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Start A New (good) Habit, Kill An Old (bad) One

Odds are, you are trying to break a bad habit or institute a good one right now. As a species, we are impressively committed to self-improvement, and most of us believe that habits are an effective means to that end.

Habits – actions performed with little conscious thought and often unwittingly triggered by external cues – are powerful influences on behavior and can be our greatest allies for positive change. But because they are so difficult to break, habits are also frequent saboteurs of personal progress.

“Habit is a good servant but a bad master” is how author Gretchen Rubin summed it up in her book “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habit of Our Everyday Lives.” Hers was one of three recent books I read back-to-back on the subject of habit formation; the others were Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit” and Jeremy Dean’s “Making Habits, Breaking Habits.” Together, they helped me understand more deeply the importance of habit control, how to choose a habit to begin or end, and the mechanics of sticking with it.

The first thing to know, each book explained, is that a lot of our daily actions are so rote, they are automatic. “All our life … is but a mass of habits,” philosopher and psychologist William James wrote, though a 2006 study put the amount of habitual daily action at 40%. Still, that’s a lot of mindless behavior.

It’s helpful that we don’t need to think about how or when to drink coffee, brush our teeth or drive to work. If we did, we’d waste so much time rethinking or learning those tasks, we’d get little else done.

The whole trick is to get habits to work for you, not against you. Self-control is a limited resource, Dean explains, so a good habit means not having to exert effort every time you need to do the right thing.

Room to grow

The first thing to identify for yourself is the habit you want to work on, whether it’s starting a new (good) one or ending an old (bad) one. That’s a minor distinction, by the way. Eating healthier is eating less junk. Exercising more is being less sedentary. One is often the inverse of another.

This step requires some honest self-evaluation. What is not working in your life? What personality flaws are holding you back? Where is there room to do better?

We know what many of the most common areas of improvement are, at least when it comes to making resolutions. People want to lose weight, eat better, be more mindful, spend money more wisely, sleep better and improve relationships. By eliminating bad habits and starting new ones, you can succeed in most of these areas.

One helpful checklist frequently used for goal-setting is the acronym SMART, created by economic theorist Peter Drucker. Effective resolutions, research has shown, are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

Before finishing the first book (Dean’s, which is the most prescriptive and research- and science-based), I decided on two habits to work on myself. The first was to be more present and mindful with my kids. The second was to stop seeking out and consuming free, non-nutritious food at work. One was a good habit to start, the other a bad habit to quit.

Rubin, who approaches the topic personally and looks for specific techniques that work for her, recommends starting a habit at the same time as a big turning point such as pregnancy, marriage, a medical diagnosis, a family death, an anniversary, a long trip or a new year.

Repeal and replace your behavior

The consensus among these books is that the most effective way to adopt a habit is to replace a bad one with a better one. Dean’s metaphor is to think of habits as well-worn rivers of action that flow out of the predictable path of your routine. Often, the most effective way to stop it flowing in harmful directions is not by damming it but by diverting it. For example, many people stop smoking by chewing gum.

The point is that bad habits die hard, and as with riding a bike, your brain never stops learning how to do them.

So it’s easier to think about any habit formation, even new “good” ones, in terms of replacing unwanted behavior. That made sense for my snacking at work. I started buying healthy yet still delicious snacks to keep there: yogurt instead of morning doughnuts, dried papaya instead of chocolate, sweetened rice cakes instead of stale leftover doughnuts. A supply of healthy snack options kept me on a new course of action that largely followed the old eating habit pattern.

To be more mindful with my kids, I needed to avoid the opposite behaviors, such as checking my work phone or planning activities while with them so I could focus on their needs and thoughts.
Duhigg explains that habit “reversal therapy” is a legitimate technique used for things like tics and obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as predilections such as gambling, smoking and bed-wetting.

It’s important to make a distinction between a bad habit and addiction, however, even if the behaviors seem to overlap. Addiction requires greater intervention than habit hacking.

Dean describes the hallmarks of addiction as not being in control and not being aware of time/energy spent on the behavior. People with addictions are preoccupied with soothing a craving and needing more and more to get the same effect, as well as suffering withdrawal without it.

