A Mindset to Make New Habits Stick
Welcome to the Mindset for LIfe Podcast. I’m happy to share with you that there is a strategy to make new habits stick. Why is it that we start these habits, and they never last very long? Today, we talk about what it takes to make new habits stick.
And it’s all about this: the idea of a fresh start. We have rituals and routines that center around new beginnings and the possibilities that come with them. It’s as if life moves in cycles, each one bringing the idea of a fresh start. We think that we have a clean slate. The chance to try again. And we are born again, with opportunities. We can renew, improve, and redefine ourselves.
Do any of these seem like new beginnings you might have have experienced?
- New Year: People celebrate the old, ring in the new with parties, resolutions, goals.
- Beginning of the school year or academic semester. New clothes, a new pair of shoes. New haircut. Pictures of children ready to go to the first day of school.
- Secular and religious holidays.
- Monday Morning.
And in a research study, new beginnings also come from personal life events. They might be developmental milestones, life transitions, first experiences, or repeated significant things like anniversaries and birthdays.
- Moving to a new town. Living somewhere new, making new friends, going to a new school, job, church congregation, grocery store, etc.
- Getting Married.
- Graduating from high school.
- Graduating from college.
- Getting that first real job.
- Getting a new career position or advancement in a job. A new title. New opportunities, responsibilities. New ways to stretch and grow.
- New baby. Full of promise and potential. There is the first time this baby looks at you. The first time this baby giggles. Or says a word. Or moves around, or even walks. We feel so much joy at the smallest achievements, smiling and laughing. We call our family and friends. We take pictures and video.
- Or… children are older, and they move out of the house, and we’re what we call “empty-nesters.” We have a new start and more space, and time to think of taking up a new hobby or adventure.
- Or could it be… Retirement? Retirement faces some people with hope and anticipation of what could be, and of new freedom, and it hits others like a sudden loss. Maybe it’s taking away the familiar and well-loved career and all of the people who go with it and bringing a new unanticipated season. Like it or not, it’s time to develop something new. Or move in a new direction for service and contribution. Or hobbies and a part time job. Or even relocating to live closer to the grown-up children.
So many opportunities, big and small, bring the idea of a fresh start.
Why do we crave new beginnings so much? And why do they hold so much promise and hope for us?
The “Fresh Start” Effect Prompts Aspirational Behavior
FIRST—New beginnings bring with them something special also known as the “fresh start effect.” Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania at the Wharton School studied this phenomenon and noticed that new beginnings naturally increase what we call “aspirational behavior.” And that means the motivation and drive to change ourselves, to become better versions of who we are. To let go of old habits, old and outdated assumptions about ourselves, and again, try to become better versions of ourselves. This fresh start effect happens because we are interrupted. We’re able to stop thinking about the day-to-day smaller tasks to check off our lists, and things to be done, and we can step back and see the big picture.
For example, with a new promotion or position at work, or even changing jobs completely, we can separate our past performance from the new opportunity. We have the opportunity to adopt new habits and somehow feel free of whatever old habits we used to practice before, and we might even feel like we are liberated of some of the expectations and demands we had placed on ourselves in the previous role because we don’t have any outstanding projects or duties still waiting to be completed. We can be a beginner for a little while we adjust to the new role, and there is space in that to grow and think about aspiring to our higher capabilities.
New Beginnings Help Us Disconnect from Limitations of the Past
And second, New beginnings seem to interrupt our perception of time. Researchers suggest that what they call “discontinuities” in time perceptions actually make us feel like we are somehow disconnected from the flaws, imperfections, and even limitations of the past. And when we feel like we have a break from those things weighing over us, we are totally free to try something new and even succeed.
One example might be when a young adult leaves home to attend college, especially if the school is far from home. I had this experience when I was 17 years old. I began the school year at Brigham Young University, two states away from my home in California. There were a few people on campus I knew from back home, but I didn’t know where they lived and wasn’t likely to find them easily. There were 35,000 students at the University, and I was a stranger there.
