When I sat down to write this, thinking of what people might want to read about at the start of a brand new year, especially after the year we have had, I wondered if I could write anything of interest at all.
I mean, 2020 was a year to remember in all sorts of ways. It was a negative experience for many and there was a real sense of loss felt by the majority: people’s liberty was taken away, mental health was tested, financial burden was felt, even premature loss of life had to be handled when a strong sense of isolation was the general mood.
What will 2021 bring?
It is important for me to take a moment (a proper sit down moment) to reflect what has happened to me and my loved ones and what I experienced last year before I set myself a number of habits going into a new year.
How I have grown and developed:-
as a Mum, wife, daughter, sister, granddaughter and friend;
in my career by launching my own business at the start of the first lockdown and growing with it; and
building trust and relationships in all areas of my life.
The points, which I review in turn, are different for me this year and shall be used simply as references from which I can create new habits for myself - to create a more positive and healthy future for me.
For me, most importantly, I have learnt what is important to me in life. I thought I knew this in my 20s, even had it nailed in my 30s, but somehow, 2020 was the year to trigger the ‘enough’ of what I felt I was doing on a personal level and ‘how’ to do things better for me (no one else).
This self-realisation was, to some degree, a shock because I hadn’t in fact created habits that were (or are) good for my overall well-being.
I realise that resilience has brought us through a surreal and life changing year. That, alone, might have been enough to get through what will remain some of the most challenging moments for some people.
How do we move on, progress and continue to live in extraordinary times?
Whilst we still face living with a virus that is proving difficult to overcome (which I have no doubt we will), I certainly do not wish to preach about why you should take this habit up or quit that one.
If I have learnt anything within the last year, it is that people will do what they need to do to get through life at times - and I respect that more now than ever.
"Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”
Proverb that appeared in Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde,
later modified by George Herbert and Benjamin Franklin separately.
What is a Habit?
The definition taken from the Cambridge English Dictionary of “habit” is:
Not all habits are positive ones. It is quite easy to form less acceptable habits such as the ones that often appear at the top of that unwanted list: overconsumption of alcohol, overeating, taking drugs, more psychologically derived habits through the pressures of modern life such as: increased social media use, overworking and less exercise bring taken, however, I am not going to focus on the negative.
Taking a look at healthy habits, and by that I mean positive habits for each and every one of us as they differ from person to person, it is important to set ones that fit within our own lifestyles.
One person may choose to form a daily running habit whilst another person experiences chronic pain and can’t form that habit effectively.
Why are habits good to have?
I share Edgar Rice Burroughs’ belief that humans are “creatures of habit”. I follow routines and patterns and have done all my life, defined in as early as my school years from boarding school discipline, where bells woke me to the minute to get out of bed to having set, pre-planned weekly walks after church.
If you share the belief that we, in some ways, are creatures of habit, if we create positive habits that are as individual as we are, surely a manual (almost) could be created so we get through each day without thinking too much?
Except life does land you with those curveballs that get in the way of your routine, your habits.
I have habits in mind that are going to get me through the unexpected (and I expect more of the unexpected to come our way this year).
Taking time out for myself may be a cliché but it is one that so many people say I need to do and I have always shrugged it off and swept it under the carpet.
Do you have any of these habits?
When I researched habits, most of the results included ‘success’ in the title:
‘10 Small Habits That Have a Huge Return on Life’ (might be intriguing...)
’Top 10 Habits of Successful People’ (okay, much of the same then...)
’33 Daily Habits Highly Successful People Have (and the Rest of Us Probably Don’t)’ (why would I want to read about how average or below average you are about to make me feel?)
Whilst the success story resources are useful to some degree, they also irritate me because the definition of success is directly linked to financial gain.
After all, in my mind, success is very much quantified on a personal level and will vary greatly depending on the person you ask.
My greatest success in the last two years is holding myself together without losing it (meant sincerely and not said flippantly).
I left a corporate career of 20+ years, a boss, his family and their lives after 9+ years, set up my own business at the start of the first imposed national lockdown, when no one knew what was going on, and all of these are secondary successes to me.
My success has undoubtedly been partially responsible for keeping my family strong. We have endured and overcome challenges in different ways and for many reasons. Nothing financial. Nothing to be gained by it. Just there for each other - when those curveballs keep coming.
Success and achievement may well be borne from habits set and this is hardly surprising if you think about it because if you set habits for yourself that you go on to maintain, you have achieved what you set out to do. A success by definition.
This will then directly, or indirectly, lead you to feeling more confident and empowered in your capabilities and your wider life experiences become more positive.
How habits are formed
Discipline and routine are pathways which, in turn, form habits.
However, provided you are consistent in what you choose to do (eat a piece of fruit with your breakfast every morning), it is less important to be specific (the time you eat breakfast is less relevant).