Unlike bad habits, addictions eat away at important activities such as relationships and work. They tend to be an escape from normal life and are often hidden from others.

The wonderful thing about triggers

We like to think we have free will in every situation, but many of our actions are predictably triggered by external situations. And if those events are part of your daily or weekly routine, our Pavlovian tendencies become ingrained. Pajamas are on: Time to floss and brush. Cup of coffee in hand: Time to dunk a doughnut. Beer finished: Let’s have a cigarette. But triggers can also be feelings, such as stress or boredom.

Being aware of your triggers is the first step in learning how to keep them from sabotaging you and make them work for you instead. Is there a certain time of day or task when you crave a treat? What do you always do when you feel stress (go for a run or go for a drink)? What is your bedtime ritual to let your brain know it’s time to sleep?

You can help create conditions to avoid triggers, but not fully. If the trigger is deeply ingrained, maybe going back years, it will sabotage you when your guard is down. For these situations, you need contingencies. Dean calls them “If … then …” plans. When trigger X happens, I won’t do bad habit Y, as I usually do, but I will replace it with much healthier Z action.

My favorite example of effective trigger planning is Starbucks, a company that puts a higher premium on customer service than on the (habit-fueled) products it sells. Duhigg, who prefers Malcom Gladwell-esque case studies for his book, explains that the chain’s baristas are well trained on what to do when something goes wrong, such as a messed-up order that angers a customer.

Rather than improvise or consider options in those moments, they practice rapid responses – such as apologizing and offering a replacement drink for free – until it’s second nature.

You likewise need to have a plan for when a strong, perhaps rare, trigger threatens your winning habit streak. Ordinarily, I can avoid eating cupcakes at work, but what’s my plan when I’ve skipped lunch, it’s late afternoon, I have some onerous task that would be made more enjoyable with a treat, and the cupcake is filled with peanut butter?

66 is the magic number

According to one study cited by Dean and Rubin, it takes 66 days of doing something to convert it to a habit. However, that number varies depending on the person and activity. For example, it took those participating in the study less than 20 days to habitualize drinking a glass of water every day, 60 days for eating fruit with lunch and more then 84 days to make 50 sit-ups a daily habit. Some habits could take a year to form. But 66 days is a good target.

I avoided work snacking and improved my capacity for parental mindfulness for 66 days straight. Or rather, I diligently monitored these habits over 66 days, because another pillar of successful habit formation is tracking. Even something as subjective as “be more present with my kids” can be numerically self-scored every evening.

And another pro tip of habit-making (or replacing) is accountability. Tell other people. Share on social media (unless social media is the habit you’re changing). Ask your friends and family to support the effort. Getting others involved, or even just aware, makes it harder for you to give it up. And others’ support can be inspiring and helpful.

Treat yo’self: rewards

Unlike tracking and accountability, incentives are a debatable strategy. Duhigg believes that they are central to the exercise, because habits are reward-based. Rubin concludes that external rewards take you away from internalizing the right motivation behind your new habit.

For me, rewards have been pivotal. Five years ago, I took off 25 pounds and have kept it off by establishing an elaborate reward system.

If you do treat yourself for keeping a habit, make sure it’s not self-defeating. You may not want to reward, say, avoiding doughnuts by indulging in a half-gallon of ice cream.

And that’s one to grow on

At the end of 66 days, I stopped tracking my new habits and found that they had largely stuck. When I came home from work, seeing the faces of my daughters was the trigger to remind me to give them my undivided focus. I rarely (instead of automatically) checked my phone for work updates, and I put off my personal agenda items until after bedtime. And I replaced workplace snacking with my private stash of more nutritious snacks: same trigger, but alternate behavior at much fewer calories.

The real test though, is time. More than six months have passed since my 66 days of daily tracking, and I’m still doing a solid job on mindful parenting. I have occasionally slipped on the work snacking, though. I wouldn’t say I’ve failed at it, because I’m building up a new long-term habit muscle for healthy snacking, and I ate a lot less junk food than I would have without trying.

