Developing new habits can be tough – often just as hard as breaking bad habits.
There are however some simple principles, which if followed can greatly increase your success.
I should state that I don’t claim to have this stuff down and certainly have my own struggles. I am however learning and getting better and below are some of the things that are working for me.
1. Pick one thing
Often we try and change too many things at the same time – it really shouldn’t be that hard right? But it is. Forming a new habit is hard enough in itself and trying to change multiple things at the same time is very, very, very hard. In fact I’d go as far to say it’s impossible for most people to do and I certainly have a 100% track record of failing like this.
Lets just say you established a new habit every three months – at a glance that feels quite unambitious right?
But really, really think about that….
Firmly establishing four new habits over the course of a year would without doubt create a truly gigantic shift in your life – perhaps even the biggest shift you have ever had in a year? For example, imagine establishing the permanent habits of waking early, running, drinking water and having a date night with your partner. See what I mean?
Of course, picking one thing doesn’t necessarily mean you only do that one thing and do nothing else at all. However that one thing should be your number one focus and it’s where you need to channel the majority of your focus and energy.
So pick just one habit you want to establish and fully focus on that – let everything else go.
2 Establish triggers
It helps to pick a trigger for the new habit – basically a time or an event, which will trigger action.
A good example is I have been learning French and I have been listening to 30mins whilst I have a bath each day. I’ve managed to be very consistent with it because it’s almost second nature to me now. Run bath, set up laptop, stop bath, start play and jump into bath – relax and listen. Doing things as part of a morning routine works well too.
3. Start small
If your new habit is running for example, it’s tempting to set a massive goal like run 10 miles and then stick on the running gear and try to run several miles because anything less is just pathetic right? The problem is that often we simply become overwhelmed and disappointed with our efforts – and then we give up.
Instead, simply focus on small steps and what you will do today.
Just get outside and go for a 10 min walk, that’s a solid first step. Do that three days on the run and you have 3 solid first steps in a row. Then move to 5 min light jogs. Gradually extend this out and you will soon consistently be running decent runs and the new habit will be well formed. Small, consistent steps are the key.
4. Give yourself some accountability
I have mixed views on massive public accountability (announcing on a blog / Facebook etc.), however some find it very useful. Sometimes it can help you stay on track but sometimes it can also just add stress to the situation. Some type of accountability can work very well though and this one probably depends on the type of person you are.
Perhaps tell your loved one what you are intending to do or commit to some type of event in the future. For example, I want to develop the habit of running and I am going to book myself a half marathon some time in April to run with my brother and then another friend later in the year. Feels a bit scary and you could argue that this is contradictory with the advice above of starting small. However I know a half marathon in April / May of this year is very realistic and combining that with doing it with my brother will be a nice little bit of accountability for me. Not too much, but just enough to make me a little uncomfortable and to motivate me daily. Importantly, after booking it I won’t think about it much and will focus on small steps – every day.
5. The tipping point
Even with small steps, the early stages of building a habit can be tough. It’s all new, sometimes challenging and there can be a lot of anxiety around whether you will stick with it.
As you are dealing with this, it is important to know that there is a tipping point with habits and in fact with most things you learn. Once you hit a certain level, things all of a sudden become easier and more fun – just more natural.
Hang in there for it.
A good example is I have been learning French and am listening to 30 minutes per day (I sometimes do more, but my small step is 30 minutes every day). It was quite a struggle on the first few days and I had to listen to some of the sessions several times as I wasn’t picking it up well enough. It was frustrating and quickly self doubt started to set in – perhaps I am just not the type of person to learn a new language, this is really not fun, perhaps I should pick something else etc. However I have perceived and am now 10 days in and on session 8. I’m really starting to get better at it and now actually quite enjoy listening to and speaking French.
It suddenly dawned on me that it was only about 5 days ago where I was in a bit of a panic about it all and was ready to throw the towel in. However just 5 days later I feel confident, am enjoying it and am becoming quite good at it.
The same goes for most things being learned, whether it is a new language, running, cooking, reading etc. The early learning curve is normally steep but there quickly becomes a point when you start to master the basics and you become very motivated and start to see just how much you can enjoy it and take it further.
Trust me, hang in there for it.
1. Pick one thing – let everything else go
2. Establish triggers
3. Start small
4. Give yourself some accountability
5. The tipping point will come
Lastly, au revoir