I recommend reading Stephen Covey’s book: ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ which I read many years ago and is one on my list to re-visit this year.
How long does it take to form a habit?
Habits formed through simple behaviours like drinking a glass of water with every meal is quicker to establish and implement into your routine than a more complex habit, such as walking for 30 minutes every day.
Whilst it has been known that habits requiring simple behaviours can be formed in as little as 18 days, more complex ones, where new practices have been introduced for the very first time, can take up to 10 weeks.
It is important to state that every person is different and each habit has its own strength so forming habits, from the way in which they are formed to the time it takes, will vary from person to person.
Give yourself the best chance
Don’t set yourself an unrealistic target. A non-swimmer is unlikely to succeed swimming The English Channel within a month.
If a habit is to be maintained, it either needs to be something in your grasp or more time needs to be allowed for it to be formed in order that the new skill can be learnt, developed and practised.
How easy is it to stick with habits?
Forming habits are more challenging than maintaining them.
Once a habit is set and the routine is followed, the “creature of habit” in us proves that the discipline that we have set becomes second nature to us.
We don’t have to ‘consciously remember’ doing what was once a ‘new practice’ that involved thought or self-motivation.
Once the practice becomes automatic, the habit has been formed.
Don’t beat yourself up when you slip up
There is evidence that habits are no more likely to fail if you slip up when working towards forming the habit.
I shall remember that when I find myself eating the last Jaffa cake from a packet in one sitting, I won’t give up the habit of consuming less sugar.
Tomorrow is a new day, on which I can restart the objective that I have set myself.
(For the purpose of this exercise, Jaffa cakes are classed as a biscuit because eating a packet of biscuits sounds better than eating a packet of cakes.)
I clearly remember giving up smoking (around 20 cigarettes a day) on 2nd July 2008.
To help me do that, I watched the money I was saving grow as I kept counting it!
I put £5 (which is roughly what a pack of 20 cigarettes cost at the time) into a jar and to see the money physically increase week on week motivated and encouraged me.
(It’s a shame we moved house 6 years later because it paid for our garden fence which I always appreciated much more.)
Understand why you can’t keep habits
Are they unrealistic?
Do you find it too much to bear to fail?
Can you measure the results easily?
Answering the above questions and understanding why the habits you are trying to keep are unmanageable will give you the best chance of setting habits that can be formed and maintained.
10 Habits to start in 2021
The habits I have set myself for 2021 are a combination of simple and complex behaviours and have been chosen to try and improve my well-being which has been put on the back burner for too long.
1. Take time for myself
20-30 mins every day is mine to do as I please (read a book, watch TV, play the piano or something that I fancy doing at the time).
2. Look after my body and mind
Different from taking time for myself above, I am going to exercise (go for a walk at least, meditate or ‘just be’).
3. Express my feelings more
I am a straightforward person (what you see is what you get) but I find myself stopping myself telling people how I really feel. This year, that is going to change.
4. Stop rushing around
I need to slow down and stop clock watching. I am a really good timekeeper so rushing around is unnecessary and a negative influence for all those around me.
5. Put my family first
I am proud of my work ethic, I have been brought up to take pride in all that I do professionally. But not to the detriment or levels of happiness of my family and I aim to spend more quality time with them.
6. Being less wasteful
Whilst the first coronavirus lockdown in March 2020 was a wake up call as to how
wasteful I could be, my family and I have learnt a lot and we have already cut down wastage of food, water, plastics, other resources and even time. More can always be done to improve this.
7. Calming down
I find myself getting wound up, irritated and even angry over things that I don’t even have control of. By looking after my mind (number 2 above) and expressing myself more (number 3 above), I will not put up with nonsense that makes me feel angry after I have allowed it to pass.
8. Stop doubting myself
‘Imposter syndrome’ is the catchphrase for new business owners but so apt. I am going to revert to what I did many years ago: follow my gut to where my heart leads me; and look back with admiration of bravery and passion.
9. Be prepared but impulsive
I am a planner, a person who hypothesises about hypothesising. I know I can’t plan for everything and because I am confident in the skills I possess, I am going to ‘wing it’ in life a bit more. By that, I mean, I will not have a plan for every element of my life.
10. Have proper lazy days (and stop getting busy on them)
I am not good at doing nothing but this year I am going to try my hardest to stick to it and not get distracted into tidying up, organising, planning or working if I choose to have a lazy day.
So there it is. The list of habits that I shall try to form this coming year.
I am not going to set deadlines or target dates for them (another habit for me is to stop putting unnecessary pressure on myself). If they slip, I will not beat myself up, I will just try again.
They are not New Year’s Resolutions, they are habits that I intend to form throughout the course of 2021 that will remain with me, subconsciously, in the years ahead.
Source: UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care - Science of Habits
What habits are you going to start? Contact me for a free, no obligation chat.