Rubin would call it “stumbling,” and we should accept that it happens in the habit game. Stumbling is not a reason to quit trying.

You may want to read one of the habit books, too. The three overlap and support each other, but my personal preference was for Rubin’s, largely because I feel a kinship with her love of life-hacking, introspection and applied psychology.

She’s the author of the bestselling “The Happiness Project” and wrote this new book, she explained, after concluding that habits were the best means to actually achieve happiness.

But I’ll give the last word to the wise Ben Franklin, whose advice would make all these books unnecessary. ” ‘Tis easier to prevent bad habits than to break them,” he wrote.

By David G. Allan, CNN       January 5, 2018
 
This essay is part of a column called The Wisdom Project by David Allan, editorial director of CNN Health and Wellness.
The series is on applying to one’s life the wisdom and philosophy found everywhere, from ancient texts to pop culture. 
You can follow David at @davidgallan
 
source: www.cnn.com
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The Science Behind Why Breaking A Bad Habit Is So Hard

Engaging the goal-directed side of your brain can help you override the part that controls your bad habits.

Habits are your brain’s version of autopilot. They allow you to get ready for work, navigate your way to the office, and find your way home without having to reinvent the wheel every day. They save time and energy . . . except when they involve grabbing a candy bar from the vending machine every afternoon at 3 p.m. In cases like this, bad habits can feel like a battle of wills.

To find out why some habits can be hard to make or break, researchers from the University of California performed experiments with mice and found that the brain’s circuits for habit- and goal-directed action compete for control in the area of the brain that makes decisions.

“Neurochemicals called endocannabinoids allow for habit to take over by acting as a sort of brake on the goal-directed circuit,” writes Christina Gremel, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California San Diego who headed up the study that was published in the research journal Neuron.

Endocannabinoids are chemicals that are naturally produced by humans and animals, and receptors are found throughout the body and brain. This system is involved in a variety of physiological processes, such as appetite, pain sensation, mood, and memory.

Earlier studies found that the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is the part of the brain that relays goal-directed information. When researchers increased the output of neurons in the OFC in mice using optogenetics–a technique that involves flashes of light–goal-directed actions also increased. And when they decreased activity in the OFC using chemicals, the mice acted on habit.

A good balance of habitual and goal-directed actions helps with everyday functioning and task management. “We need to be able to make routine actions quickly and efficiently, and habits serve this purpose,” writes Gremel. “However, we also encounter changing circumstances, and need the capacity to ‘break habits’ and perform a goal-directed action based on updated information.”

The brain shifts from habit to goal-directed behavior when we need to drive to a different location, for example. The decision to make or break a habit also relies on goal-directed behavior in the beginning. Healthy mice had no problem shifting from one type to the other, but people with conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction may have a physical problem that inhibits goal-directed action, the study suggests. “It does appear some things we think of as more maladaptive like addiction seem to have a bias toward habit system,” Gremel says. “The goal-directed system is still there, and you can still rescue it. Treatment could be pharmaceutical or might involve behavioral therapy. Further research is needed.”

So what does this mean for that afternoon trip to the vending machine? It’s time to engage the goal-directed side of your brain. If you walk by the vending machine every day on your way back from a meeting, for example, alter your path.

“If you change the context or go about things in a different behavioral pattern, it can help you break out of habit,” says Gremel.

BY STEPHANIE VOZZA        06.20.16


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The Psychology Of Habit: Why We Become What We Repeatedly Do

BY BRIANNA WIEST

Understanding whether or not our personalities are fixed or malleable – and to what degree – has been the question philosophers and neuroscientists alike have spent years trying to understand. It’s comforting to attribute our most debilitating qualities to just being “who we are.” It lets us off the hook, it helps procrastinate change. Yet, when we remain unconscious of the fact that we can change our natural inclinations to the point that we can actually change the way our brains fire off response signals, we will simply be continually living out patterns that we developed in youth, and never grew out of.

“Neurons that fire together, wire together” is the single sentence that can sum up Hebbian theory, Donald Hebb’s idea that with repeated activation, neurons connect themselves to be engrams, or permanent restructures of the brain. The modern term is neuroplasticity, and the idea is that the brain can create new neural pathways to adapt to its “comfort zones” is likely one of the most crucial and underutilized concepts for self-actualization.

