We are not huge fans of resolutions. Instead, we encourage experiments because experiments can change. They become better over time at supporting habits based on experience and evidence.
Here are a few tips for designing experiments for 2018 with examples.
1. Make a small commitment.
Working out for an hour a day after a long period of inactivity is a huge leap. Consider committing to something much smaller that you can build upon. For example, you may decide that five minutes of stretching in the morning before you have coffee is a good place to start building a morning workout routine. If you want to snack less, commit to cutting out one type of treat at a time instead of going vegan overnight.
2. Make it easy.
Getting up super early, packing a gym bag, and finding parking at the gym are all barriers to success. Try sleeping in yoga clothes, getting up a few minutes early, and parking yourself in front of the TV for a video workout. If you want to eat healthy, consider doing meal prep on the weekend so that having a balanced meal when you get home is as easy as putting something in the microwave. If you can substitute something healthier with something you do already as a part of your routine, even better!
3. Track your experiment.
One of our favorite methods for forming new habits is from Jerry Seinfeld. His "Don't Break the Chain" system is super easy to follow. Buy a small pocket calendar or print out a calendar. Write your experiment at the top with clear measures of success. For example, "Workout at home five minutes per workday before I shower." Every day that you meet this criteria, cross out the date on your calendar. Place the calendar near where you measure this goal. In this example, this might be next to the TV or taped to the bathroom mirror near the shower. Now, all you need to try to do is not to break the chain of days. Three days in a row your record? Try for four days!
4. Deign with hurdles in mind.
Write down all impediments to creating your new habit and see how you can make the speed bumps a key part of your experiment design.
When kids are involved, the idea of getting any time to yourself may seem laughable. For some, the gym or the wee hours of the morning before the house erupts in chaos are their 'me time.' If you want to involve your kids, we recommended family friendly fitness videos like Cosmic Kids Yoga to get everyone in on the healthy habit and set a shining example for future generations. If your goal is something like reading more, why not make cuddling up for daily silent reading time a family goal? If you want to eat more healthy foods, can the kids help with making meals? You'll meet your personal goals while setting a great example for the young people in your life.
5. Everyone grows together.
Something with many chances to succeed and recover will teach that learning new skills isn't all-or-nothing. For kids and couples, learning emotional skills or habits may work better when people in their life are on the same path and at their side.
Make a tracking system something everyone can see and use. For example, if a father and young son are working on responding more calmly in 2018, they might make an abacus for each person out of chord and multiple colorful beads. Move beads one way when a behavior that needs work is observed. Move beads the other way when a positive choice is made. This is a visual and kinesthetic tool where everyone can see where they are on balance for the day, everyone gets many chances to make better choices without being a total failure, and everyone can see that they are not alone in working on their habit or skill.
7. It's own reward.
Did you know that adding rewards or treats for setting goals inhibits motivation, performance, and habit forming? If you want to reward yourself or your family for a job well done, make it a surprise at random times to maximize the impact of doing the habit for the benefits of the habit itself.
7. Accountability partners.
We are better at keeping up on our personal commitments when we tell others our goals or, better yet, ask them to check in with us. Setting a recurring calendar event with a friend to connect via text, social media, or a quick phone call about a specific goal without judgements can be a wonderful way to stay on track. For some goals like running more, signing up for a 5k to 10k every month of two is enough to keep up weekly training habits. For complex experiments, a coach can be a great resource in helping you to formulate experiments and track accountability.