During the first week, I remember vividly having an experience in which I walked across campus to a class, among people I did not know, who were all going to different places. Three were crabapple trees on the way with strong smells. And there were puffy white clouds overhead. It was a beautiful day, but I was a little disconnected from the people around me. And I thought for the first time that I could be however I wanted. No one would bring up old jokes from my childhood, and no one had any expectations of me. If I wanted to do well or be friendly, or even be reclusive and shy, I could do any of those things. And a moment like that is defining. When we have a fresh start and realize that we can completely choose for ourselves and choose something totally new. We can leave behind whatever was holding us back, and we can be seen afresh by other people around us as well.
So, there you have it—two good reasons why fresh starts are so appealing, and why they throw us into the desire to improve ourselves and make changes.
One, that we have the big picture view and are interrupted form the day to day thinking we might typically lose ourselves within, and two, that our time perception seems abnormal, which gives us a disconnect form our past imperfections and the very real sense that we can do something we previously thought impossible.
You Can Choose a Landmark Day to Start Your New Habits
So, let’s talk about you. How does this apply to you? Or how MIGHT it apply to you?
Maybe you have been living in a bit of a pattern. Stuck in some area or another of your life.
It could be that you’ve been meaning to clean out that closet upstairs. Or declutter your garage. You might keep saying to yourself that you’re going to redecorate, put up some wallpaper, or paint, and instead, your house still looks the same as it did last year.
Instead of your living space, maybe it’s your work. You may be thinking about how much you’d like to be able to relax and really be yourself around a new boss or new colleagues, but instead you find yourself trying to impress them or look like you have it all together. Or maybe you’d like to change jobs or move into a new career direction, and you don’t feel like you have the flexibility to do that. Or you need additional skills before you could try. Then again, your patterns might show up in your personal life. Have you been wanting to exercise more and get active, but instead you find yourself sitting a lot or working from home and sitting through meeting after meeting, day after day? Or like me, you wanted to maintain a healthy weight you found that you had some convenient meals out, or delivered, or at some things that derailed your diet plan. And you’d like to change that and get a healthier eating pattern.
No matter what you’d like to improve or change in your life, your chances of succeeding at the change are much better if you find a landmark of some kind where you can begin.
It could be Monday morning.
It could be the day after a holiday.
The first day of the month.
Or the beginning of the year.
Whatever it is, you get to decide why that landmark date is so significant. And you can bet that your motivation will be bigger around that time.
So, think about what you’ve been wanting to do with a fresh start, and start planning it. You can let go of some habits from the past and adopt new ones, just as if it’s New Year’s Eve.
And you can have that fresh start you’ve been waiting for.
My own goal is to try to begin looking at this on a much smaller scale, like for example Monday mornings. Or perhaps it could even be every morning. What if we could look at every new day as a completely new, fresh start, filled with hope, and possibility? And maybe then, we could try the changes we want to make little by little, each new day?
Well, it’s definitely worth thinking about.
My fresh start tomorrow will be that I will get up early and exercise to my favorite 1988 workout video, like I did before the pandemic came along with all of its disruptions and interruptions.
I’m planning to make a fresh start tomorrow to begin exercising regularly three days a week, really working out, and I expect this might be challenging to begin. But I’m excited about the results I am going to achieve through getting back into this habit, and I look forward to the fresh start, too!
Whatever you choose, I’ll be right along with you doing my own fresh start. And I hope it goes well for you as you begin.
If you decide to join me for some support along the way, then maybe it’s time to join the Mindset for Life Academy. We’re going to begin June 1st with one year of fresh start ideas. There’s never been a better time to begin!
Wrapping up the podcast today, I’d like to thank you for listening. Please send your feedback or topic requests through my website anytime. I love hearing from you.
And best wishes this coming week being the best version of YOU!