In other words, what you do, you become. You end up where you’re headed. If your life ultimately amounts to what you do each day, then real change lies in the adjustment of small habits. This isn’t always instinctive, though. It’s a common belief that habitualness is born of monotony and lack of character. Many philosophers even idealize a habit-free existence. Alva Noë at NPR believes this is a mistake. She argues:

Goethe said that architecture is frozen music. Actually, architecture is frozen habit. A habit-free existence would be a robotic existence; it would be one in which nothing could be taken for granted. But if nothing can be taken for granted, you can’t get started on anything. How could you talk, if you couldn’t take your own fluency, that is to say, your own habitual mastery of words, meanings, and ways of talking, for granted? How could you read the newspaper? Imagine that you had to think about and decide where to put your feet in the morning! Without habits nothing recognizable as a human or even animal form of life would be possible. To have a mind like ours, you need habits like ours.

Essentially, it’s not about trying to eliminate our habits and inclinations, but structuring them to serve our ultimate goals.

If you want to be a creative, you must train yourself to be comfortable with creating. If you no longer want to play out your relationship to your parents in your relationship to your spouse, you must train yourself not to. If you want to more easily release negative thoughts or care less about what people think,  you have to choose to do so until it becomes second nature.

socrates-quote

Our deepest internal battles, it seems, may simply be our conscious choice-making riding up against our current neurological structure.

Psychologist and philosopher William James wrote Habit in 1887, and was one of the first  to explain how behavioral patterns shape what we refer to as character and personality more than we think. In one of the most beautiful passages, he explains the gift of habit like this:

Habit is thus the enormous fly-wheel of society, its most precious conservative agent. It alone is what keeps us all within the bounds of ordinance, and saves the children of fortune from the envious uprisings of the poor. It alone prevents the hardest and most repulsive walks of life from being deserted by those brought up to tread therein. It keeps the fisherman and the deck-hand at sea through the winter; it holds the miner in his darkness, and nails the countryman to his log cabin and his lonely farm through all the months of snow; it protects us from invasion by the natives of the desert and the frozen zone. It dooms us all to fight out the battle of life upon the lines of our nurture or our early choice, and to make the best of a pursuit that disagrees, because there is no other for which we are fitted, and it is too late to begin again. It keeps different social strata from mixing. Already at the age of twenty-five you see the professional mannerism settling down on the young commercial traveller, on the young doctor, on the young minister, on the young counsellor-at-law. You see the little lines of cleavage running through the character, the tricks of thought, the prejudices, the ways of the ‘shop,’ in a word, from which the man can by-and-by no more escape than his coat-sleeve can suddenly fall into a new set of folds. On the whole, it is best he should not escape. It is well for the world that in most of us, by the age of thirty, the character has set like plaster, and will never soften again.

Yet, despite all of this, there is something inherently appealing about making profound, sweeping change. We imagine how happy we want to be, yet cannot fathom how writing down one thing we’re happy for each day could possibly create that much change. Yet, it’s essentially a momentum effect. It’s the same concept of why decluttering is important, or why subconscious biases control your life more than your conscious choices do: what you expose yourself to repeatedly shapes who you are. Here, B.J. Fogg explains exactly how that happens.

You have more control over your life than you think you do. Often, it’s not about struggling to discern what you can’t control – but actually wanting to take control of it. When we assume that we’re treading uphill against our inclinations, it makes adapting to new ways an almost impossible feat. When we recognize that our responses will build and physically regulate themselves, we realize that it’s not a matter of whether or not we can, but whether or not we will have the discipline to do.

Your mind will be like its habitual thoughts; for the soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts. Soak it then in such trains of thoughts as, for example: Where life is possible at all, a right life is possible. – Marcus Aurelius


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How To Break Any Bad Habit

BY JOHN KIM     AUGUST 15, 2013 

Learning to understand the self is a lot like stirring water in a glass. If we don’t stir, sentiments stay at the bottom of the glass and our water stays polluted.

