How to Set a Sustainable Habit Goal This Year: Part I

This post is Part I of a multi-post series. Over the past year, some of my friends and family members have asked me questions about the method I followed. I am always happy to share and help. And now, since we are coming upon a time of year when many people look to set goals for the coming year, I wanted to write a post all about how I developed some pretty rewarding habits.

We are coming up on one year since I began my habits-based journey. For me, this is big.

One year ago, I felt tired all the time and knew I needed to make changes. I knew I needed to live differently. And I knew that my previous ways of changing were not going to work with my lifestyle as a parent. I knew I needed to develop more patience. I knew I needed to develop more perseverance, and I wanted to model that for my son, so he doesn’t have to develop it from scratch after he has his own kids.

So I set some habit goals. And unlike other new years “resolutions” I had made in the past, these ones lasted all year long, and have changed my experience, outlook, lifestyle, and health for the better.

If you have tried to develop new habits in the past, but haven’t been able to stick with them very long, read on. I think you may find some good info here.

First, it seems prudent to include a disclaimer: I have ZERO professional credentials that make me qualified to give specific health, fitness, financial, or relationship advice. The only thing that makes me qualified to write about this is that I have had success in personally changing my own habits. So, if you need medical advice, please ask your doctor. If you need form advice on your squat, please ask a personal trainer or coach. If you need any other kind of advice… get the picture. Everything I’m sharing is for informational/educational purposes only. Proceed at your own risk.

And of course, everything I share here is what I personally did, and it worked for me. I’m not saying it will work for everybody. Use a salad bar approach: take what you like, and leave the rest. If you don’t like this metaphorical salad bar, that’s fine too. Do something else, or even nothing at all – nobody is obligated to better themselves.

What is a habit?

A habit is an acquired behavior pattern (action!) regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.

Why Habits, Not Outcomes?

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.  –Aristotle.

A river cuts through rock, not because of it’s power, but because of it’s persistence. –Jim Watkins

Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out. –Robert Collier

For the record, I have nothing against outcomes. I personally do better with habits.

I choose habits because they are more within my control than outcomes. Therefore, working on habits leaves me open to outcomes I would not have anticipated nor planned for, but are nonetheless wonderful.

I also choose habits because it emphasizes the everyday (or every week) actions.

I also choose habits because it encourages self-awareness vs. self-judgment.

Okay, still with me? Here’s what I did.

Step 1 – Choose a habit to work on.

I recommend choosing one habit to work on at a time.

When I started, I actually chose several habits. Since then, I read some statistics:  if you work on one habit at a time, your chances of success are almost 80 percent. If you work on two habits at a time, your chances of success drop to about 33 percent. That’s huge.

Maybe you already have a habit in mind. Maybe you have several in mind and aren’t sure what to focus on first. Maybe you aren’t really sure whether your goal is a habit or an outcome.

Here are some examples of actions that can become habits. This is NOT an exhaustive list; it’s just a list I came up with in a few minutes of brainstorming.

Movement habits to support physical health:

  • Do a weightlifting workout
  • Go for a walk
  • Go for a hike
  • Go for a bike ride
  • Go for a run
  • Go for a swim
  • Do yoga
  • Dance
  • Play tennis
  • Do some stretching, foam rolling, or other mobility work

Habits that support healthy relationships / family / social ties:

  • Say or do something nice for your spouse / significant other
  • Say or do something nice for your child
  • Have a date night with your spouse/ significant other
  • Make plans with a friend
  • Put your phone away during a family meal
  • Do something yourself instead of asking your spouse / significant other to do it
  • Attend a social event or group meeting

Habits that support better self-esteem and improved body image:

  • Add body positive pages to your social media feeds
  • Write down something you love and appreciate about yourself
  • Unfollow body shaming pages on social media
  • Wear clothing that fits your current body comfortably

Eating habits that support a better health AND a healthier relationship with food:

  • Try a new food
  • Try a new vegetable
  • Try a new fruit
  • Learn a new recipe
  • Eat a green vegetable
  • Eat a protein food with each meal
  • Take your vitamins
  • Drink x amount of water

Habits that support learning a new language:

  • Practice a language for 10 minutes
  • Read a chapter of a book in that language
  • Read a newspaper article in that language
  • Watch a TV show in that language
  • Attend a practice group

Habits that support mental health / calmness / sanity:

  • Take one hour for yourself
  • Journal
  • Meditate
  • See a therapist / seek treatment for a mental health issue
  • Turn off your phone for an hour
  • Read a fiction book for an hour

