Time to get those forgotten resolutions back on track.
Three months have passed since we were able to put 2021 the past and wake up to a New Year, full of possibilities…if you are like most people, the “New Year, New You” resolutions were gone before the groundhog saw its shadow.
As boxer Mike Tyson famously said, "Everyone has a plan 'til they get punched in the mouth." If it’s any consolation, about 90% of people who set resolutions fail. If your “New Year, New You” goals got derailed, you can reboot and restart right now, smarter, and with more chances of success.
Trying to break old habits or setting new ones can be very, very difficult, especially when it is a dramatic departure from your current state. One day builds on another, and another…good or bad. Which is kind of the point, considering that today’s topic is about streaking.
I’m NOT talking about Will Ferrell’s scene in the movie ‘Old School’ where a drunken Frank the Tank tries to get a mass streaking event fails, miserably.
I’m talking about putting together your own streaks - consistently building one day of success after another – resulting in lasting, positive habits, breaking bad ones, or making gradual progress towards a personal or professional goal.
Habits - both good and bad - tend to obey Newton’s first law of motion: a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and a body at rest tends to stay at rest. The more you do them, the more momentum builds from “occasional” to an everyday event. Committed runners can attest to this. As can smokers.
Tracking your streaks is a way to build and reinforce positive habits or break bad ones. The pandemic allowed both good and bad habits have flourished with some people. Here are a few examples from professionals we know:
“While working from home, I have started taking an hour at lunch to walk my dog while listening to audio books. In the past year, I have listened to over 50 audio books and lost 30 pounds. My dog has lost ten. Before the pandemic, I read maybe two or three books a year.”
“Drinking for me had always been a social activity, usually having a few glasses of wine with friends on the weekend. Over the past year, I started rewarding myself for another pandemic day the books with a glass of wine. One glass became two. Two became ‘I might as well finish the bottle.’ I was finding excuses to go to the store…to buy more wine. I don’t know where the border is between a habit and an alcohol problem and didn’t want to find out. I quit cold turkey. It’s been six months since my last drop of alcohol. I miss it but am not going back.”
“I started journaling to help process the disaster that was 2020. On average, I take 5-10 minutes each day to write. I’ve done it every day for the past 400 days and it helps cope with the stress.”
“Since the pandemic started, making in-person sales calls has been impossible, and that was always my strength – so I switched to the phones to make sure I make 20 extra calls each day. I get a lot of voicemails, but the people I DO get on the phone are often just happy to have a real conversation. I’ve gained twenty new clients…all without having to leave the house.”
Building streaks can also help get you through inevitable droughts in motivation. For example, if you have gone on a walk every day for sixty days, and one day it’s cold and rainy and all you want to do is sit on the couch and eat cookie dough and binge-watch Netflix, the fear or regret of having to start your streak over your streak might be enough to go get it done, even if you don’t enjoy it that particular day.
Unless you are really public with your goals, nobody will know or care if you break your streak (unless we are talking about a substance abuse relapse, then I really hope you have someone who will care). If you do break your streak, you can always restart and try to beat your previous streak. Try to get back on that horse as soon as possible before one day becomes two, then a week, and before you know it, it’s December 31st and you are telling yourself that this year will REALLY be the year for change.
Here are ten recommendations to help get started successfully:
1. Set realistic & achievable goals. Losing 50 pounds, running a marathon, writing a book, or starting a new career might be great long-term goals. But if you start with “I will lose 50 pounds” the sheer magnitude of your goal might be so intimidating you never get started. While your end-state might be to lose 50 pounds, a great sub goal might be to start with “I’m going to lose three pounds over the next four weeks.” If you hit your sub-goal, then set a new one. Then a new one. Before you know it, you have lost 50 pounds.
2. Get support. It’s much easier to stick to a plan when you go with others. Join accountability or support groups on Facebook or Reddit. Talk to your friends and family about your goals so they can support you and maybe join you on the journey. Get a running buddy or sign up for a class with friends. Surround yourself with knowledgeable people who will know and care when you start to slack off, sleep in, or fall back into old habits.
3. Plan for success. Plan to remove as much friction keeping you from doing the thing you either want to achieve or stop doing. For example, purging your house of junk food, or going to bed early to exercise before work.
4. Pace yourself. Most people try to do too much, all at once. Incremental progress is better than no progress. If you have not been to the gym in years, don’t go for three hours on the first day. You end up painfully sore at best or get hurt, at worst. Instead of setting massive goals like reading or writing for three hours a day, try ten minutes. Even reading for ten minutes when the current streak is no minutes is 10 minutes more than you were doing. Progress might be slow but will build over time and ultimately be more sustainable.
5. Treat yourself. Positive reinforcement works – either in small treats like having a favorite show you only binge when on the treadmill, or for milestones like buying a new gym outfit when you hit 60 days, or new wardrobe.
6. Shoot for 21 days at first – studies show that the average for any activity to become a habit that sticks is 21 days.
7. Get back on the horse. Don’t give up if you break your streak. Start again as soon as possible. You’ll end up competing against yourself. Maybe that “sixty days in a row” becomes “61.” Don't wait until next New Years to try again.
8. Track your progress. Remember that what gets measured gets managed. Find something that works for you and will help keep you motivated. It might be as simple as putting a big “X” on a calendar for each day. Or use a spreadsheet or app to track everything from sales calls to “scales calls.”
9. Use Cheat Days, Rest Days, or Deload Weeks (or go for 100%). Some habits will be much more successful if you program in a break – like having a weekly cheat meal to look forward to or having a guilt-free rest and recovery day, especially if you have been working hard (at the gym, or office). Your rest day does not have to be completely inactive, take a walk, do some yoga or mobility exercises. Professionally, it might be a day where you dedicate to training, networking, reading, or shadowing someone you are trying to become. Keep in mind however, some habits, like smoking, do not allow for a “cheat day” so plan accordingly. (See #7 above)
10. Get professional help. No matter what you are trying to accomplish, there are professionals out there that can help make the process easier and faster. The bigger the goal (“lose 100 pounds”) or problem (“I cannot stop drinking”) the better your chance of success will be if you get some professional help involved. Certified personal trainers, dieticians, doctors, therapists, counselors, coaches, etc. It will be worth the investment in time and money.
Speaking of money, keep in mind that self-help and self-improvement is a multi-billion-dollar industry. There is no end to the books, podcasts, systems, programs, supplements, pins, tweets, groups, and videos all professing to have the solution for what you need. Some programs are highly effective and backed by real science and experience. Some might be someone honestly sharing “this is what worked for me.” Many are just there to take your money (even most gyms make money by not having paid members show up).
I subscribe to the philosophy that when everything else in your life is in balance, whether it’s personal relationships, physical health, creative endeavors, self-reflection, or learning new things and skills, your professional life will be much better as well. Your productivity will be off the charts if you are healthy, rested, and your brain is running in top form.
While I talked about mostly personal goals today, if you are finding yourself consistently out-of-balance, it it’s your job that is causing it, we can help. I have a team of people that can coach you or help you need help either with professional coaching or find a better job. Let us know!
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Thanks for reading!