Take a simple goal: Eat better.

For me, eating always starts with a craving. It’s rarely because I’m hungry. Usually I eat out of boredom. Or, on a deeper level, maybe loneliness.

First, the feeling. Then filling that feeling with food.

I imagine what I’m craving. Pizza. I see it. Feel it. I taste the crust and the cheese, and I know exactly where I’d go to get it. I see myself driving there and sitting in the booth eating it. (I am an extremely visual person. In this case, it’s not to my advantage.)

Then I become obsessed with this image. Inner conflict begins. Desire vs discipline, Want vs need. I start to reason with myself.  I work out hard. I deserve this. It’s not a big deal. What’s a slice? I need to get out of the house anyway.

Reasoning turns into deals. Okay, one slice but I’ll get a salad.

It’s on. The fantasy becomes a reality. I’m now actually sitting at the pizza place. And of course, I always break the deal I made with myself. Three slices and no salad. I eat until I’m stuffed. The Addict, The Liar, the Pseudo Self wins again.

On the way home, I feel guilty about myself and the pizza is never as good as I imagined it.

If I take this process and apply it to other areas of my life, is it the same? Dating? Relationships? If so, are the consequences and feelings the same?

Study patterns in your thoughts and behavior around fitness and nutrition. Chances are, they’re the same patterns you apply to other areas of your life. Maybe you maneuver in extremes: Win or lose. If so, do you apply that to work, love, etc.?  Do you use food or exercise to reward and punish yourself? If so, do you use work and relationships to reward or punish yourself?

Filtering your cloudy water means breaking patterns you believe are unhealthy. The more you are able to break unhealthy patterns, the cleaner your water will be.

Now, if you’re able to get stronger at rewiring your thoughts and behavior with food cravings and exercise habits, including all the fears you hit while working out, can you apply those new muscles to breaking patterns in other areas of your life?

I believe you can.

Here’s how.

 

A blue button with the word Change on it

1. Know what’s triggering your behavior.

Usually it’s from a feeling.

For me, it was boredom and loneliness.

Pizza was a way of coping or numbing that feeling.

Being aware is the first step.

2. Force yourself to change that behavior.  

There will be an internal fight and it will be difficult. But this is where the road can fork. Give yourself other options. I could go on a walk. See a movie. Write. Any behavior that’s different, even if it’s only slightly more healthy. The goal is just to break it. You may not succeed in the beginning. It takes lots of practice. But eventually, if you keep at it, you’ll get stronger.

Next time I have a feeling that triggers me, I’ll walk around the block and maybe reward myself with fruit, juice, or even a protein bar instead of stuffing my face at a pizza joint.

Now, in relationships, something will trigger the same feeling. You may get into a fight and feel unheard, angry, lonely, etc. Think about your bad habit (your “pizza”) in relationships…  Is it to shut down or explode? Well, you can apply the process above to change that behavior, too .

3. Identify the feeling that triggers your behavior. 

What’s the feeling? Feeling hurt, unheard, lonely?

4. Focus on addressing that feeling. 

Maybe you talk to a friend. Go for a walk. Stay and talk it out. Journal. Call your brother. Exercise? Whatever. Just make sure it’s more healthy. Know that you can do this because you did it with the eating and it will work the same.  Remember the results you got from breaking the bad eating behavior and trust that process.

If you’re afraid to do something in the box or at the gym, but you overcome that fear and by doing so, see results, that revelation – that you can overcome a fear and see results can now be applied to confronting your boyfriend, boss, or parents.  You may believe one has nothing to do with the other.  On the surface, true.  But fear is fear.  And no matter what door you go in or how you tackle it, the more you conquer it, the more you will be able to conquer it in other areas of your life.

Once you prove to yourself that you can do something you were afraid of, that PROOF – belief – will spill into other areas of thinking.

Imagine fear as the black and white image in a coloring book. The more you color, the more the fear disappears. It doesn’t matter where you start or how you do it, all that matters is that you keep coloring. And the more you color, the more that page will come to life.

