Photography: Anjelica Jardiel
How many New Year’s resolutions have you set this year?
More importantly, how many of them will actually last past January? We all love setting New Year’s resolutions; January 1st feels like a clean slate and a chance to finally become the best version of yourself and reach your full potential. “New year, new me,” right?
Unfortunately, New Year’s resolutions mean nothing if you’re not ready to put in the work that will make them last. This is why so many of us fall off track after a few months, weeks, or even days.
Underneath the catchy name, New Year’s resolutions are simply a promise to develop new good habits or ditch existing bad ones. In either case, it’s virtually impossible to keep these promises if all you’re relying on is your motivation and a vague “new year, new me” mentality. At some point, both of these are bound to wear off.
Instead, let’s look at New Year’s resolutions from a habit-building perspective. In order to create a lasting new habit, you need to set up a system that will help support it. With this system, you’ll be able to build the habit slowly over time and make decisions that will help you stay on track for the entire year (and beyond).
In this article, let’s take a look at how to set up this system and develop new habits that actually stick. Many of these ideas come from James Clear’s Atomic Habits—if they resonate with you, be sure to read the full book for even more actionable tips.
Whether you’ve set music-related New Year’s resolutions (e.g. work on music every day) or something more general (e.g. eat well and exercise), these eight tips will help you develop healthy habits and have a truly transformative year.
Let’s dive in!
1. Make your New Year’s resolutions a part of your identity
Say your New Year’s resolution is to work on music every day, be it songwriting, practicing an instrument, or producing. A common mistake that people make when setting a resolution is tying it to a specific goal. For example, maybe you want to work on music every day because you want to create a hit song this year, release a certain number of songs, or make a certain amount of money producing for other artists.
While a goal can be a great source of motivation, it rarely works in the long term. What happens when you achieve the goal? Or what if your goals and priorities change halfway through the year?
A much more effective strategy is to tie your New Year’s resolution to your identity. In other words, you want to work on music every day because you’re a musician and that’s what musicians do. No goal, life event, circumstance, or outside factor can change this fact.
Whenever you feel uninspired or unmotivated to work on your craft, just remind yourself: “If I want to call myself a musician, I have to act like a musician.”
It may also help to think of an artist, songwriter, or producer whom you admire. When you feel like slacking off, tell yourself, “What would insert their name here do right now? Probably work on music—as should I.”
2. Start small
If you’re not a full-time musician, it can be especially hard to find the time to work on music every day. You likely have school, a job (or two), responsibilities, commitments, and other priorities. In other words, life often gets in the way.
When the new year rolls around, it can be tempting to say, “From this day forward, I will work on music for two hours every day.” But if you’ve never been able to find that kind of time in the past, and nothing else in your life has changed, how are you ever going to be able to keep up this new habit?
You may stick to it for a few days, or even a week, but something will inevitably come up and you won’t be able to keep your promise. Your other priorities will turn into excuses (though they can be perfectly valid) as to why your habit didn’t stick.
To avoid this, try setting a much smaller goal. For example, aim to work on music for just ten minutes every day. No matter how busy you are and how many other commitments you have, there’s virtually nothing that should stop you from sitting down and working on music for ten minutes a day.
You may find that some days, ten minutes is really all you can manage. More often than not though, you’ll end up getting into a groove and working for much longer than that. The important thing is that there’s absolutely no pressure to work beyond the ten minutes, so you can’t talk yourself out of doing it every day.
As you keep showing up every day for at least ten minutes, your habit will develop and it’ll get easier and easier to commit to longer periods of time.
3. Make it easy
When it comes to building a new habit, it’s important to eliminate all obstacles that could potentially prevent you from showing up and following through on your promise.
If you’ve set out to work on music for ten minutes a day, for example, make it as easy as possible to get started. This might mean having a dedicated space just for music, leaving your DAW open on your computer, and leaving your instruments and microphone plugged in.
If you don’t do this, just setting up before each session might take well over ten minutes and will likely deter you from sitting down to work.
4. Don’t aim for perfection
Wouldn’t it be great if every song you wrote or produced was absolutely perfect? Unfortunately, this is an impossible standard to uphold, and the more you aim for perfection, the more you sabotage your habit building process.
If you worry too much about what you can accomplish in each session, you might subconsciously protect yourself from failure by not working on music at all.
To combat this, let go of any standards or expectations. The music you create as you build your habit doesn’t actually matter—what matters is that you keep showing up every single day.
5. Try habit stacking
Habit stacking is the process of combining two or more habits together. For example, make coffee, then check emails, then play ten minutes of guitar. Day after day, complete this combination of tasks in this order.
The trick is to start with habits that are already well established. Better yet, start with something that you can’t help but do every single day (if you can’t go without your daily cup of joe, this is a great option).
After some time, your brain will associate the act of making coffee with checking emails and playing guitar, and it’ll become quite easy to complete this sequence of tasks on a daily basis. Eventually, you may even be able to add new habits to the sequence and create an entire routine.
6. Try a habit tracker
A habit tracker is a visual representation of your habits. It works by keeping track of the days on which you keep up with your habit. You can use a page in your journal or planner, a digital app, or even a monthly calendar hanging on your wall.
Tracking your habits will accomplish a few different things:
- Seeing your habit tracker will act as a reminder to complete your daily activity (e.g. practice music for ten minutes)
- Seeing the marked off days will help you feel proud of your progress so far
- Seeing a streak (i.e. multiple marked off days in a row) will motivate you to keep up your habit and keep the streak going
- If your habit tracker has more blank days than marked off ones, it may be a sign that your habit building system isn’t working—you may need to set a smaller goal, adjust your habit stack, or look to resolve a deeper issue that’s preventing your habit from sticking
7. Find an accountability partner
For some people, a habit tracker may be all they need to stay accountable, but for those of us who struggle with internal accountability (being accountable to oneself), it may be a good idea to also get an external accountability partner.
This can be a friend or a family member who checks in on your progress and makes sure you’re keeping up with your new habit. If you can, find someone who’s also in the process of developing a new habit, so you can both stay accountable to each other.
While their habit doesn’t have to be music-related, the partnership will be even more effective if you’re both working on something similar. This way, you can meet regularly, discuss your progress, share wins and setbacks, and help each other identify new ways of staying on track.
You can even take this one step further and find (or create) an entire group of like-minded people who are working on developing a new habit.
8. Get back on track, over and over again
Developing a new habit can be a long, winding, and bumpy road. Your discipline, motivation, and desire to keep up your habit will rise and fall, and you’ll almost definitely fall off track at one point or another.
The important thing is to get back on track, as many times as it takes. Don’t wait for an arbitrary date like a Monday, the beginning of the month, or next New Year’s day to start again—simply acknowledge that you fell off track, forgive yourself, and try again.
Start working towards your New Year’s resolutions today
Whether you’re reading this in January, March, or September, it’s never too early or too late to set resolutions and develop new healthy habits. Use the tips above to create music-related habits or ones that will help improve other areas of your life, and get closer to becoming the best version of yourself that you can be.
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January 3, 2023