New Year's resolutions are a tradition for many of us, but making them last longer than a few weeks can be a challenge. What sounds exciting and doable on Jan. 1 may sound less interesting as the winter wears on.
This year, the pandemic has made it even more difficult to stick to many resolutions.
Author Fumio Sasaki, 42, has some tips that can help. The Japanese author, whose new book "Hello, Habits" hit shelves in early January, shares his best advice for building and maintaining healthy habits — and losing some bad ones.
"The key idea to making and keeping habits is self-esteem," Sasaki told TMRW over email. "I believe our willpower, the kind of energy that enables us to take actions, is born from self-esteem. Feeling proud that you've succeeded in making a certain habit results in additional energy, which helps you make yet another habit."
What is Sasaki's process for making habits?
Sasaki's book outlines a plan to establish good habits, but be forewarned, the plan might take a while: Sasaki's method has 50 steps. While that might seem excessive, he said it's a great way to encourage yourself.
"Making a habit in essence is to make sure you're willing to do it," he said. "Things that may not be particularly inviting, such as going jogging or getting up early, should eventually be no different from enjoying delicious meals or drinks. It takes time, though, and you may perhaps feel like giving up. You have to encourage yourself using every means possible. That's where the 50-step process comes in."
The steps start pretty simply: The first thing to do is "sever ties with vicious circles," or stop engaging in behavior that makes you feel stressed and leads to unhealthy choices. Another step is to take advantage of "turning points," major moments like a move or a new job, to establish new routines and habits.
"In order to make a habit, try doing it every day and set small goals along the way," Sasaki said. "For example, running: Not many people (will) hesitate to keep moving their feet once they've started running. The hardest part is deciding whether to run today or not. So, the goal is to put on your jogging shoes and simply go outside. Tell yourself if you're really unsure about doing this, it's OK to go back home. As far as my experience goes, if I've come this far, I've always managed to go all the way."
When it comes to developing new habits, Sasaki said the first is always the hardest to keep, but once you've established one, it will likely be easier to pick up a second.
"I still have trouble sticking to my habits if I fail to get up early in the first place," he said. "The sense of confidence that I managed to get up early really helps set the cycle of positivity in motion. If you have an experience of securing one good habit, the rest should come relatively easy."
Sasaki said that some of the advice revolves around developing behaviors, like rising at sunrise and taking a rest at sunset or engaging in exercise, that previous generations assumed automatically.
"My habits, which I've gained after much struggle, are what our ancestors naturally did over the years," he explained. "For our ancestors, these good habits were simply a part of their lives, but in today's technological world we have to try to be creative to gain such habits. Still, I feel these habits that are are natural to homo sapiens are common to us despite our cultural differences."
What about getting rid of a bad habit?
Making a good habit requires 50 steps, and Sasaki said that bad habits "share the same principle."
"People tend to repeat actions that are enjoyable and rewarding, and this applies to both good and bad habits," he said. "This means if you wish to get rid of an undesirable habit, you should try 50 steps required for making a good one the reverse way."
Sasaki also believes that getting rid of a bad habit can make it easier to develop a good one, pointing out that the first eight steps of his plan revolve around cutting ties with bad habits or behaviors.
"Bad habits often hinder making good ones," he said. "Staying up till late to play games or watch movie clips, for example, or drinking alcohol, will make it harder for you to get up early. That's why I recommend getting rid of bad habits first."
How can you make good habits during the pandemic?
Many people have reported eating worse than they usually do, exercising less and drinking more during the pandemic. While Sasaki's book doesn't specifically address the pandemic, he hopes that the advice in it will be applicable.
"When I first started to work as a freelancer, I lost a large part of my self-discipline as I no longer had to commute and nobody told me off for sleeping late," he said, pointing out that many who abruptly started working from home may have gone through the same process. "I think my experiences reflect on what many people are going through right now, so readers should find a lot of tips for improving their lifestyles."
How do you know when you've made a habit?
To reach the stage where your resolution is officially a habit, Sasaki recommends practicing your habit daily instead of just doing it a few times a week.
"I believe it's much more difficult to keep up a once or twice-a-week routine than doing it every day," he said. "Habit is, in my opinion, what you do almost without thinking. You're already stepping away from gaining a habit when pondering whether you should carry out the task today or not. Telling yourself 'I'll do it tomorrow' or 'Next week, I'll get everything done,' will make it very hard for you to form a habit."