So it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about eating better or facing workouts you never thought you could do. Keep stirring to get that water cloudy so that you can then break patterns – filter that water clean in all areas of your life.


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How to Claim Some ‘Me Time’

By Karen Asp       WebMD Feature Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

Say it loud, and say it proud: Me, me, me! OK, maybe you don’t want to shout it, but it is that important.

Fitting in time for yourself is essential to do your healthy habits. Take charge of your health and happiness, and you’ll lower your stress, become more productive, and have more energy.

You may think “it’s all about me” is selfish. But consider this: Other people benefit from your “me time,” too. Do things that feed you mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and you’ll bring greater patience and a more positive attitude to your relationships. You’ll become a better parent, spouse, and a more effective team player at work.

Book It

Take a page from your calendar, literally. Every week, look at your calendar and book some me time.

Can’t find an hour to devote to yourself? Even 5-15 minutes can work, if you stick to it.

Don’t use the time to fold laundry or catch up on email. It may even seem more stressful at first to leave things undone, but you’ll have more energy if you take a little time off.

Where to find the time?

  • Take advantage of the kids’ reading or nap time.
  • Get up 10 minutes earlier.
  • Ask your kids (and spouse) to do the dishes.
  • Turn off the smartphone.
  • Claim a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon for yourself, even if that means adjusting your family’s schedule.

Gimme 5

If 5 minutes is all you’ve got, you’d be surprised at how much you can make it count.

Just breathe. Really focus on taking deep breaths. Your mind may wander — that’s OK, just gently lead it back from thinking about everything that’s on your to-do list.
Stretch. Get up from your desk and energize your muscles.
Do nothing. Sit quietly. Resist the urge to jump up and clear the table or pick up the kids’ toys. Let your mind and body rest.

A Few Minutes More

At least once a month, carve out a little more time for yourself — say 30 minutes to an hour. Get a pedicure. Or a facial. Go somewhere you’ve never been (a certain museum or a walking trail, perhaps). Write down your dreams and goals in a journal.

Say No, Gracefully

You don’t have to tell your friends and family what you’re doing. But if their demands cut into your time, it’s okay to create a buffer.

Tell them you can help but that you need a quick 20 minutes (or whatever amount of time feels right) before you can do it.

Stick to It

Unless it’s crucial, don’t cancel me time. It’s tempting and easy to forgo this time. But if you do it too often, you won’t have any me time left!

Stick up for yourself, and you’ll find it pays off for those around you, too. You’ll be happier and more able to help them.

source: WebMD


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25 Habits Of People Who Are Happy, Healthy and Successful

Who among us doesn’t want to be a happy, healthy and successful human being? Still, it can be easy to lose your way, which is why I’ve compiled a list of habits you can use to help reach your goals.

So what is it about happy people that makes them the way they are? Below are just some of the ways they separate themselves from the rest of the crowd.

 

success

1. They don’t hold grudges.

2. They think outside of the box.

3. They go by a routine and make exercise a part of it. It takes practice to develop healthy habits and stick with them. Once you do, your internal foundation will be strong.

4. They have a supportive tribe, thereby not wasting time with negative or toxic people.

5. They don’t care about what other people think. Does a tiger lose sleep over the opinion of sheep?

6. They don’t people please.

7. They see difficult and challenging situations as opportunities for personal growth.

8. They consider handling rejection a skill and are resilient.

9. They make time for themselves. Whether it’s getting eight hours of sleep every night, finding 15 minutes to read the newspaper in peace or an hour to go to the gym, they make it a priority — just like everything else. When you take care of yourself, you have a bigger impact on others.

10. They are spiritual. This doesn’t necessarily mean religious. It could mean setting aside time for reflection through yoga or meditation.

11. They practice deep breathing.

12. They know there isn’t such a thing as “having it all,” and they’re happy about that. Wouldn’t the world be a boring place for them otherwise?

13. Fear doesn’t hold them back. They’re ready to take risks.

14. They know how to say “NO,” and don’t hold back. These people have learned to set boundaries. Plenty of them.

15. They learned a great deal from other people whom they admire. Either they had a great mentor, or they took note of how those they aspired to be like handled various situations.

