Watchdog Wellness: How to Create Sustainable Habits

Photo Credit: The Miller Hull Partnership

Have you ditched your New Year’s resolutions? Yeah, me too. If New Year resolutions work for you, that’s great! However, I know New Year’s resolutions don’t work for many, so I wanted to create a guide of how to set sustainable goals.  

Tip #1: Make the task easy.

According to NPR’s Hidden Brain Podcast, 43% of our lives are spent in autopilot mode (the brain not having to think about a task). The conscious brain doesn’t want to turn on and will do everything in its power to stay off, so try to make the task something you don’t have to think about. For example, setting your workout clothes out or meal prepping saves you time and will likely encourage you to do the task because it’ll be easier. 

Tip #2: Get an accountability partner.

Find an accountability partner (a friend or roommate that will hold you accountable to your goals). According to the Observer, the American Society of Training and Development found that you have a 65% chance of accomplishing a goal if you commit to an accountability partner. When finding someone, be sure to consider their personality as you’d want someone you’re compatible with. For example, if you like someone to calmly tell you something, avoid someone who’s coaching style is to yell. 

Tip #3: Create a short-term reward for yourself.

Giving yourself a short-term reward releases a chemical called dopamine which is a feel good neurotransmitter. Some examples of rewards is having a piece of chocolate, playing a game, watching a television show, working out, or any activity you’d consider a reward. It should be a reward you get quickly because your brain needs that instant gratification for it to respond positively. 

Tip #4: Plan the task out.

Planning a task out will help set clear expectations on how you can achieve it. First, I’d recommend making a SMART goal. This is a goal that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Then, I’d recommend creating a plan on how you’re going to incorporate this into your life. One idea is to use the stacking method which means that you add this new task to a task that is originally a habit embedded into your routine.

The Creatures by Habit podcast episode also discussed how the Bullitt Building in Seattle used psychology to design the building and incorporated tips #1 and #3 into the building design. They hid the elevators in the building making it harder to find and had the stairs in plain sight making it easier to go up the stairs than look for an elevator. As someone walks up the stairs, they are greeted by a beautiful view of Seattle which is a short-term reward that one gets when they walk up the stairs. By making it easier and more rewarding to use the stairs, they encouraged people to use them and get a little exercise.

Changing your life isn’t something that can be done overnight, but using tips like these can help develop sustainable goals in your life. Although it can be tempting to say you’ll start on Monday or the first of the month, there is no reason why you can’t begin your goals right now.