just lives in the thin air. I put my OneWord365 on my computer, so that it stares on me every single day. Last year, I also make a small applique pillow with my word on it. That pillow has sat on a favorite chair where I curl up to read and to work. Reminders to persevere faced me everywhere I turned.
Identify the Steps and Set the Habits! Habits are what we do when we’re not thinking about what we’re doing. They are the patterns of behavior that shape out lives. The change won’t come if we don’t establish new routines and habits to make the change a part of ordinary life. So, what are the habits? Last year, perseverance required habits of taking a deep breath and plunging onward when I was faced with obstacles. It meant repeating actions over and over and over until the perseverance itself was ingrained into my daily life.
Use Reminders and Triggers! This has been one of my favorite new learnings this past year. Think about brushing your teeth. P&G has planted a trigger and a reminder right into the toothpaste to make us brush our teeth. They’ve made the fresh minty taste a part of the whole brushing process. Now millions of us waken in the morning, taste our ordinary dragon, morning breath and run to the sink to get the fresh minty taste back. That’s a pretty powerful trigger. If I want habits to implant in my life like that, I need to set up triggers that have that same kind of power.
This year I’m using Google Calendar and the alerts in my smartphone to trigger some of my work. And I’m working on figuring out some environmental triggers to help myself too. Things like scented candles burning, cold flavored water or hot tea and other ordinary things that can be embedded in rituals to help me trigger the behaviors that I want. I’m also employing the old kindergarten habit of posting lists. Checking things off is a very satisfying reinforcer. A list on the fridge might not be fancy or techy, but its effective. Face it, a sticker never hurt anyone.
Use a Support Group! All change is easier with friends acting as cheerleaders and encouragers. By sharing my OneWord365 with friends and colleagues, we all remind each other throughout the year. I can’t count the number of times that friends admonished me last year “persevere!”. It was just the kick in the pants that I needed.