I don’t make new year resolutions any more, because I always break them. But I do try to make new habits every year, and the start of January is a good time to take stock.
It takes quite a long time to make a new habit. The commonly-cited 21 days claim is most likely a myth, but it’s possible – it just takes a little longer, and the length of time is different for everyone.
Most of the resolutions people make are really about changing habits. Write every day, get fit, eat healthily, stop smoking – when you turn them into resolutions, breaking them becomes a trigger to stop trying. That’s setting yourself up to fail. But turning them into habits makes them an ongoing project that can cope with some setbacks.
Changing the timeframe helps too. Instead of “exercise every weekday starting tomorrow”, I went with: by the summer, I would like to be someone who exercises more days than not, more weeks than not. That’s not a grand resolution, and it’s not a sudden change; it was a slow process, but so far – two years on – a sustainable one.
Grand sweeping changes take time. They’re incremental processes created not from one single decision, but from hundreds and hundreds of small ones. They have to be, when it comes to changing what you do every day or every week, because they also involve changing who you are. Changing your personality overnight is more often the result of trauma than positive self-directed life changes.
What new year’s resolutions are really about isn’t rigid adherence to new behaviour patterns. They’re about becoming a slightly different person by the time the next new year rolls around. They’re climate, not weather, and what matters is your trajectory.
The most important habit I want to keep in 2014 is the relatively new discipline of making games, regularly releasing them, and using the process to learn new skills. And the most important new habit I want to have by this time next year is writing and publishing something, however small, more days than not. I’m starting as I mean to go on.