Use The One-A-Month Technique To Adopt Habits That Stick

We’re not even a week into the New Year and you’re probably already feeling the pressure of your resolutions. Get out your list and get ready to overhaul it with the One-A-Month technique for a better shot at year-long personal growth.

Photo by Steve Snodgrass.

Keeping resolutions is hard. It’s easy to get to the end of a year and proclaim loudly all the things you didn’t like about the last year and all the things you’re going to do differently with the new one. Making sweeping changes with resolution shopping lists, however, is a recipe for failure. Willpower is a finite resource, and a very limited one at that; it’s critical to structure your habit changes for success.

Below, we’ll offer some tips for pruning your resolutions and making them more realistic, then walk you through creating a more realistic resolution schedule during which you’ll adopt one new resolution each month. Read on for the details.

Make a List and Check it Twice

Get out your list of resolutions (or brainstorm a few you’re ready to make some changes but didn’t make a formal list earlier this week). We’re going to steal some tips from our guide to scaffolding your resolutions for lasting change in order to put your list through resolution boot camp. Photo by Pittaya.

Get ready to cross things off your list. If you can’t answer the following questions about your resolutions they’ve got to go.

Is your goal concrete? “Get Healthy” is a garbage goal – it’s too nebulous to be useful. If you asked a dozen people to write down how to “get healthy” you’d get a dozen different answers. Your resolution should be like a thesis statement for a paper; not “get healthy” but “begin training as a runner to participate in October’s 10K Breast Cancer Charity Run”.

What’s the next action? This is the sibling of concreteness. What do you do next? If you can’t think of anything to write down as a first step in your quest to accomplish whatever, then whatever is either too unobtainable, abstract, or boring to bother with.

Is your resolution open ended? Resolving to adopt a positive habit that is open ended and extends beyond achieving simple goals is a great way to make long term changes. It’s better, for example, to resolve to walk a mile a day than it is to resolve to lose 10 pounds. You’ll lose weight walking and you won’t reach a point where quitting is an option.

Who can support you? Your parents didn’t want you hanging around with Billy Hannigan because they didn’t want his bad habits rubbing off on you. Good habits work the same way. Who are you going to surround yourself with to foster your new habit?

Is your goal realistic? Running, albeit not winning, a marathon after eight months of training is realistic. Competing in a winter triathlon next month probably isn’t. Don’t set the bar on the floor but don’t set it so high that failure is the only option.

Scheduling Your New Habits Across the New Year

It’s completely unrealistic to make January the month where you start running every day, cook meals at home, pack your lunches for work, learn to play an instrument, and get up an hour early to work on that book idea you’ve had floating around in your head. You might go super strong for a week, but by the end of the month you’ll be burned out and down on yourself. Photo by Jan Muder.

It takes about three weeks for a habit to stick, but three weeks is an odd unit of time so we’re going to round it up to a nice comfy and calendar-friendly four weeks. Rather than pile on all the things you want to do at the beginning of the year, we’re going to space them out over the entire year for continual and successful personal growth.

Open up a text editor or get out a legal pad and write down the 12 months with some space under each. Now look at your list of resolutions. If you have more resolutions than there are months in the year it might be time to revisit the first section of this article and do a little pruning. Once your list is 12 or less it’s time to start placing the resolutions on the calendar.

Start easy. Look over your rudimentary calendar and your resolution list. Which resolution looks like it will be the easiest? Drinking eight glasses of water a day? Perfect. Make that your new habit for January. The psychological boost of an early success increases your confidence and thus increases the chances that you’ll stick with the one-a-month technique when the going gets tough.

Order new habits based on relation to events later in the year. Learning to play the piano is generally an any-time activity that you could start any month of the year. Fitness related goals, however, generally have their big payoff (however superficial) during the summer when outfits are skimpier and swimming pools are open for business-it makes sense to put habits with a relatively date-dependent reward earlier in the year. If none of the habits strike you as particular date-dependent, order them in an alternating pattern of easier-harder-easier to benefit from the aforementioned psychological boost of success.

Track your habit. How will you keep tabs on your new habit? Tracking progress is critical to success. Whether your tracking system is as simple as using coloured markers to draw lines through the days you keep up with a new habit or you use more advanced phone and web-based tools, the best thing you can do is track your habit so you’ve got a tangible view of how things are going. Check out our best exercise tracking tools, and best mobile fitness apps to get a jump start on your fitness-related goals. Need to track other things too? Check out the five best goal-tracking tools. No matter what tool you opt to use, make sure it’s simple enough that you’ll log your progress. If the tool is a pain to use you’ll stop tracking your progress and risk becoming discouraged.

Pick a monthly check-in time. Once a month you’ll need to check back in with your master list and fine-tune things. This is your chance to use the checklist again from the first section of our guide and weigh whether or not your resolutions are still worth pursuing. Maybe a change in your financial situation mid-year will make October flying lessons out of the question or perhaps March’s habit of running 20km a week turned you into such a hardcore running enthusiast you don’t have time for another fitness-related resolution. Reordering your list or striking items from it later because of changing commitments isn’t a failure, it’s a realistic and necessary task.

With a list of reasonable resolutions, a timeline for adopting them, and tools to track your progress, it’ll be easy to stick to your New Year’s resolutions. Remember, the goal is not to start and fail at a dozen or more resolutions in January, it’s to progressively become a better person.

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