What’s better than a New Year’s resolution? How about real, lasting change in your daily habits?
At Fast Company, we want to help readers boost their productivity, hone their creativity, and work smarter not harder, but we often wonder—is our advice actually effective?
In an effort to practice what we preach and figure out what works and what doesn’t, this year we put our how-tos to the test and took on a new habit challenge each week, and reported what behavior changes were doable and which only worked in theory.
If you’re in the market for some serious personal growth this coming year, it’s time to ditch the impersonal and unrealistic resolutions and get to work on changing your habits for the better.
Here are five of our best habit challenges this year to get you started:
Before you get to work on changing your life for the better, set yourself up for success by making your goals easier to achieve. Marketers have been using environmental triggers for years to trick us into associating an image or object with the need to buy their products. You can use the same trick to your advantage by making a mental association between something in your everyday life (like a water bottle you keep on your desk) and a goal you have (like eating healthier and drinking more water).
Plenty of people make a vague resolution to "exercise more," only to give it up because it's too overwhelming. But research has found that exercise triggers the release of chemicals in our brains that make us feel happier and less stressed out, and all it takes is a mere 20 minutes of activity a day to give us added productivity boost. As we found in our experiment, working out made us feel like we were hitting a "reset button" in our brains.
Another 20-minute activity that had far-reaching benefits, we found meditation to be unparalleled in its ability to calm our nerves, recenter us, and inspire our creativity. There are many different kinds of meditation, but mindfulness meditation, which involves accepting everything as it is in a non-judgmental way, particularly helped with clarity, calm, and self-knowledge. We aren't the only ones who think so, either—researchers studying the effects of meditation believe meditation can help us screen out everyday distractions, generate a more creative state of mind, and temper our anxiety throughout the day.
Waking up in the wee hours of the morning before the rest of the world is up is a favorite for some of the most productive people out there, and when we tried it for ourselves, we jumped on the bandwagon as well. The benefits don't come from creating more time in the day—that's just not humanly possible—or severely cutting back on sleep. The trick is shifting your sleep routine so that you can rise during a time all for yourself. The payoff for making time for ourselves in the morning included more focused writing, fitness, time to study, and a little calm before the day ahead.
All of us with desk jobs sit way too much, but while we can't change the nature of our jobs, we can make a small change in our daily lives to combat the negative effects of our sedentary lifestyles. Taking a short walk during your workday can do wonders for your creativity, focus, mood and productivity. While some find scheduling activities the best way to make sure they actually happen, the benefit of this habit change is that you can do it any time you like. In fact, when you're stuck on an idea and staring at your computer screen, you often have little excuse not to get up and take a lap around the office. You'll be pleasantly surprised how quickly the solution comes to you.
For more tips on approaching a new habit so it'll stick all year long, check out our video on some doable practices you can start adopting right now.