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New You vs. Old You: 3 ways to stick with your new goals

Awesome, you’ve made the decision to change things in your life for the better. Whether you want to get into shape, learn something new, or start practising a new hobby - as you start your journey towards your new goal you have to overcome one obstacle, your old self. We all gravitate towards what is familiar to us. We prefer to do the things that are easier to us. It should not come as a surprise that around 8 out of 10 New Years resolutions fail to take effect due to our preference for familiarity [1].

There is one thing that needs to be said though, it is not your fault. All humans are naturally lazy and drawn to the path of least resistance - it is in our interest to continue to do so. So what can you do to maintain your new goals when the odds are stacked against you? In this post, we will talk about 3 ways in which you can increase your chances of success and stick to being the new you.

How do you start?

The first step in becoming the better version of yourself is first understanding the difference between goals and habits. Goals are a destination and are something which can be measured. Goals are used for setting your direction. Habits, however, are the means of achieving goals. They are the tools which you can use to change your life for the better. Habits without direction will not lead you towards what you want to achieve.

However, we are all human. Humans love the allure of the path of least resistance. This is why so many people find it difficult to wake up early in the morning to go the gym or why famous sayings such as Once a something, always a something exist.

Here at Kinark, we disagree with the notion you will always be a certain way. With small changes in your environment or how you perceive yourself and the world, we believe that anyone can achieve anything they want to become what they want.

To get to the new version of yourself, you first need to identify with what you want to become. If you want to read more, the objective is not to read X books but to become a reader. If you want to learn a new instrument, the goal is not to play a particular song but to become a musician. Identifying ourselves with the new version that we want to become is the first step in forming the beneficial habits required to reach it. If you can’t picture this future version of yourself in your mind then the chances of you achieving your dream are greatly reduced.

A habit is a routine or behaviour that is performed regularly - and in many cases, automatically

The strength of refining your daily habits is the compounding effect which these small changes can have. In fact, a 1% improvement every day for just one year can equate to a 37 times improvement in a given task [2].

Think about it, would you want to be 37 times better at something if you could be?

How do we form habits?

The first step to understanding how we form habits is to first understand what makes a habit, a habit. You will have habits, some good and some bad. We all do. A good habit many of us have will be to brush our teeth in the morning and before we go to sleep. A bad habit might be demolishing the entire pack of Oreos whenever you have purchased one (I am definitely guilty of this particular habit). Each of these habits follow a process in our minds which leads them to be repeated and this process is called The Habit Loop.

The habit loop: trigger which leads to desire which leads to reaction which leads to prize which leads back to trigger

The first step in the habit loop is the trigger. Triggers are the signals to our brain which let us know that we are in the right situation to receive a prize. Our brains are environment processing juggernauts but the triggers which are interpreted and recognised lead us to the next step in the loop, desire.

Our desires are what compels us to perform any given habit and they differ for all of us. They are a promise of satisfaction and to get to a new state of mind. Using the examples we mentioned earlier, the reason you brush your teeth is to get the satisfying minty freshness feeling in your mouth and the feeling of cleanliness. The reason some people may eat an entire pack of Oreos is the satisfaction of the taste and the sugar rush immediately after consuming them. Desires are different for each person and they are the foundation of marketing. In every industry, there are thousands of intelligent people attempting to hack into your wants and deliver the satisfaction we all crave by selling products they think you want. Later in the post, we will discuss how we can use this hack to exploit our desires for our own benefit.

Desires result in a reaction which is the next step in the loop. The reaction is the actual habit you perform. Your reaction occurs when the difficulty of doing the habit is low and your motivation to do the habit is high. These points are important as if you are not a runner but you have a craving to run a marathon, it is unlikely your ability will allow you to run a marathon as the difficulty associated with this task is incredibly high. This is also known as the “Goldilocks rule” where we aim to do things which are just right for our ability level [3]. When forming new habits, we need to bare this in mind and remember to walk before we run.

Finally, at the end of this process, we arrive at the prize. This is the satisfaction and the reason behind every habit. Prizes are important, they satisfy and educate us. They satisfy us to get to whatever state we desire and they teach our brain to notice these signals in the future so that we can repeat this behaviour in the future thus creating a habit.

Now you know how habits are formed, let’s go into some tricks that can help you form the habits you need to become the new you.

#1 Make it obvious and effortless

A toothbrush with some toothpaste on it

It’s pretty obvious what we do with a toothbrush. Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

Your brain processes your environment at an incredible rate. In fact, your brain is capable of processing 10 to the power of 6 bps (bits per second) through all of your senses. However, that capacity drops to an astoundingly low 3 to 4 bps when anyone attempts to make a decision consciously (also known as cognitive control) [4]. With this limitation in mind, how can you engineer your environment so that you do not need to use your precious processing power?

Simple, you make it obvious and effortless.

Take the scenario that you want to lose weight or you want to become fit. There are the obvious actions you can take such as going to the gym but how can you make sure that in the morning when you are in your cosy bed that you will get up and go in the morning when everyone else is asleep? You make it obvious and effortless. In this example, you can pack your bag with all your equipment the night before and lay it in front of your door. By doing this, you are engineering your environment with triggers to remind your brain that you should go to the gym thus prompting the desire of the satisfaction of a good workout. Secondly, you are removing the cognitive load of making sure you have everything ready before you go as well as the act of packing it all into a bag thereby making it easier to go.

There are many variations of this technique that you can use towards any new habit you want to form or any current habit that you want to stop:

  • If you want to become a reader then leave your book in a place you will easily be able to pick it up. For example, your pillow or on your desk.
  • If you want to eat less chocolate and sweets then you can move them into the highest and most awkward shelf in your kitchen so the effort involved in getting them will reduce your likelihood in consuming them.
  • If you want to cook more, you can remove food delivery apps from your phone or meal plan for the week so you know what you need to cook on each day in advance.

