Note: 5 Steps to Establishing Daily Habits is the third of a three part series on creating and sticking to your New Year’s Resolutions. Before continuing, check out Part 1: Why People Fail New Year’s Resolutions and Part 2: Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions Using Quality Days.
Now that you know why people fail new year’s resolutions and the theory behind how to make sure you keep yours this year, it’s time to create your system to establish daily habits. As a reminder, the five steps to keeping your resolutions are:
- Think Quality and Perfect Days
- Pick Five (and Only Five) Habits
- Make the Results Binary
- Track Daily
- Review Weekly / Monthly
The five steps for establishing daily habits stem directly from these steps. Let’s take a look at how to complete each one.
Step 1: Create your goal for Quality Days in 2012
The first step is easy because I’m going to assign it to you. Your goal for 2012 is to reach 250 Quality Days. If you want a second, more advanced goal, you can also shoot for 125 Perfect Days (which also count as Quality Days).
Now I know what some of you overachievers are thinking, “But Andrew, I’m an overachiever and awesome at this, shouldn’t I shoot for 300 Quality Days, or even 366?” And the answer is “No” for 2 reasons:
- If you set the goal too high, it seems unachievable and can be de-motivating. If your goal is 366 and you miss one day, mentally you feel like you’ve failed since there is no way you’ll be able to achieve your goal.
- The daily habits should be challenging and therefore unlikely that you’ll be able to do them everyday. If you can already go a year without hitting snooze, then don’t have “don’t hit snooze” as one of your habits. These habits are meant to challenge you, help you grow and align with your long-term goals and resolutions.
So, step one is already complete: shoot for 250 Quality Days.
Step 2: Choose 5 Daily Habits
The second step is to decide on what five habits you would ideally complete every day (or at least 250 days of the year). As mentioned above, these should be things that challenge you and align with your longer-term goals.
If you’re having difficulty coming up with your habits, here’s a list of the most common New Year’s resolutions. From your long-term resolutions you can create your daily habits. As an example, if your goal is to lose weight, you can have a daily habit of exercise.
Just as above, for you overachievers, no, you can’t have more than five habits. More than five is harder to track on a daily basis and you’re less likely to complete any of them, let alone all 7, 8 or 15.
For those of you new to setting goals, you could set fewer than five, but I challenge you to shoot for five (and even if you only ever achieve three in a single day, it’s still a quality day).
Step 3: Make the Habits Actionable
The third step is to phrase your five daily habits in a way that they are actionable and binary–meaning it’s easy to say “yes” or “no” you completed them. The more defined you can make them, the better.
For example, “Eat healthier” is far too vague to be actionable or trackable. “Eat at least 3 servings of vegetables” is much better because it is quantitative and you can easily say at the end of the day if you’ve completed it. This does take some thought because you have to make the goals specific to you. For you, eating healthier could mean cutting back on fast food or limiting your salt intake.
The basic formula for a simple actionable goal is VERB -> QUANTITY -> NOUN. E.g. “Eat 3 servings of vegetables,” “Exercise for 30 minutes,” “Hit Snooze 0 times.”
That last one, “Hit snooze 0 times” sounds a bit weird (rather than “Don’t hit snooze”), but where possible it’s better to frame the habit positively rather than negatively. The reason is that studies have found that it’s harder to “fix” a habit than it is to just start a new, healthier one.
So if you always eat chocolate after dinner, the habit might not be “don’t eat chocolate” but “eat 1 piece of fruit after dinner.” Sometimes this is difficult to avoid, such as when quitting smoking, but when possible, frame the habit positively.
Step 4: Create a Tracking System
The fourth step is create a system that allows you to track your progress on your daily habits on a daily basis. That’s right, you should track how you are doing every single day.
Since this is something you’ll be doing a lot, the tracking system should be as simple and easy as possible. It should take less than 5 minutes to track so you don’t have an excuse not to do it. Once you get the hang of it, most systems take less than a minute.
There are 3 ways you can track:
1. Using a Paper Calendar
This is how I started tracking in 2011, using a big calendar that I hung on my wall. My roommate and I shared the calendar, where we marked each day of the week which of our five habits we completed.
I created humorous symbols for each of my goals to make it a little more fun while tracking. As an example, my symbol for having done at least 20 minutes of physical activity was OK, because if you tilt your head to the left, OK looks kind of like a stick figure.
You could do the same thing with your personal calendar or even a notebook, it’s just important to have a spot for every single day of the year.
2. Using Excel
Half-way through the year, I switched to an Excel document to make the calculations easier. I created a single tab Excel document that had a row for every single day of the year and a column for each of my five habits. I would then mark an ‘X’ for each habit I completed that day.
From this I could create an easy formula to tell me which days of the week I had a Quality and Perfect Day, and the quantity of each for the week.
3. Using an Online Tool
Finally, towards the end of the year, I switched to an online site for tracking. The biggest advantage to using an online site was that I could log in from my mobile phone and update my tracking. This meant I could check off each habit as I completed them throughout the day, not just at the end of the day when I was home.
I currently use 42goals.com. There are others out there, but this is the one I prefer. There’s a free and premium version of the service, but I’ve been using the free version with no issues whatsoever.
One word (OK, a few words of warning): the site lets you enter as many goals as you want and you can add fancy tracking options (such as time spent doing something or the total number of occurrences). I beg you to keep it simple and limit yourself to five habits and define them as we did in step 3. Trying to get fancy is a sure way to make the system too complicated for you to actually stick with.
Step 5: Review Weekly & Monthly
The fifth and final step is to create a process to review how you are doing on a weekly and monthly basis. This is probably the hardest step because it requires the most discipline to maintain after you’ve started.
To help me, I already have time on my calendar marked for weekly and monthly reviews. Sure, they’re likely to change, but since they are on the calendar I’ll simply move them as needed, rather than not do them at all.
The weekly review is pretty simple. I do mine on Sunday evening (right now I do it while watching Sunday Night Football). It takes me about 10 minutes; I simply go back and review how I did for the week, filling in any days that I might have forgot to track (shh! don’t tell anyone).
I then think about if there are any adjustments I want to make. Have I been hitting snooze a lot and therefore need to consider going to bed earlier? Have I missed my daily goal for fruits and vegetables all week and need to go to the grocery store?
For the monthly review, I spend a little more time to really make sure I’m on track. Usually on the first of the month I’ll spend around 20-30 minutes reviewing the previous month and looking at larger changes I may need to make.
Again, doing a review takes discipline but it’s incredibly important that you do it. These reviews are what allow you to make adjustments, or if you’ve been succeeding, allow you to be proud of what you’ve accomplished. There’s nothing wrong with spending 10 minutes each week giving yourself a pat on the back for actually completing your goals.
The Quality Day System
That’s it. Those are the five steps to establishing daily habits and setting yourself up to keep your new year’s resolutions. If you have any questions or suggestions on how it can be improved, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or shoot me an email. Here’s to having a great 2012!