Maybe it’s Easter, or maybe it’s the changing of the seasons… or maybe it’s because I use the Full Focus Planner and get to start a beautiful new journal every three months… but I’m feeling like it’s a time for new beginnings.
As part of my quarterly review, I set myself some new and challenging goals for the next three months. One of which is a commitment to 91 days of mindfulness, healthy eating and exercise. I’ve also committed to writing my second book – which is scary and daunting, but also exciting.
So today I thought we could take a look at the psychology of new beginnings, why we’re attracted to them, and how to make the most out of them when they present themselves.
The power of new beginnings'New Year's resolutions are not really about the resolutions. After all, for most people, the resolutions haven't changed. Most people wanted to lose weight and save money on December 31, too. What we're doing on New Year's Day is more like a mental accounting trick. Our past failures are left on the ledger of Old Me. New Me starts today.' ~ Chip Heath and Dan HeathClick To Tweet
In their excellent book The Power of Moments, Chip Heath and Dan Heath talk specifically about the importance of ‘fresh starts’ and their prevalence across cultures. And while New Year’s Day is the most obvious one on our calendar, attendance data from gyms and fitness centres also show that the beginning of a new week, a new month and a new semester (within the university system) all had the effect of seeing a spike in gym attendance. (I recently reviewed this book – you can see my thoughts on it here.)
The Heaths conclude that if you are “struggling to make a transition, create a defining moment that draws a dividing line between Old You and New You”.
So personally, this period has multiple transitions attached to it…
- A new season – Autumn (though technically I think Autumn started in March, but our weather has been unseasonably warm, so I’m giving myself this one)
- A new month (April)
- A new quarter (Q2) and
- A new week
All occurring over a ‘long weekend’ that provided time to reflect, to organise and to plan.
The power of deciding
The reality is, though, you can have as many external ‘new beginnings’ as you like, but unless you decide – I mean really decide – then all the resolutions, commitments and goals in the world aren’t going to do much for you. You’ll start well, for sure – with a whizz and a bang, probably – but by day 15 you’ll be back where you started… except you’ll trust yourself a little less.
I have come to know myself well enough to know that, for me, I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl. I don’t drink, for example, which many people find odd. I don’t drink fizzy drink (soda). Haven’t for years. So I know that my goals need to be full commitment goals. If I make any exceptions (e.g. a sugary treat is OK on Tuesday night) then I give up the whole day and have ice cream for lunch. So my personal goal for the quarter might seem extreme to some…
- Up every day between 4.15 and 4.30 am
- A glass of water with two drops of iodine (my diet doesn’t include much fortified iodine, and thyroid health is important)
All by 6.30am.
I’ve also gone sugar-free, and committed to reading 6 books, reaching 10,000 steps every day, saving money by making my work lunches, and drinking at least 8 glasses of water every day.
It seems a bit extreme, but I know that I can do it for 91 days. And I know that by doing it for 91 days, some parts of it will stick as lasting habits. They’ll be ‘installed’.
I’ll try and keep you posted on my progress if you like – probably through my newsletter.
The power of beginning'Beginnings are always messy.' ~ John GalsworthyClick To Tweet
It’s all very well to desire ‘new beginnings’, but wanting it and doing it are two different things!
I have found that when I want to achieve a new goal, if it is something that requires something different of me every day, I struggle a bit with getting started.
I find it helps to start from a date… and the more significant the date, the easier it is to start. That’s why, although I’d been designing my new habit goals for a week or so, I was doing that in anticipation of 1 April, and the start of a new quarter. I let myself off the hook for the days leading up to 1 April – I even finished the last of my favourite ice-cream, so that I wouldn’t be tempted once I got underway!
So why does actually beginning matter? Because it is only by beginning that you can build momentum. And momentum is what is going to keep you doing this crazy thing when the going gets tough. It’s much harder to break a streak than it is to never start…
The power of momentum'It always seems impossible until it's done.' ~ Click To Tweet
When Roger Bannister died in March, the global news media shared and reshared the story of his career… and the footage of him breaking the four-minute-mile. In 1954, when the feat was accomplished, he shocked the world. Until that moment, everyone (perhaps except Bannister) believed that four-minutes and one mile were two mutually exclusive constraints on human endeavour… that it was literally impossible to achieve.
But just a year later, three runners broke the barrier in the same race! And over the last fifty years…? Well, it isn’t really a barrier anymore. (OK – it’s a barrier for me. I’ve never run a four-minute mile…)
How can this be?
Momentum. Once you know something can be done – because you’ve done it – you can do it again. And again.
And when you do it often enough, you gain momentum. And an object with momentum is hard to stop – it requires considerably more effort to slow it down than it does to keep it going.
Eventually it becomes a habit.
The power of habit'We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.' ~ Will DurantClick To Tweet
And so we come to the ultimate outcome – the habit.
Habits are things you no longer notice you do, because they are ingrained and unconscious. Like breathing.
And while it is true that you don’t want to be unaware of your habits (I’m an active proponent of mindfulness after all!) you can use this trait of the human brain to your advantage, by installing habits that serve you well. How do you install a habit? You do the thing repeatedly until it no longer requires effort.
Studies have come up with a variety of time frames for how long it takes for a repeated action to become a habit… None particularly compelling. I think this is largely because it depends. The obvious variables to me are:
- How difficult is the thing you are trying to habitualise?
- How complicated is the thing you are trying to habitualise?
- What regions of the brain is it drawing on?
- Are you trying tor replace an existing habit?
- How frequently do you do it while you are installing the habit?
- How consistently do you do it while you are installing the habit?
- How frequently do you want to use the habit once it’s bedded in?
So whether it’s 21 days or 90 days or a year… it’s going to depend a little on exactly what it is, and whether you stick with it, consistently.
For example, when I played cricket as a teenager, I had an unconscious ‘hop’ in my bowling run-up. I’d been practising that way for years. It was deeply ingrained, and unconscious.
But once I became aware of it, I slowed my approach right down, and practised it – almost in slow motion – for a few hours, before gradually building back up to speed. It felt weird at first, but practice normalised it. And within a couple of days… no more hop.
However, this was drawing on my motor skills, not my executive functioning.
My hope is that within 90 days, most – if not all – the components of these new habits will be thoroughly embedded.
Wish me luck!
Hear me chatting with Hayley Collins…
Hayley’s podcast is great, I strongly recommend you subscribe so you don’t miss a single one!
In Episode 25 she chats with me about what it means to be a Chief Executive – some of the things that people tell you but you don’t really understand until you’re alone in the hot-seat.
This is a side of me you won’t have seen, as I don’t talk much about my ‘day-job’ here on the Blog.