last week I told you about habits and how they work. Did you take the time to think about your own habits? If not, why don’t you do it now? It only takes 10 minutes. (Go back HERE to refresh your memory if you need to)
Do you want to replace a habit? Come up with a healthy alternative! What is a new behavior that you can exercise when the trigger is pulled (using the same reward as before)?
Do you want to create a new habit? Find a trigger and a reward for your habit in order to make it stick.
Let’s make sure you did this: hit ‘reply’ and let me know which habit you want to form, and what your triggers and rewards are! I’ll give you feedback on how you can be even more effective!
More strategies to form habits successfully
This week, let’s talk more about habits and what you can do to make sure that you stick to your new behaviors. It’s really effective to have an actual habit that you want to form while you are reading this article. So, again: if you haven’t done the exercise, do it now!
Why setting goals and knowing your why are critical for new habits
Set a goal that you want to achieve with your habit: Goals are what motivates us. Otherwise, you would just be trying to form a new habit for the sake of it. “Eating healthy? Sounds like a good idea.” If that is your goal and motivation you are doomed to fail on the first occasion where it is more convenient to eat junk food. “I want to 10 meals with vegetables per week in order to lose 10 pounds within 6 months” is a proper motivation. The goal is one of the main things motivating you to stick to your new habit.
Know your why: Why do you want to form this new habit? When the going gets tough (and it will!) it is essential to know why you are doing what you are doing. Knowing your why gives you a strong reason to stick to your habit.
Review your goal and your why regularly: It is easy to set a goal on December 31 (or any other date) and then forget all about it. The further that date is in the past the harder it becomes to remember why you wanted to get on with this inconvenient new habit in the first place and the easier it becomes to stop. You thus need to review your goal and your motivation regularly. So write down your concrete, measurable goal and when you want to achieve it.
Now, write down a number of reasons why you want to form this habit and achieve this goal. If it is a big goal I recommend to look at it daily. At least, you should review it weekly. What about sticking it into your daily planner or sticking it to the wall close to your desk where you can see it?
Simple strategies to support habit formation
Only start one habit at a time: Being ambitious is great but it’s better to focus on one habit at a time if you want to make it stick in the long run. Otherwise, you risk not committing to any of them at all.
Just get started: start really really small. For example, if you want to meditate, decide to meditate for one minute. If you want to work out, decide to do one pushup. Often you will want to continue afterwards. If not, that’s okay, too. But it is important to get into the habit of starting your habit no matter what else is going on. You can do that by convincing yourself that it is ridiculously easy to get started. Who doesn’t have time for one pushup?
Make it really easy for yourself: Complexity is the enemy of execution. So you want to make things extremely easy for you. For example, have everything ready that you need to execute on your habit. If you have to go shopping first or drive to the gym, chances are you will not do it. So set yourself up for success by making sure that everything that you need to start is within reach and readily available when the time is right.
The Jerry Seinfeld method: The famous comedian Jerry Seinfeld had a great method to make sure that he was producing jokes on a daily basis. He put up a calendar on his wall and made a big cross on every day that he wrote something. After a while he had a chain of X’s that he did not want to break. The chain of X’s became a powerful motivator for him to stick to his habit. So build your own success chain!
Be accountable to someone else: Can you start this habit together with someone else? If it’s possible, go and do it! Having an accountability partner will be a great motivation. Even if that other person does not build the same habit, become accountable to him or her. Tell him that you will form this habit and have him control your efforts.
Anticipate obstacles and how you will deal with them. Try to anticipate and prevent them. Do you risk running out of healthy food? Stock up! Do you risk missing your workouts while traveling? Bring your workout clothes along and look up a workout that you can do in your hotel room. Do you risk procrastinating on Facebook while you should be working on your important stuff? Switch off your wifi connection or block your internet connection.
Nudge yourself: Try to separate your rational decision to form a new habit from the action itself by time. Let your ‘present you’ make rational decisions for your ‘future you’. For example, tell somebody about your new habit. Promise to pay them 100 Dollars if you don’t follow through. Throw away your unhealthy food. Put your workout clothes next to your bed at night so that they are the first thing you see in the morning.
Challenge yourself for 30 days: Set yourself a goal to do your habit for 30 days. After 30 days many people have internalized a habit to the degree that they will continue to do it without much conscious effort. So set yourself the goal of 30 days and set a specific reward for achieving it. For example, have a fancy dinner or buy yourself a certain gadget that you would like to have if and only if you accomplish your goal of 30 days. Celebrate afterwards! Don’t let this huge achievement go unnoticed and don’t play it cool!
Your Game Plan
Okay, so here is what you need to do to follow through on this advice. It is best if you download the habit formation sheet and fill it out:
- Decide on a habit that you would like to form
- Link your habit to a SMART goal that you have. Write down your goal.
- Write down your motivation for your new habit.
- Decide when you will review your new habit formation sheet. Set a reminder series in your calendar.
- Is it an old habit that you are replacing or a completely new one? If it is an old one, identify your current trigger and reward. Become aware what makes you follow the old habit so that you can use this knowledge to implement your new habit.
- Decide on a new trigger for your new habit. If possible, do it daily at the same time with the same trigger.
- Can you support you trigger with technology? E.g., set reminders on your cell phone.
- Decide on a reward for your new habit.
- Internal reward: write down the benefit of this new habit. Set a trigger to be mindful of this reward during or after you have exercised your habit.
- External reward: set an external reward for completing the habit.
- What is the smallest possible element of your new habit that you can do? (E.g., floss one tooth, do one pushup, …) Commit to doing at least this smallest element no matter what happens!
- Brainstorm how you can make it easier for yourself to follow the habit.
- Brainstorm how you can nudge yourself to follow the habit
- Print your calendar sheet for a chain of successes
- Set up accountability mechanisms:
- Who will hold you accountable to your new habit? Tell them now.
- What is your punishment for not following through? Tell them as well.
- Set up a 30 day reward: How will you reward yourself after 30 days of following through with your habit?
Do you have other strategies to make your new habits stick?
Tell me in the comments!
All the best, and keep learning,
A story along those lines that I always found particularly significant, was that a very harried businessman went to Rudolph Steiner to ask for advice about how he could deal with all the business stress, the chaos, and his lack of ability to get important things done. Steiner apparently asked the man if he wore a wrist watch, and he said that he did. Steiner then said everyday at 5 PM the man should punctually and without fail change the wrist watch from one wrist to the other. The business man was furious at such silly advice; he had real problems, he needed solutions. He stormed out of the meeting and went back to his harried ways.
Personally I’m a big find of 30 days of one particular habit/goal that takes priority over everything else, but somehow I think the wristwatch might be the gold standard.