Habits that support a balanced family budget:

  • Deposit money into your family’s emergency fund
  • Pay extra towards your family’s consumer debt
  • Pay cash
  • Make a meal plan
  • Make a shopping list
  • Cook a pot of rice and beans
  • Have a car-free day
  • Run an errand on foot or by bike instead of in the car.
  • Cook meals at home

Habits that support a lower carbon footprint:

  • Bring bags to the grocery store
  • Run an errand on foot or by bike instead of in the car.
  • Commute by bike or on foot instead of in the car.
  • Use reusable containers and flatware instead of disposable

Habits that support a more organized home/office:

  • Vacuum
  • Unload the dishwasher in the morning
  • Get rid of things you don’t need
  • Clean the sinks
  • Clean the toilets
  • Clean the floors
  • Clean out the fridge
  • You get the idea

Habits that support recovering from an addiction (smoking, drinking, drugs, gambling, shopping, etc):

  • Attend a support group
  • See a therapist
  • Do a substitute behavior instead of the harmful one

What do all of these habits have in common? They are ACTIONS that can be taken, and repeated, over and over again.

What kinds of goals are NOT habits?

Here are some examples of goals that are NOT habits; they are outcomes that often RESULT from habits combined with environmental circumstances (and in some cases, genetics):

  • Get out of debt
  • Have more energy
  • Improve my marathon time
  • Improve my 1 rep max back squat
  • Lose weight
  • Maintain weight
  • Gain weight
  • Lower my blood pressure
  • Improve my relationship with my spouse/significant other
  • Finish my emergency fund
  • Have a cleaner house
  • Quit smoking
  • Learn a new language
  • Make more friends
  • Improve my body image
  • Improve my relationship with food

Don’t get me wrong…..most of these things are great outcomes to work towards, if one wishes to do so. They are just not habits (though they may result from better habits in some circumstances).

Here are some other examples of things that are NOT habits:

  • Stop yelling at my kids
  • Stop spending so much money on take-out meals
  • Stop eating so much sugar
  • Don’t get so stressed out all the time

What do these things have in common? They are negative directives instead of positive actions.

What if I have an outcome goal but I’m not sure what habits would support that outcome?

Well, you can look at my list of examples above and see if any of them fit the bill. Or….you can ask yourself “what habits might lead to the outcome I’ve chosen?” or “when I reach this goal of mine, what actions do I expect will have become habits?” or “what habits do I think might support the outcome I desire?”

For example, if you are hoping to lower your blood pressure, supportive habits might include:

  • Walking
  • Meditating or doing yoga
  • Learning and regularly cooking some recipes I enjoy that also support lower blood pressure
  • Seeing a dietitian to address any dietary habits that might be beneficial
  • Spending time with someone who makes me laugh
  • Choosing comedy shows instead of political commentary shows

What if my life is such a mess that I want to work on many of these? How do I choose where to start?

Make a list of all the habits you are interested in working on. It’s okay to want to work on more than one thing. However, with each new habit you try to add at one time, you are less likely to succeed at ALL of them. So, write down your list. Then, choose a habit off your list that you would like to work on first. Save the list for later. Revisit it in 3-8 weeks if you are ready to add another habit. Then choose another. That’s my sage advice.

Anything else I should know about choosing a habit?

Yes. This is of utmost importance. For your first habit, choose something that you WANT to work on. Not something that you feel guilty for not doing. Not something that your significant other or parent wants you to work on. Something that YOU want to work on.  If you will need to “reward” yourself for meeting a goal with this habit, it’s probably not the right one. You are worthy of being treated well whether or not you reach goals that you set. Choose a habit that you will enjoy and will make you feel great.

Got your habit chosen? Click over to Part II, where I will discuss choosing a time and frequency goal for your habit.



19 thoughts on “How to Set a Sustainable Habit Goal This Year: Part I

  1. Pingback: How to Set a Sustainable Habit Goal This Year: Part II | Power, Peace, and the Porch Gym

  2. Reblogged this on Dream Big, Dream Often and commented:
    “If you work on one habit at a time, your chances of success are almost 80 percent. If you work on two habits at a time, your chances of success drop to about 33 percent. ” Wow, I was unaware of this statistic, but it goes to provide supporting facts for our TOTD: pick one resolution and one only! Slow and steady wins the race!


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  5. This is a mind-blowing post! Honestly, everyone should read this. Achieving goals is a process, and the starting point is very important. You have broken down this process into very useful bits. Looking forward to the next part of this series. And I’m sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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