Every time around the turn of a New Year, millions of people in America create New Year’s resolutions. The most common resolutions we see are goals like eating healthier, exercising more, losing weight, save more and spend less, learning a new skill or hobby, quit smoking, or to read more. While all of those are achievable goals, statistics show that by the 2nd week of January about 30% of people already “drop out” and 6 months in about 50% “drop out”. So this begs the question, do they just not care? Do they lack willpower? I can guarantee you that they both care and have the willpower, they are just lacking one thing. Creating specific sustainable habits is crucial in order to achieve the goal. In his book “Atomic Habits” James Clear says, “We think the results are the thing that needs to change but it’s actually the process behind the results.” He goes on to use the example of a messy room. He says, “If you have a messy room, say your bedroom is a mess and you set a goal to clean that room. You can get motivated and do it for 2 to 3 hours. Then turn around and you have a clean room, for now. If you don’t change the messy habits that resulted in a dirty room in the first place, then you turn around and a week later you have a dirty room again. So in reality, you don’t need a clean room, you need better cleaning habits and then your room will always be clean. You don’t need to lose weight, you need better eating habits and then your weight will be around where you always want it to be.” Habits are more important than goals because it is in habits where we develop the real success. Achieving the goal is just a reflection of great habits. Below are a handful of main themes I focus on in regards to achieving sustainable change.
1. Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable – Real significant change really only happens under a certain threshold of stress. Muhammed Ali once said, “I don’t count the sit-ups. I only start counting when it starts hurting because they’re the only ones that count. That’s what makes you a champion.” Let’s take a look at the Pareto Principal. The Pareto principle states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. For example, as a runner, I am running 60 miles a week. 45 of those miles are at an easy effort, the other 15 miles are hard effort. The real progress of becoming a faster/better runner is less from the 45 miles and more from the hard 15 miles. The 45 easier miles are there to sustain fitness, the 15 hard miles to improve fitness. Another example could take place in the world of business. Often 80% of sales are executed by only 20% of the sales representatives. Another, 80% of crimes are committed by 20% of criminals. The same goes for a great deal of personal change.
2. Sustainability is Key – Researchers have found that 90% of people who lose a lot of weight eventually regain all of it back, and I’d argue regain even more. I can guarantee you it is because of unsustainable habits. The biggest factor with weight loss or achieving better health is finding what you can sustain on a daily basis and being able to adhere to it day in and day out. The phrase “eat less and move more” is about as shallow as saying “make more and spend less” to become richer. It lacks depth, guidance, or direction. It requires personal examination of what is going to be the most sustainable for you. For some it’s drastically lowering a macro nutrient (high fat low carb or low fat high carb) others its cutting entire food groups (Vegan / Carnivore / Paleo / Etc.) Stan Efferding is an American IFBB professional bodybuilder and a powerlifter, he is known as one of the world’s strongest men. He says “Compliance is the Science.” In other words, whatever you will adhere to the best & most sustainably is the best route to take. For example, some people sustain great health eating 2 bigger meals, others 5 smaller meals. Some people radically improve their health through a whole foods plant-based diet, others through a strict carnivore diet of primarily red meat and salt. The same theme goes for exercise. Stan say’s to do the exercise that you most enjoy because what you enjoy will result in the greater and longer lasting personal growth. For some, lifting weights in a gym every day brings the greatest joy. For others it’s out running on a dirt trail. The point is that we must find what we ultimately enjoy and find most sustainable in order to maintain or reach for better health. Early into this summer I made it a goal of mine to become a better reader. First, I read through a book within just a few days. I knew that habit was most likely not going to stick around for long. The bar I set was a bit too high. So, I simply made it a goal to read 1 chapter of a book every morning before I do anything else. While that might only be 5-10 pages a day, I find it sustainable and over a year, I know that habit will result in a greater ability to read and appreciate books. This is not to dismiss the fact that breaking old habits is not easy. Real change comes through stress and the willingness to be uncomfortable.
3. Take One Day At A Time – Big goals can be extremely overwhelming. For myself, I find worry and or let anxiety creep in anytime I think about some of my long term goals. I have found ways to minimize this through simply taking one day at a time. I constantly ask myself each morning, “What can I do today, given the circumstances, in order to become better than I was yesterday.” In Jordan Peterson’s best selling book “12 Rules For Life”, rule 4 is “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.” Prior to finding my identity in Jesus and what He thinks of me, I struggled immensely with comparing myself to others. I was constantly looking around wishing I had what they had. This only brought in resentment and bitterness. It can still be a temptation occasionally but much less than it once was. In the scriptures, Jesus reminds us, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34) Worry does nothing to improve the future, it just makes matters worse in the present. This is not to mean that we do not need to prepare ourselves for the challenges we have in the upcoming future but rather to trust in what the Lord has told us He will do. The shadows we create out of worry are often way larger than the actual situation itself. I can remember countless times when worry and anxiety flooded my body the days leading up to a big race on the track or during cross country and then once I am in the moment, it’s as if the shadow was way more of a stress than the actual situation. James Clear in his book “Atomic Habits” says, “You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.” Similar to the first main theme, delayed gratification is often completely ignored today whether in improving health, becoming a better reader, or writer. I have to constantly remind myself that every action has a consequence. Opting for one healthier meal results in very little if any notice or change, but over weeks, months, and years, the habit reveals itself. On the flip side, indulging in a donut or bowl of ice cream is not going to sabotage months of progress, it will only if made into a habit that occurs day in and day out. Don’t overwhelm yourself with worry & anxiety when one or two small choices go in the wrong direction.
Conclusion – I’ve personally adopted habits that have resulted in radical growth, creativity, focus, and better energy. Just a few include a daily walk of some length between 15-45 minutes. Whether at school, home, or traveling, a daily walk helps me escape from the often busy or overwhelming situations that I am in most of the day. During my walk I’ll throw on a podcast or sermon so that I can learn while refreshing my mind and body.