The technique highlights the role our environment plays in influencing our behaviour as it is what provides our brains with the triggers it processes. Think about what you want the new version of you to be and what habits will enable you to get there then design your environment to reflect that aim.

#2 Accountability partners and contracts

Two men shaking hands

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

Humans are naturally social animals and we all wish to belong to a group so that we fit in. Everything in our lives is dictated by the people around us and the societal norms they adopt. As we are so intrinsically linked to our wider group, we can use this to our advantage when we wish to change ourselves for the better. We want to avoid disappointing others or being seen as a failure. This is a powerful motivator and whilst we may not mind letting ourselves down - when others can see that failure we are motivated to ensure that we are not put into that position. Using this, we can employ the help of an accountability partner.

An accountability partner is someone whom you trust to keep you on track. They are someone that will course correct you when you go off the path. There are many examples of accountability partners and entire industries are based on this idea such as personal fitness training (which is an option for those of you who want to improve your fitness if your financial situation allows).

When considering an accountability partner, there are a couple of things to think about:

  • Do you trust this person to hold you to account and not shy away from letting you know when you are slacking?
  • Will you be completely honest with this person and share your progress with them?

By having someone on your team, you increase your chances of success in becoming the new version of yourself. Your wish to fit in and not to disappoint anyone will add another dimension to your motivation of showing up and putting in the reps - whatever those reps may be. Have a think about the people in your life that can help you on this journey and, in the case where you cannot think of anyone, there are many services which offer a similar concept which you can explore.

What about contracts?

Contracts add another layer to accountability by adding a cost to not doing what you said you would. Adding costs to actions greatly influence how we all behave, even if they are small. Laws and legislation are a type of contracts which governments use to influence the behaviour of those who live within their jurisdiction. One fantastic example of this was when a 5p charge was introduced for single-use carrier bags in England. After the introduction of this law in 2015, sales of these bags dropped 95% by 2020 [5], an incredible win for the planet and the fight against pollution. Avoiding consequences, especially negative ones, is a fundamental human trait that you can leverage on the journey to the new you.

What type of contract can you craft and how can you get your accountability partner involved also? If your aim is to become fitter then if you have a goal to reach a particular weight then you could give your accountability partner a sum of money big enough to be undesirable if you fail to reach your goal weight. If your aim is to become a musician and if you can’t play the song you wanted to by the end of the month then you could agree that you will take your accountability partner out to an expensive restaurant where they can order anything they like. Adding a consequence to a lack of commitment will push you in the right direction or doing the thing you said you would.

Contracts are agreements, whether with yourself or your accountability partner. Consider the different ways you can encourage yourself to behave in the right manner so you achieve your goals and start drafting those contracts.

Sign them and remember to commit to the outcome, whatever the result. The aim is to change your behaviour and reach the new version of yourself that you want. Using our natural avoidance of negative consequences is a great way to do that.

#3 The two-minute rule

Someone wearing a watch with the background blurred

Photo by Firza Pratama on Unsplash

Taking the first step is always the most difficult part of starting anything new. Whether it is reading the first page of a new book, writing the first sentence of your new blog post, or taking your first steps on the treadmill - we are all great at creating excuses. Remember though, if you want to become the best version of yourself then you just have to get it done.

The two-minute rule is a technique you can utilise to help take those first steps. As the name suggests, it implies that if you can show up and do at least two minutes of what you want to do then you can begin to make this a habit [6]. It might seem absurd to go to the gym for two minutes but the very fact you did will give you a sense of accomplishment that you at least showed up.

It’s better to do something than nothing.

Doing nothing guarantees failure but doing two minutes is at least something. The power of the two minute rule is to emphasise showing up. This will lead you to doing more than just two minutes. It will give you a foundation to work from and let you take the baby steps you need - this rule will help you walk before you run. Maybe you write one sentence for two minutes then you decide to stick at writing for a bit longer. If you keep showing up, then eventually a book will magically appear in front of your eyes. Remember, a 1% improvement over the course of a year can lead to an improvement of 37 times. The two-minute rule is conditioning you into committing to at least 1%. You then have to ask yourself, can you work towards the new version of yourself for at least two minutes? Have a think about how you can incorporate the rule into your routine and you will find yourself doing the tasks that will help you be the new you.

Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this post and striving to be a better version of yourself. These techniques are some which I have personally found helpful and I hope can help you in your journey to become the new you. Remember that it is a journey and to enjoy it, there will always be tweaks and improvements we make to our lives as we go through them. If there is one takeaway from this post you should remember it is consistency. Consistency in your actions will lead to consistency in your results. By changing your process, you will achieve your goals as long as you keep showing up.

If you are interested in reading more about habits, I would strongly recommend the book Atomic Habits by James Clear which goes into a great amount of detail on this subject.

If you enjoyed this post, please think about signing up to our mailing list where we at Kinark will share when we publish new posts and also send updates about our upcoming app.

Thanks and enjoy your day,
Barry

References

  1. [1] The resolution solution: longitudinal examination of New Year’s change attempts
  2. [2] 1.01 to the power of 365 is 37.783 where .01 is the 1% improvement and 365 is days in the year.
  3. [3] Atomic Habits: James Clear
  4. [4] Wu, T. et al. The Capacity of Cognitive Control Estimated from a Perceptual Decision Making Task. Sci. Rep. 6, 34025; doi: 10.1038/srep34025 (2016).
  5. [5] Use of plastic bags in England drops by 59% in a year: The Guardian
  6. [6] Getting Things Done: David Allen