New Year, New Habits (in theory)

Week 1 of the New Year is winding down, and if you’re like many of us, you’ve probably committed to changing a few things in your life over the holidays. At this point, you’re likely experiencing the inevitable burst of energy and hope that’s characteristic during the first few weeks of the year, but—and I speak from experience—intentions to do good on New Year’s resolutions often fizzle come February. Does this always have to be the case? NPR’s Planet Money shares lessons from BJ Fogg, head of Stanford’s Persuasive Tech Lab, for making habits stick:

So if you’ve committed to eating healthy and part of your plan involves chugging 2 cups of carrot protein juice after each meal, odds are things aren’t going to work out for you. BJ Fogg recommends starting tiny. In the healthy eating example, start by plopping two slices of carrots, or one stalk of broccoli, on your dinner plate each evening. Commit to eating the tiny portions and commit to doing so every night. The idea is that over time, eating two bites of veggies each night will become second nature. You’ll naturally grow into eating more veggies each night.

The more you do something, the easier doing it becomes. – BJ Fogg

This logic has obvious tie-ins to any financial goals you may have set for yourself this year. The behavior that helps you achieve your goals should be systematic and rooted in habit. Initially, it should also be tiny. If you’ve committed to saving more money for example, try automatically depositing a small amount from your paycheck each month to a savings account. We’ve all heard a variation of this: putting away $50 every month starting at age 25 can yield you $100,000 by retirement. We all know this is true, but most of us never get started. Receiving your paycheck is, for most people, a routine. If you embed saving a tiny amount each month into your routine, you’re likely to see this habit stick. Slowly, once you realize that you can do fine without the little money you’re setting aside, you’ll be tempted to automatically deduct more over time.

So whatever you choose to focus on this year, start tiny. Find a way to incorporate it in your routine and your tiny behavior will expand over time. I like Fogg’s approach and am personally going to give it a shot. We have a tendency of setting out to achieve unrealistic goals in our lives. When we attempt to make massive changes, it’s often all-too-easy to feel defeated and give up entirely. By starting small, we can achieve easy wins and embed tiny new behaviors into existing routines to generate lasting change. That’s my hope, at least!