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Note: 5 Steps to Establishing Daily Habits is the third of a three part series on creating and sticking to your New Year’s Resolutions. Before continuing, check out Part 1: Why People Fail New Year’s Resolutions and Part 2: Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions Using Quality Days.

Now that you know why people fail new year’s resolutions and the theory behind how to make sure you keep yours this year, it’s time to create your system to establish daily habits. As a reminder, the five steps to keeping your resolutions are:

  1. Think Quality and Perfect Days
  2. Pick Five (and Only Five) Habits
  3. Make the Results Binary
  4. Track Daily
  5. Review Weekly / Monthly

The five steps for establishing daily habits stem directly from these steps. Let’s take a look at how to complete each one.

photo by moorhigan

Step 1: Create your goal for Quality Days in 2012

The first step is easy because I’m going to assign it to you. Your goal for 2012 is to reach 250 Quality Days. If you want a second, more advanced goal, you can also shoot for 125 Perfect Days (which also count as Quality Days).

Now I know what some of you overachievers are thinking, “But Andrew, I’m an overachiever and awesome at this, shouldn’t I shoot for 300 Quality Days, or even 366?” And the answer is “No” for 2 reasons:

  1. If you set the goal too high, it seems unachievable and can be de-motivating. If your goal is 366 and you miss one day, mentally you feel like you’ve failed since there is no way you’ll be able to achieve your goal.
  2. The daily habits should be challenging and therefore unlikely that you’ll be able to do them everyday. If you can already go a year without hitting snooze, then don’t have “don’t hit snooze” as one of your habits. These habits are meant to challenge you, help you grow and align with your long-term goals and resolutions.

So, step one is already complete: shoot for 250 Quality Days.

photo by LittleMan

Step 2: Choose 5 Daily Habits

The second step is to decide on what five habits you would ideally complete every day (or at least 250 days of the year). As mentioned above, these should be things that challenge you and align with your longer-term goals.

If you’re having difficulty coming up with your habits, here’s a list of the most common New Year’s resolutions. From your long-term resolutions you can create your daily habits. As an example, if your goal is to lose weight, you can have a daily habit of exercise.

Just as above, for you overachievers, no, you can’t have more than five habits. More than five is harder to track on a daily basis and you’re less likely to complete any of them, let alone all 7, 8 or 15.

For those of you new to setting goals, you could set fewer than five, but I challenge you to shoot for five (and even if you only ever achieve three in a single day, it’s still a quality day).

photo by mexikids

Step 3: Make the Habits Actionable

The third step is to phrase your five daily habits in a way that they are actionable and binary–meaning it’s easy to say “yes” or “no” you completed them. The more defined you can make them, the better.

For example, “Eat healthier” is far too vague to be actionable or trackable. “Eat at least 3 servings of vegetables” is much better because it is quantitative and you can easily say at the end of the day if you’ve completed it. This does take some thought because you have to make the goals specific to you. For you, eating healthier could mean cutting back on fast food or limiting your salt intake.

The basic formula for a simple actionable goal is VERB -> QUANTITY -> NOUN. E.g. “Eat 3 servings of vegetables,” “Exercise for 30 minutes,” “Hit Snooze 0 times.”

That last one, “Hit snooze 0 times” sounds a bit weird (rather than “Don’t hit snooze”), but where possible it’s better to frame the habit positively rather than negatively. The reason is that studies have found that it’s harder to “fix” a habit than it is to just start a new, healthier one.

So if you always eat chocolate after dinner, the habit might not be “don’t eat chocolate” but “eat 1 piece of fruit after dinner.” Sometimes this is difficult to avoid, such as when quitting smoking, but when possible, frame the habit positively.

photo by bjearwicke

Step 4: Create a Tracking System

The fourth step is create a system that allows you to track your progress on your daily habits on a daily basis. That’s right, you should track how you are doing every single day.

Since this is something you’ll be doing a lot, the tracking system should be as simple and easy as possible. It should take less than 5 minutes to track so you don’t have an excuse not to do it. Once you get the hang of it, most systems take less than a minute.

There are 3 ways you can track:

1. Using a Paper Calendar

This is how I started tracking in 2011, using a big calendar that I hung on my wall. My roommate and I shared the calendar, where we marked each day of the week which of our five habits we completed.

I created humorous symbols for each of my goals to make it a little more fun while tracking. As an example, my symbol for having done at least 20 minutes of physical activity was OK, because if you tilt your head to the left, OK looks kind of like a stick figure.

You could do the same thing with your personal calendar or even a notebook, it’s just important to have a spot for every single day of the year.

