There is a reason that most New Year’s resolutions fail. Behavioral change is hard. In fact, the book Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be describes it this way: “Adult behavioral change is the most difficult thing for sentient human beings to accomplish.” Yet every January, like clockwork, we tell ourselves that this year will be different. This is the year we will lose weight, stop procrastinating, finish that project, fill in the blank. Yet inevitably our motivation lags and we’re back to where we started.
So what can we do to set ourselves up for success?
I believe that simplifying and adopting a minimalist lifestyle can help us develop and maintain healthy habits. This is because the mindset shift that occurs when we remove that which does not serve us supports behavioral change in other areas. Here’s how:
1. Removing what doesn’t matter gives us clarity about what does.
James Clear, one of my favorite writers about habits, talks about the link between habits and our identity. He said in a recent podcast interview, “Your habits are how you embody a particular identity…The more you act in a particular way…the more you reinforce being a certain type of person.”
For example, if I tell myself that I am a person who moves my body every day, it becomes part of who I am, and I become intentional about living it out. It is non-negotiable, because we don’t like to act in a way that goes against who we say we are (a form of cognitive dissonance). Because minimalists have clarity around their values, and therefore the identity that supports their values, they can better maintain identity-based habits.
Identity-based habits (I am a person who moves every day) are more successful than outcome-based habits (I will lose 10 pounds) because, as Clear explains in his book Atomic Habits, “True behavior change is identity change. You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason you’ll stick with one is that it becomes part of your identity.”
2. Minimalism allows you to focus on the “why” behind your decisions.
Minimalism allows you to slow down and inquire mindfully before making a decision, whether it’s purchasing an item or adding a commitment to your calendar. You are constantly asking whether an action is aligned with your values, your purpose, and your “why.”
This inquiry is very helpful when it comes to habits. In some cases, we can remove the trigger (or what Charles Duhigg calls the “cue”), like unsubscribing from retail e-mails that trigger us to buy things we don’t need. But even when we can’t change the cue, minimalism helps us to take that important pause between stimulus and response to understand why we’re doing something in the first place. We then have the opportunity to choose a healthier response.
Written by Caitie Wiersma