16. They follow their inner guidance. Not only do they have a vision, but they follow it.

17. They give without expecting anything in return.

18. They aren’t pretentious or conceited.

19. Passion is what drives them. They authentically believe in what they’re doing. 

20. They don’t complain.

21. They live by their core values in both their professional and personal lives.

22. They’re happy to swim against the tide.

23. They finish what they start.

24. They don’t compare themselves to other people.

25. They want you to succeed, too.

source: www.mindbodygreen.com


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How To Get What You Want Out Of The New Year

 Goal Setting Skills For The New Year or Any Time

By Elizabeth Scott, M.S., About.com Guide              Updated January 03, 2011 

Every year, throngs of people—maybe even you—choose a list of resolutions for the next year. Generally, these are habits they will try to do every day, or habits they will try to avoid for as long as they can. Unfortunately, many of these resolutions are forgotten by March. A major reason for this is that it’s deceptively difficult to develop or deny ingrained habits ‘cold turkey’.

While the effort to adopt resolution shows a wonderful sense of positive intent, a better alternative is to develop new goals for the future. Goals are a better plan than resolutions for a few key reasons:

Rigid vs. Fluid:

Resolutions stay the same: “I will go to bed by 10pm.” “I will stop eating junk.” “I will go to the gym five times a week.” If these are somewhat big changes, it may feel like a huge change with no buildup. Goals, however, can be tackled in steps, beginning with baby steps and increasing in difficulty as you become more accustomed to the change. This makes goals more realistic for lasting change.

Sense of Accomplishment vs. Sense of Failure:

Goals give you a direction to aspire to, but with the baby steps you may be taking toward your goal, you can still feel like you’ve accomplished something and are on the right track, which will, in turn, keep you moving in the right direction. Once you’ve broken a rigid resolution, however, it’s easier to feel like a failure and give up.

goal setting

The Scope of the Change:

Resolutions are usually a means to a goal, but if you find a resolution too difficult to stick to, it’s usually dropped and forgotten. With goals, if you find a planned change too difficult to carry out, you can drop that plan, but pick a different new behavior to try that will still lead to the same end result, and not lose sight of the goal. For example, imagine you want to get in the habit of exercising to be in better shape. You might make a resolution to go to the gym five times a week. But if you find that you just hate the gym, you probably won’t stick to your resolution, and you’ll be no closer to your goal. However, if you make ‘getting more exercise’ the goal, you may drop the gym, but switch to walking through your neighborhood each morning, and still meet your goal.

Now that you know some of why resolutions often fail and goals are a more realistic route, here are some tips for setting goals you can get behind: 

Keep your future in mind.

Think of what you would have in your ideal life, and where you’d like to be in two, five, or even ten years, and see if your goals bring you closer to that picture. If so, they’re good goals to stick with. If you can keep in your mind the image of where you would ultimately like your goals to take you, it’s easier to stick with them.

Think in terms of broad changes rather than specific behaviors.

For instance, resolving to “Develop A Stress Management Practice” gives more room for growth and change than “Do Yoga Every Morning”. While you’ll want to put your broad goals into specific behaviors, deciding to Develop a Stress Management Practice gives you room to experiment, and allows you to change course if you find that Yoga isn’t working for you.

Think in terms of what you’d like to add to your life, rather than what you’d like to take away.

For example, instead of making the goal to “Eat Less Unhealthy Food”, focus on trying to “Eat More Healthy Food”. You may subconsciously feel more deprived if you think of taking something awayrather than adding something good, and if you replace unhealthy food in your diet with healthy food, the same goal is accomplished. Also, it’s usually easier to add a behavior than to stop a behavior.

Once you have your goals set, keep them in the forefront of your mind. Keep them listed in your day-planner, have them as part of your screen saver, or post-it them in prominent places around your house for a while. Reward yourself with something small for continuing to stick with it, until you make enough progress toward your goals that the progress becomes its own reward. And remember that change doesn’t come overnight, but as you work toward developing what is important to you, the change will come, and it will be lasting. Remember this, and enjoy building the life you were meant to live!

source: about.com