The New Year is famous for its slogan, “new year, new you!” In January, gyms are packed with aspiring weightlifters, and bars are empty as we take our annual sabbatical from booze: Dry January. We’re all pumped to become the best versions of ourselves after weeks of holiday feasts and fun. It’s a perfect time for turning a new leaf and ringing in the new year with that buzzing sense of change and optimism. This has predictably been my way of starting off the new year too—sweating alongside a jam-packed yoga studio and heading home to meal prep my salads for lunches the following week.
The problem arises within two months; I’ve lost most of my momentum, and by spring break, I’m not even sure what my goals were to begin with. Good habits are finicky and are heavily influenced by the environment. One vacation can throw us off our 60-day Duolingo streak. Moving houses just down the street can change our morning walking routine. After reading James Clear’s “Atomic Habits,” I became slightly obsessed with setting good habits in all areas of my life, and the main thing I’ve discovered is that habits need to be flexible and work with our ever-changing lifestyles to take root.
Since going back to school serves as another significant milestone in the calendar year, let’s use this time for a fresh start to revisit and refine our goals. Here are five strategies I employ to maintain positive habits throughout the year.
During winter, I was fully obsessed with hot yoga to heat my body and get a good cardio workout in. With this summer heat, the last thing I want is to sweat more than I need to. So now I’ve switched to gyms and swimming laps. I try to think of my end goal, which is “to move my body every day,” and allow that to be the only criterion so that I can keep enjoying exercise all year round.
Craft a New Schedule
After months of summer fun, travel, and kids out of school, you are more than likely to have dropped a habit or three. That’s okay! Use this back-to-school schedule as a way to start again, or even better, start anew! If you fold a new habit into your new schedule, the mind will associate this habit with this new environment and will more likely stick to it. For example, “I drop off the kids at school, then I drive straight to the gym.” Do this for a week, and it will become automatic.
Schedule It Ahead
One thing that really helps me when I’ve fallen off my good habits is to pre-schedule my desired habit. Bonus points if I create outer accountability as an extra buffer. In the past when I’ve fallen behind with workouts, I booked classes that have a cancellation fee or joined a group workout with friends so I won’t want to disappoint them by not showing up. I’m currently studying a new language so I prepay scheduled lessons with a teacher online so I feel accountable to show up.
In “Atomic Habits,” James Clear says habits are more attainable if you are consistent. So instead of trying to force myself to work out for two hours, I tell myself that I only need to go to the gym and stay for 10 minutes. Once I get there, I usually stay for an hour. It’s a mind trick I play to get out the door, and it works!
I have one small habit that was so difficult to keep in the past: taking all my vitamins every day. So, I decided to make it very obvious and lazy-friendly. I put out all my supplements in a cute, clear container visible in the bathroom right next to my toothbrush so I couldn’t miss it. It worked!
Maintaining good habits is a lifelong journey and we’re bound to fail over and over again. The trick is to keep going, and find any good reason or season to start again.