Anti-goals & 6 more unusual habit hacks
What’s the difference between someone who achieves their fitness and well-being goals for the year and someone who forgets their New Year’s resolutions by February? It’s actually very simple – good habits.
How do you build good habits? That’s exactly what we’re here to find out.
No matter what your goal is, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving it. You may have a clear goal and do better with structure, while another person is a bit vague and only knows what they don’t want to do.
To minimize the false starts, we’ve researched the most unusual, effective and unusually effective habit hacks. Find the hack that suits you best (tip: it may be a combination of hacks!) and let’s make this the year you get it done.
1. Face what’s holding you back
Best for you if: You have given up on goals in the past.
Positive thinking is all you need to achieve your dream, right? Not always, according to professor of psychology Gabriele Oettingen.
The creator of the WOOP motivational strategy doesn’t want us to give up on dreaming and thinking positively, but instead factor in “the very thing most of us are taught to ignore or diminish: the obstacles that stand in our way”.
WOOP stands for: wish, outcome, obstacle, plan. So let’s say it’s your wish to lose weight. You envision an outcome where you fit into your old clothes, feel healthier and more confident. The next step is to acknowledge the obstacles you’ll face and plan how you’ll overcome them.
Perhaps you can’t just eat one choc chip cookie (it’s always the whole packet) and you don’t really enjoy fresh fruit. You might plan to bake your own, healthier cookies at home in small batches and find ways to incorporate more fruit into your diet, like adding it to your morning oats or smoothies.
Instead of dreaming your goals into existence, make this the year you ask yourself, “What is holding me back from fulfilling my wish?” then put a plan into action.
Don’t let something (or someone) hold you back.
2. Start with micro habits
Best for you if: If you get discouraged easily, or don’t have a clear or long-term goal.
It’s easy to get discouraged when your goal feels huge and overwhelming, or you’re not really sure what you want. One setback or tough day and you’re ready to give up.
However, breaking a bigger or vague goal down into smaller stepping stones or micro habits can help you start making real progress. A micro habit is a scaled-down change you can apply to your daily life, making it easier to stick to good habits. These habits should be relatively quick and easy to achieve.
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, calls this the 2-minute rule: “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”
How do you set up micro habits? We recommend choosing 3 to get started. They don’t have to take 2 minutes, but aim for less than 15 minutes for each.
For instance, if your goal is to “have a healthier diet”, your micro habits may be:
Drink a glass of water before my morning coffee.
Have one less alcoholic drink on Friday nights.
Add a side of vegetables or salad to every dinner.
Once you have followed through on these for a month, add 3 more micro habits. By the end of the year, you will have transformed your diet in a non-drastic, non-overwhelming and painless way.
Feeling overwhelmed? These tiny tweaks could be the perfect place to start.
3. Strive for your anti-goals
Best for you if: You only know what you DON’T want your life to look like.
Sure you’d like to be fitter, but you’re not really sure what that looks like for you. You just know you do not want to be at the gym at 5am.
It’s often easier to know what we don’t want rather than what we do. Andrew Wilkinson, co-founder of venture capital business Tiny, calls this inverted thinking "anti-goals". By clearly laying out what you don’t want your day or life to look like, you can then work backwards to create your list of anti-goals.
The type of fitness routine you know you DON’T want to follow may look like:
Gym at 5am
Training for hours on end
Doing burpees all the time
Then, your list of anti-goals may be:
Work out during my lunch break or after work
Find a short and effective workout style I enjoy (e.g. HIIT)
Do low-impact modifications or strength exercises instead of cardio moves
Open up the notes app in your phone and let’s get your anti-goals down.
The ‘30 minutes’ filter in the library will give you lunch break friendly workout options.
4. Eliminate your goal competition
Best for you if: You’re super busy or are overwhelmed because you have too many goals.
They say multitasking is simply doing multiple things badly. Likewise, if you’re getting nowhere with your goals, it may be because you have multiple goals on the go – and none are getting your full focus.
So it’s time to get ruthless and eliminate “goal competition”. Which of your goals are really important to you? Pressing pause (or delete) on less important goals and committing to what really matters is an easy way to speed up your progress.
Many people may already follow a similar process with their daily to-do list: “I’ll leave picking up the dry cleaning until tomorrow, because I really need to get this assignment done". But you can do it with your goals for the year ahead, too. Simply write down your goals for the next 12 months, then prioritize.
5. Think SMART
Best for you if: You have good self-discipline and perform better with strict guidelines. Or if you need to achieve a specific outcome with no room for error.
How often have you rushed over the planning stage and jumped headfirst into a new workout program you’re not prepared for? Doing a little “SMART” goal-setting before you begin can help you create a straightforward routine and improve your chances of success.
SMART goals are:
Specific: Rather than a vague goal like “getting in shape”, you decide you want to be able to run for the bus without being out of breath.
Measurable: This could be body measurements, tracking how far you can run, or a list of smaller tasks you can tick off.
Action oriented: Don’t just talk about getting fit, plan how you will fit exercise into your daily routine.
Realistic: Don’t hold yourself to unrealistic standards or compare yourself to a friend or celebrity’s body. You’re unique, so work on a goal that is achievable for you.
Time limited: Set a manageable timeframe that will keep you on track and reduce any tendency to put things off.
And don’t forget to regularly check in with your progress!
6. Make it convenient for yourself
Best for you if: You’re easily distracted.
You’re trying to get to a gym on the other side of town during rush hour. You’re trying to eat healthy when your pantry is full of chips and candy. You’re trying to be more ‘in the moment’ while constantly watching your phone.
If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not making it easy for yourself to follow through on your goals and maintain good habits, are you?
But you CAN make it a whole lot easier for yourself. As James Clear explains, we too often “try to start habits in high-friction environments”. In most cases, this friction makes it easier to give up. The more convenient something is, the better the odds that you follow through.
For instance, instead of battling rush hour traffic to get to the gym, you could find workouts to do at home (we’ve got you covered there!) – problem solved! Another of our favorite pieces of advice is to have your workout gear or gym bag ready at the foot of your bed, making it more convenient to get up and get your workout done for the day.
If the thought of facing traffic on the drive to the gym makes you shudder, Alexz will bring the burn to you at home.
7. Get hooked on a habit
Best for you if: You love a system.
The Hooked framework was developed by author and former marketing lecturer Nir Eyal. It’s actually about building consumer habits (e.g. a company connecting their ‘solution’ to a consumer’s ‘problem’ to create return customers), but you can apply it to creating healthy habits to your own life, too.
It’s a simple 4 step process:
Trigger: Set yourself a reminder to do something.
Action: Do the thing.
Variable reward: Reward yourself for doing the thing. Just keep the reward variable so you don’t get used to it or grow bored by it.
Investment: The more you do this thing (also known as consistency), the more invested you’ll become in the process and the cycle will repeat.
So which style of building habits suits you best? Don’t forget, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of trial and error. Set yourself a month or two to try an approach and if it’s not working for you, try another one.
Save this article so you can come back to when you need to reset at any time during the year.
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