2. Using Excel

Half-way through the year, I switched to an Excel document to make the calculations easier. I created a single tab Excel document that had a row for every single day of the year and a column for each of my five habits. I would then mark an ‘X’ for each habit I completed that day.

From this I could create an easy formula to tell me which days of the week I had a Quality and Perfect Day, and the quantity of each for the week.

3. Using an Online Tool

Finally, towards the end of the year, I switched to an online site for tracking. The biggest advantage to using an online site was that I could log in from my mobile phone and update my tracking. This meant I could check off each habit as I completed them throughout the day, not just at the end of the day when I was home.

I currently use an app we developed for Humor That Works, called 5 Daily Habits. There are others out there, but we created this one to define all of the things we were looking for. Learn more about achieving goals through daily habits.

photo by shadowkill

Step 5: Review Weekly & Monthly

The fifth and final step is to create a process to review how you are doing on a weekly and monthly basis. This is probably the hardest step because it requires the most discipline to maintain after you’ve started.

To help me, I already have time on my calendar marked for weekly and monthly reviews. Sure, they’re likely to change, but since they are on the calendar I’ll simply move them as needed, rather than not do them at all.

The weekly review is pretty simple. I do mine on Sunday evening (right now I do it while watching Sunday Night Football). It takes me about 10 minutes; I simply go back and review how I did for the week, filling in any days that I might have forgot to track (shh! don’t tell anyone).

I then think about if there are any adjustments I want to make. Have I been hitting snooze a lot and therefore need to consider going to bed earlier? Have I missed my daily goal for fruits and vegetables all week and need to go to the grocery store?

For the monthly review, I spend a little more time to really make sure I’m on track. Usually on the first of the month I’ll spend around 20-30 minutes reviewing the previous month and looking at larger changes I may need to make.

Again, doing a review takes discipline but it’s incredibly important that you do it. These reviews are what allow you to make adjustments, or if you’ve been succeeding, allow you to be proud of what you’ve accomplished. There’s nothing wrong with spending 10 minutes each week giving yourself a pat on the back for actually completing your goals.

The Quality Day System

That’s it. Those are the five steps to establishing daily habits and setting yourself up to keep your new year’s resolutions. If you have any questions or suggestions on how it can be improved, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or shoot me an email. Here’s to having a great 2012!

Note: Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions Using Quality Days is the second of a three part series on creating and sticking to your New Year’s Resolutions. Check out Part 1: Why People Fail New Year’s Resolutions, or check back soon for Part 3.

In the last post, we talked about five reasons people fail New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. They have an all or nothing mentality.
  2. They make too many resolutions.
  3. Their resolutions are not specific.
  4. They don’t track how they’re doing.
  5. They don’t make adjustments.

So how do you avoid these mistakes and keep your New Year’s resolutions? By establishing “Quality” and “Perfect” days.  First a little history…

photo by ba1969

A New Year of Resolutions

At the beginning of 2011 I decided there were five things I would ideally do every day, five daily habits I wanted to establish:

  1. Wake up without hitting snooze.
  2. Complete a task for Humor That Works.
  3. Do at least 20 minutes of physical activity.
  4. Eat at least 2 fruits and/or vegetables.
  5. Spend at least 30 minutes strategically disengaging.

In years past, I would have considered a day “successful” only if I had done all five habits that day (the all or nothing mentality). The problem is that the #1 habit on my list is the hardest habit I’ve ever tried to instill AND it happens first thing when I wake up.

If I had an all or nothing mentality and hit snooze once in the morning, the rest of my day would be toast. There would be no point in completing any of the other four because I couldn’t be “successful” no matter what I did.

But logically we can see that doesn’t make sense. Doing the other four things, or even one of them, would be better than none of them. So I developed a system that worked for me, one that involves five components.

photo by michelini

The Five Components of the Quality Day System

1. Quality and Perfect Days

Rather than try to strive for perfection every single day, my goal was to shoot for achieving a majority of my daily goals: 3 out of 5. If I completed any 3 out of the 5 habits, I considered it a “Quality Day.” If I completed all 5, I considered it a “Perfect Day.”

The mentality behind this system is that even if I hit snooze in the morning, I still had something to shoot for: a Quality Day. Sure it’s not perfect, but it is significantly better than accomplishing 0 out of 5, or even 3 out of 5 and feeling bad about myself. I changed my mindset to say I don’t need to be perfect, I just want to be “Quality.”

2. Five (and Only Five) Habits

While there are a number of other things I’d love to do every day (play guitar, stretch, and hundreds of other things), I knew that if I tried to do too many of them, I’d likely end up doing none of them. Tracking them would be a pain and there would be no way I could consistently complete 10+ goals every day.

