You probably already know that building good habits is the shortcut to building success. Determination and Willpower are good traits. But they are fleeting and limited and to count on them for building a habit is like having Hope as a strategy.
Most people rely on their will power to stick to a new habit. No wonder new year resolutions don’t even last a few weeks. We have all set resolutions to get fit, study harder, spend more time with family, travel more, start a business and we clock another year without doing any of it.
How can we create and sustain change? How do we set our self up to succeed ? If will power does not work, then what works ?
Phase 1: Environment
1) Create an Environment for your success: We are all a product of our environment. It is often better and easier to set up a favorable environment to help you stick to a new habit than trust your will power. Willpower is a limited resource and drains fast. So it is important to create an environment, where it is easier for you to succeed and harder to fail. For eg; Do not go grocery shopping when you are hungry, as we tend to buy more junk food when we are hungry. Sleep in your workout clothes and have your running shoes laid out.
2) Have an Accountability partner: Get your friend or partner to sign up for the class/gym with you. But the catch here is that your friend has to be more committed than you are and must hold you accountable. If you sign up with someone lazier than you are, you will only fail faster. My excuse to not running had often been that my friend had a late night at work and it was just easier for me to hit snooze button on those days. If you can’t find a committed friend, hire a coach/trainer to whom you would be answerable for your progress.
3) Commitment Device: You can pledge to pay your friend or a charity you hate some money for every day you miss the routine. Some have used ‘burning money’ physically as a commitment device and have reported great results of never having to actually burn it.
Phase 2: Goal Setting
4) One thing: Don’t start too many things at a time. Start with one small change in one area of life at a time. Life is built by such small incremental changes and not by a magical transformation. Suggested Read : The One Thing – Gary Keller
5) Start Small: Commit to small changes which you can build on, rather than a monumental change. Eg: Commit to lacing up your shoes and heading out of the home for 5 mins every day, rather than commit to run 5K everyday.
6) Get specific and Schedule your Activity: Plan exactly when you will do the activity that you intend to create a habit out of. eg: Instead of saying I will go to Gym after work, or write one blog post every week, say I will go to the gym at 6:30 PM every day after work or I will publish a blog post every friday before 10 PM. Put it on your calendar.
Phase 3: Implementation Phase
7) Incorporate the habit into your existing routine: Anything that is drastically different from your current routine is bound to fail fast. When you use an existing routine to trigger the habit, it becomes easier to follow and harder to miss, much like brushing your teeth everyday morning. For me, I was able to adhere to my one fruit a day plan, as soon as I incorporated it into my daily morning snack, my workouts became regular when I turned my office commute into biking/cycling.
8) Gamify your habit: You can use gamification for habit building. 10 points if you go to the gym, 5 points for a healthy snack, -5 for an unhealthy one. Nerd Fitness is a great site that you can use to gamify your fitness routine. You can use other tracking methods to gamify anything. Once you have accumulated certain number of points reward yourself with a Sauna bath, Favourite milk shake etc. Ensure your rewards are in alignment with your goals and that you don’t end up negating your efforts of workout with a super rich Icecream etc. Suggested Read: Super Better – Jane McGonigal
Phase 4: Feedback Loops
9) Observe: Be patient with yourself and the process. See what works for you and what does not. Be willing to experiment. Every body, mind is unique and what worked wonderfully for your friend may not work for you at all. Consider the result as a feedback and use it adjust your methodology, rather than get disheartened and leave it altogether. Sometimes you need to try harder, sometimes you need to give up and try something new.
10) Expect Set Backs : If you think this year, it will be different and you will never fail, you are wrong, you will fail. There will be days you wont work out, or write 1000 words or do whatever you had committed to yourself. Instead of using that as an excuse, to drop the habit, ensure you do not slip 2-3 days in a row. Get back on track as soon as possible. When you expect failure, it becomes easier to handle.
Building good habits is building a good life. Do not wait for the new year or your birthday or an anniversary to come to set goals, start now, start small and keep at it.
What habits have you built successfully over the years and what has helped you build it? At what points have you slipped out of the good habits you had built a momentum…