People and Places

Ditch your New Year’s resolutions and replace them with good habits

Sunday, Jan. 17, was Ditch your New Year’s Resolution Day. And how many of us even made it that far? Ottawa Magazine‘s Charles Enman spoke to Tim Pychyl, author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, earlier this year to touch on the topic of why we may not be completing these goals.

But perhaps it goes further, deep into the intricacies of our habits, how they are formed, and how they can work against us?

I  joined a lunch talk at the Impact HUB Ottawa recently (photo above) and Manal Nemr, life coach and co-creator of the happiness movement, Happiness Habits 613, shared her thoughts on the resolution ruin, her company, Beautiful Happy Reasons, and how we can build better habits every day rather than just on Jan. 1. We got in touch with Manal to share her tips with readers.

Manal Nemr, life coach and co-creator of the happiness movement, Happiness Habits 613. Photo by Rhiana Chinapen

Describe Beautiful Happy Reasons.

The focus in my coaching practice is to create a space for personal exploration. Working one-on-one with clients, we design a playbook that begins with identifying what’s important to them and what happiness looks like in their life. The process involves cultivating practices that enhance mindfulness, happiness and well being. Ultimately, my goal is to build connections — with ourselves, with each other and within our communities.

Why do you dislike New Year’s resolutions?

According to University of Scranton research, around eight per cent of us actually achieve our resolutions. We ditch them within the first few weeks of January. There has to be a better way!

Any thoughts to why we make them?

We make resolutions for many reasons; personal and professional. We want to shed the past and move forward towards a better future. It’s a hopeful time, a chance to start over. For many of us, myself included, it’s a set time of the year where we can look back at the lessons and experiences of the last year and make better and more fulfilling goals for the future.

While our goals are essential, how we live our daily lives is so much more interesting. I love how  Gretchen Rubin [author of The Happiness Project] puts it, “What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while.” That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t set big beautiful goals, because we need to. What it does mean is that in order to live a happy life, we have to build happiness into our daily lives.

How do you build a good habit?

We build good habits through self-awareness, consistent action, and patience. Aristotle said that “we are what we repeatedly do,” and I really believe that’s true. Building a happy, healthy life is a daily commitment. We start by taking a closer look at our daily habits as the path to building a life that works for us and that fills us with joy.

Research tells us that 40-45 per cent of our daily behaviours are habitual, meaning we perform them unconsciously. It has a lot to do with how our brain works. It’s really an awesome thing — as we consistently perform a behaviour, our brain develops stronger and thicker neural pathways that make that habit automatic in order to save us valuable energy. This is good news if you’re building good habits but the thing is, the brain doesn’t differentiate between good and bad habits. So, change is often difficult because habits become “sticky.”

Another thing to keep in mind is what Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, calls a “Habit Loop.”  The loop consists of a trigger for the behaviour to start, the behaviour, and the resulting reward. Focusing our attention on our habits provides us with the awareness into why we do what we do. If half of the things we do are habitual, then a good place to start is to make sure those habits are good ones. Pay attention to what triggers specific behaviours and use these cues to start intentionally cultivating your good habits.

What are some practices we can do to increase their chances of making these good habits long-lasting?

1) Get emotionally invested. Any process of change starts from the inside out. With a little digging, clarify what’s really important to you. You’re more likely to stay committed if you’re emotionally invested. When we’re connected to what’s important, we’re able to make decisions that align with the things we care about.

2) Plan it out. Make a realistic plan, write it down and use your daily routine to your advantage. Choose an environmental cue, such as a certain time, place or when you’re feeling a specific emotion, as the trigger for the good habit you’re cultivating. For example, building your meditation practice right after you brush your teeth each morning. Create an environment that lends itself to daily successes.

3) Start small. If you’re like me, a big project or goal can feel overwhelming. Sometimes so much so that we end up procrastinating. So, start small. Start so small that you can’t fail. You’ll start building a positive feedback loop that will motivate you to keep going. Every step forward counts!

4) Revisit goals. You’re constantly changing and you’re goals should be changing with you. As you learn and grow don’t be scared to make adjustments based on what’s working and what’s not. It’s OK to change your mind! Good things will flood into your life when you’re flexible and open to them.

5) Be gentle. Building good, long lasting habits takes time. So, be gentle with yourself. These are habits that will be part of your life for the rest of your life. If you’re in battle with yourself every time you slip up, you’ll just feel negative, unmotivated and frankly, you’re wasting energy you can put into something that makes you happy. When you’re gentle, if you miss a gym day or a meditation practice, no hard feelings, you just get on with it.

Any helpful tips to start right now?

Take a few minutes right now to write down three things you’re grateful for and begin cultivating this habit everyday. Gratitude and happiness are directly linked. As we practice gratitude, our optimism increases and so does our life satisfaction and overall well-being.

Along with your daily gratitude practice, recall and write down one memorable experience you’ve had in the last 24 hours. According to Shawn Achor, author of the Happiness Advantage, recalling a meaningful experience helps our brain relive it. We judge our day as meaningful and we can string the series of experiences together into a meaningful life. As you scan the world for all the beautiful reasons to be happy, you can intentionally experience a life that’s joyful, fulfilling and a true expression of who you are!

Anything else you’d like to add on the topic of resolutions, goals, and habits?

Celebrate! Celebrate all your successes no matter how small. Linger in the in-between spaces for a while before moving on to the next goal. Those spaces provide their own insights. Life has become increasingly busy but we can make different choices to slow it down. Take a moment to breathe, express gratitude, note the lessons, and then move forward.