Instead, I decided to be selective and choose the five goals most important to me. Why five? First, it’s a small enough number to easily remember (I can count them on one hand, and yes this was taken into consideration). Second it was a large enough number to challenge me and diverse enough to cover the important facets of my life (business, health, personal).

Finally it gave me variety. Some days you just don’t feel like exercising. On those days, I had four other things to choose from to still get a quality day.

3. Binary Habits

The only criteria I had for creating or specifying my goals was that they had to be binary–I wanted to be able to say at the end of the day, without any thinking, either “yes” or “no” I completed each habit.

This forced me to make specific, yet simple goals. Rather than just say “do physical activity” I specified that it was “20 minutes of physical activity.” That way I didn’t waste time trying to decide if whatever I did was “enough” physical activity to count. Was it at least 20 minutes of physical activity? Yes or no.

Similarly I specified that it was at least 2 fruits and/or vegetables a day, but I didn’t count how many I ate. Sure there were days I had 4, 8, 12 servings of fruits and vegetables, but I didn’t want to add the cumbersome process of tracking how many I actually I had. At the end of the day I just ask, did I have at least 2, yes or no.

4. Daily Tracking

By using binary goals, it was easy to track my progress for each day. At first I started tracking on a paper calendar in my office. I created an icon for each habit and would mark that icon for each day I completed it. Half-way through the year I switched to using Excel (this allowed me to calculate the number of Quality/Perfect days more easily). Now I’m using 42goals.com to now track my daily progress (more on 42goals in the next post).

The point was I wanted a system that would allow me to quickly and easily track my progress for a day. For the most part, I tried to track my status at the end of each day (when it was fresh on my mind), but I’d be lying if I said I did it every day. There were many a-time where I had to go back and add how I did for the last 6 or 7 days (another advantage of only having five to track was actually being able to remember what I completed).

5. Weekly / Monthly Reviews

The last part of the system was to review my current progress during my weekly and monthly reviews (I take 20-minutes every Sunday night to review the week / take a peak at what’s to come the following week; I take about 40-minutes to review my progress on the first day of every month).

By tallying up the totals and reviewing them by habit, I could see which habits were consistent and which ones were tougher to complete. As a result, I could make adjustments.

During one particularly bad stretch of hitting snooze, I decided to make sure I was going to bed earlier just to try to get back on track (more intentional focus on that habit). It meant missing out on physical activity on one or two nights, but I wanted to make sure I gave dedicated attention to snooze so I could re-establish my no-snooze ways. And since I was shooting for “Quality Days” it was OK for me to miss some physical activity in lieu of more sleep.

photo by Egahen

The Success of 2011

So has it worked? Considering I’m writing an elaborate article on what I did, you probably already assumed that it did, and you’d be correct.

My goal at the beginning of the year was 250 Quality Days. Notice that it wasn’t 365. Again, I didn’t want to miss one day and then never come back to it because I couldn’t achieve my goal.

Why 250? Because that’s the assumed number of “work days” in a year (if you assume 5-day work weeks and 2-weeks of vacation, you get 5 days a week X 50 weeks = 250 days). That would give me license to take off the weekends if I wanted to.

Also I didn’t set any goals for Perfect Days. I didn’t want to put undue pressure on achieving perfection, I merely wanted to track it for analytic purposes (what was my hardest habit, easiest, etc). It’s nice to know but it isn’t my goal.

So, with a goal of 250, how have I done this year? Not counting today, there have been 348 total days in 2011 so far. Of those 348, I’ve had 345 Quality Days (99%) and 175 Perfect Days (50%). The three days I missed were days I was sick and couldn’t have cared less about completing three of five goals.

But this hasn’t just worked for me. I’ve shared this idea with some friends and family and they too are finding success. Not everyone is accomplishing everything they want, but they’re all making progress towards their goals and they’ve all said it’s been a helpful process.

Why It Works

Is this process guaranteed to work everyone? No. This might be too simple for some people, or too complex for others. But for me and the people I’ve shared it with, it seems to work. And for good reason too.

First, it helps to re-frame the definition of success from “perfect” to “quality.” Sure perfect is great to achieve, but quality is pretty darn good too. Second, it forces you to choose your top priorities and limit yourself to a manageable number of daily goals. Third, it ensures you have specific goals that are easily measured, and fourth it creates an easy way to actually do the measuring. And finally, it allows you to see where you need to make adjustments, and gives you the flexibility to change your priorities based on your needs.

If you’re ready to give the Quality Day System a try in 2012, be sure to check our next post on How to Set Up Your Quality Day System.

