I haven't made New Year's resolutions in a long time, because usually what happens is that I get all gung ho about a new thing and am totally into it for a while. And then one day, my routine gets disrupted and I can't do the thing, or I just don't feel like it, and then the next day passes by without me having done the thing either, and soon enough three months have gone by when I haven't even *thought* about the thing. "Out of sight, out of mind" is my middle name.
Lots of articles and web sites say that it takes about 30 days to form a habit. That may be true, but it only takes me a split second to fall out of it at any time. It doesn't help much that I am not a very habitual person. I don't keep set hours to get up and go to bed, my work hours are flexible, my leisure activities vary wildly, and I generally do things in fits and spurts. I like it that way, and I don't think there's anything wrong with it - it's just how I work.
The downside is that consistency is not my strong suit. Anything that requires long-term sustained effort (training for a marathon, gardening, losing weight, meditating regularly) works for me for a while ... and then I drop it, because, oooooh, shiny!
Things that work for me usually have an external trigger. I take my meds because the doctor told me that I must. I feed the cats because they look at me expectantly when I come home. I do laundry because the hamper is full. I work out because the classes and personal training sessions are scheduled and paid for (and because I like the teachers, and don't want to disappoint them. And I know I work harder in a class or with a trainer than I would if I were by myself.)
A recent external trigger that has been working really well for me is a game: Health Month. The blurb on the home page says:
Health Month is game to help improve your diet, fitness, mental health, relationship health, and financial health – while enjoying it!
Health Month is about taking the SCIENCE of nutrition and behavior change and combining it with the SOCIAL GAMES of the recent social web to help people improve their health habits in a fun and sustainable way. If you can enjoy the process of living healthier, you're much more likely to stick to it.
I'm playing my third month, and am really having fun with it. Here's how it works: you set up rules that you want to follow for the month, like working out at least 3 times a week, or limiting fried foods to once a week, or spending 30 minutes of quality time with yourself or your kids or your partner, or flossing every day. Could be anything, really.
The neat thing is that the rule QUANTIFIES it, which makes your progress measurable. (You can't just say "I want to work out more" or "I want to eat less" - you really have to put numbers around it. No wobbling. I think this is another reason why so many New Year's resolutions fail - because they are too vague.)
The other neat thing is that you get a daily reminder email. This one is tailor-made for me! Helps me keep the rules close enough to my frontal lobe so they won't slip. All the time increments in here really work well for me - daily reminder, weekly goals, month-long game. The weekly goals help with the measuring and to parcel out your efforts evenly, and keeping the game a month short prevents it from seeming endless.
And the other neat thing is that you can play on a team with your friends, and cheer each other on, and help each other out if one of you loses points for not sticking with the rules.
And the other neat thing (can you tell I really like it?) is how it asks you questions about your rules when you set them up (is this something you like doing? how helpful/important do you think it is? how much effort do you think it will require?), and over time, you can look at your chart and see which kinds of rules work better for you. Some people do better with "don't rules" or with rules that require more effort. I know that I fare better with "do rules", and with building in a little bit of slack, so I don't get discouraged. My only 7-day rule is taking my meds, on everything else, I get at least one day off a week.
Pretty nifty, if you ask me.
When I first started playing this game, I just thought it was fun. Now that I am reading Jane McGonigal's "Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World" and hearing more bloggers say that most health solutions aren't medical, they're social, I am much more conscious of why this works for me.