Have you ever set a New Year’s resolution and failed? If you are like 90% of the people, you have. Isn’t it frustrating?
New Year’s resolutions are all about building new habits, and new habits are hard. Habits are rituals and routines that we have often built up over many years, and all of a sudden we want to get rid of them. Smoking, unhealthy eating, not exercising, procrastinating… most of these habits were not formed consciously but after long periods of time they are ingrained deeply in our neurological systems and we have attached various positive emotions with them, especially short-term rewards.
So if we want to build up new habits or replace old habits we really need some good strategies in order to get the job done. Just deciding to behave completely differently from now on rarely works. Let me share with you the best strategies and tactics to build up great new habits and stick to them once the initial drive of the first few days is gone.
Understanding the benefits of productive habits
Knowledge is power. Understanding the benefits of why productive habits are amazing for your life is the first step to make you do them.
In his book ‘The Slight Edge’, Jeff Olson describes how we really become successful in the long-term by exercising small amounts of effort daily or at least regularly. Seldom do we achieve anything by making a ‘big push’. But incremental effort and improvement along with the compounding effect pay off big time in the long run. So know that the best time to start a new habit is now! And even if you have a big goal that seems daunting, the way to achieve it is one step at a time, consistently. And for consistency, you need a good habit!
Understanding how habits work
According to Charles Duhigg, the author of ‘The Power of Habit’ Habits consist of three parts: 1) Trigger, 2) Habit, 3) Reward. For example: 1) Feeling stressed, 2) smoking, 3) feeling calm. 1) Wanting to go to bed, 2) brushing teeth, 3) feeling fresh. 1) Feeling overwhelmed, 2) checking Facebook, 3) not dealing with overwhelm anymore.
As you can see, you already have these 3 elements in place for existing habits. So if you want to successfully replace a bad habit with a good habit you have to replace the elements of your existing habits. It’s almost impossible to just delete a habit. You have to overwrite it with something else!!! If you want to form a new habit, you have to put all three elements in place.
Constructing and creating new habits
1) Find a trigger for your habit: Consciously decide what will be the trigger for your habit. If you want to floss, making brushing your teeth your trigger. If you want to meditate while your coffee brews, make switching your coffee machine on your trigger. If you want to drink more water set yourself reminders throughout the day – they will be your triggers. Try to be consistent with your habit: choose the same at the same time of day. This will make it much easier for you to stick to your habit.
2) Exercise your new habit. While you do it, try to be conscious of what you are doing and why you are doing it. Remind yourself of the benefits and the reward that will await you.
3) Set or replace a reward for your new habit. There are different ways in which you can do this.
The reward is often implicitly present already, you just have to be conscious about it. When you exercise you often feel great afterwards. When you floss, your teeth feel cleaner afterwards. When you replace smoking with chewing gum, your breath is fresher afterwards. These benefits may go unnoticed if you don’t make a conscious effort to pause and appreciate the feeling.
One way to do it is to have a small success journal. This doesn’t have to be a huge deal and shouldn’t make it more complex. But writing down your achievement or checking it off is a good way to feel good about yourself for accomplishing something. Maybe it’s just a line in your journal or calendar. You can also write it onto your todo list and check it off immediately.
You can also set a extrinsic motivation that you want to link to your new habit. For example, after meditating in the morning, have your favorite coffee. After exercising, drink your favorite shake. After eating a healthy meal, allow yourself a small piece of chocolate. Be aware that your reward should not offset the benefits of your new habit immediately. Replacing your smoking with sweets or drinking Coca Cola after exercising is not the right reward.
Let’s change your habits right now (10 minutes)
One main advice is to only work on one habit at the same time. Do not try to change too many things at the same time. This will dramatically increase your chances for success. So, either pick one habit that you would like to replace, or one habit that you would like to create from scratch.
Option 1: getting rid of one of your bad habits
Okay, let’s apply your new knowledge right now. Think about a bad habit of yours. Maybe smoking, overeating, checking email excessively, … what is one of your vices that you are not happy with? Can you find the trigger and reward that you have in place for this habit?
If you really want to change or replace this habit, can you come up with a healthy alternative? Is there a new behavior that you can exercise when the trigger is pulled (using the same reward as before)? For example, when you feel overwhelmed at work and usually check Facebook, what about taking a short walk or stretching instead?
Write all of this down:
– Old habit: What is your behavior? What is your trigger? What is your reward?
– New habit: What is your behavior? What is your trigger? What is your reward?
Option 2: Let’s create a new, good habit
If you want to create a new habit from scratch, such as meditating if you haven’t meditated before, you should find a trigger and a reward for your habit in order to make it stick.
Write it down:
– What is your new behavior? What is your trigger? What is your reward?
Being conscious is key
The key to success is being conscious about what you are doing. Easier said than done, but it’s critical. When your trigger for a bad habit appears, you need to be conscious that this is happening so that you can exercise your new behavior instead of the old one. Is there a way you can support this consciousness, such as post-it notes and reminders on your cell phone?
When you new habit is exercised you should also be conscious about your reward and the good feeling that it creates. Pause and stop, breathe, and think about how good you are feeling now after exercising the new behavior.
So, go out into the world and impress yourself and others by introducing one (and only one!) productive habit into your life that will make a real difference in the long run! And please tell us in the comments: which habit are you working on?
All the best, and go out and crush it!
PS: Next week, I will send you more about habits, specifically strategies and tactics you can use to make them stick!