Note: Why People Fail New Year’s Resolutions is the first of a three part series on creating and sticking to your New Year’s Resolutions. Check back soon for Parts 2 and 3.

The start of the new year is now a month away, which means New Year’s Resolutions are just around the corner. Sadly, most Americans who make resolutions never actually keep them, and here’s why.

photo by karlchen

1. They have an all or nothing mentality.

The number one reason people fail their New Year’s Resolutions is that they have an all or nothing mentality. They believe they have to do everything  perfectly or there’s no point in doing it all.

If you’ve read my post on How to Stop Hitting Snooze and Wake Up Early, you’ll know I’ve had a long, arduous battle with the snooze button. Though I’ve certainly gotten this under control, I’m by no means perfect–there are still days I embrace the sweet embrace of the snooze. But I’m much better at returning to no snooze than I used to be.

I used to think “I hit snooze on Monday, I might as well do it the rest of the week,” or even “I hit snooze once already this morning, I might as well hit it 8 or 9 more times.” It was all or nothing, either I never hit snooze or I always did.

But now I realize it’s not about being perfect. It’s about getting back up. If I miss a step, it’s OK, as long as I start taking steps again. For your own goals, whether they are to exercise every day or never smoke again, remember the most important thing is to get back up if you happen to fall.

photo by g-point

2. They make too many resolutions.

Along the same lines of all or nothing, when people create New Year’s Resolutions, they try to make their lives “perfect.” It’s not that they just want to lose weight or get out of debt; it’s that they want to lose weight AND get out of debt AND find a different job AND get more organized AND find a significant other AND AND AND.

They try to change too many things all at once, rather than changing one or two things at a time and then moving to the next one after it’s a solidified habit. Let’s be honest, changing habits can be hard. To think that we can change every single bad habit we have at one time is unrealistic. Combine that with an all or nothing mentality and you’re almost guaranteed to fail, e.g. “well I didn’t lose as much weight as I wanted to so I might as well keep smoking and not date anyone.”

photo by rawkus

3. Their resolutions are not specific.

The goals I listed are intentional–they’re commonly among the most popular resolutions every year. The problem is that they’re all terrible. Not that getting more organized is a bad resolution, but how it’s phrased isn’t actionable. How do you know when you’ve succeeded?

Resolutions that are not specific are hard to achieve because you don’t know when you’ve achieved them. Even something like “lose weight” isn’t very helpful. Does lose weight mean 100 pounds? 10 pounds? .00001 pounds? And does it account for the fact that, depending on your exercise plan, you may put on muscle?

Better is to have specific, measurable goals that you can easily determine if you’ve accomplished. This past year I wanted to “eat better” but I know that’s far too generic to know if I actually succeeded. So instead my goal was to eat at least 2 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Is that the recommended amount? No, but I know it was a challenging but achievable goal that I could easily measure.

photo by mela

4. They don’t track how they are doing.

It amazes me how few people actually track their progress against their resolutions. They plan their goals at the beginning of the year and never really check in to see how they’re doing. Life is busy and very distracting, if you aren’t paying attention to how you’re doing, what are the chances you’re going to succeed?

As the business maxim goes, “what gets measured gets done.” At a minimum, you should review progress every month or even better, weekly. The absolute best? Daily. Daily tracking creates a habit that is much easier to sustain than once-a-week or once-a-month.

Also, it’s important to note when you’re successful and when you’re not. Not only does this keep the habit for tracking, it also gives you statistics that can help you understand when you’re successful and when you’re not. Again, it’s not about being perfect, it’s about getting back on the horse.

photo by branox

5. They don’t make adjustments.

Building off of the tracking, once you have an idea of when you’re succeeding and when you’re not, you can start to assess what works and what doesn’t. By tracking and assessing your progress, you can start to identify Motivators and Demotivators that can help improve your chances of success.

As an example, one of my goals this year has to work on at least one task for Humor That Works every single day. At the beginning of the year, I noticed I was failing this daily goal more often than I would have liked. I thought about the days I was successful and the days I wasn’t, and tried to find root cause for both. I learned that there were certain things that motivated me (e.g. looking through reader’s comments, checking Google Analytics) and things that demotivated me (thinking about all of the tasks I “had” to do or browsing ESPN.com in the morning).

Once I tweaked my behavior, I became much more successful at accomplishing this goal. Not every day was perfect, but again that’s not what’s important (sorry to beat a dead horse, but seriously, it’s the number one reason people fail).

So if these are reasons why people fail their New Year’s Resolutions, what can you do to be successful? That’s the topic of the next post, Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions Using Quality Days.