Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just create new habits at the snap of our fingers? Wouldn’t you love to just wake up one morning to discover that your new morning workout, improved time management, or daily reading habit has already become automatic? Unfortunately, as we all know, adopting new habits just isn’t that easy. It takes commitment, hard work, planning, and consistency. That is why it’s so easy to go back to your old ways. But there are proven methods you can use to form good habits that stick.
Try these 10 tricks to build new habits that will last:
- Start Small: Instead of telling yourself you will never eat another carb, create a small, achievable goal like skipping the rolls at dinnertime. By creating a goal that’s almost ridiculously easy to achieve, you can set a precedent of success. Think of will power and discipline as muscles you’re trying to strengthen. By practicing with easy changes, you’re building the strength you will need to make even bigger changes in the future.
- Take it in Bites: Let’s say you want to create a habit of reading for one hour every day. Instead of reading for a whole hour on day one, start with just fifteen minutes. Do that every day until you begin to feel that you’ve made room in your routine for the new behavior, then add a few more minutes each time. You’re much more likely to succeed if you build up to your ultimate goal rather than trying to tackle it all at once.
- Take Your New Habit for a Spin: Many times, we don’t even try to change our habits because we don’t trust ourselves to stick with them for the long run. Take the pressure off by telling yourself that you only have to commit for 30 days. A 30-day test run is a much easier commitment than forever. Promise to adopt the new behavior every day for just one month, and withhold judgement about whether you’ll continue until those 30 days are up. What may surprise you is that after doing the same thing for an entire month, it suddenly doesn’t seem so hard to stick with anymore.
- Recover Quickly from Slip Ups: People like to think of habits like links in a chain. If they break a link, they feel the entire chain is ruined. But, research has proven that small slip ups have little impact on people’s abilities to stick with a habit. What really makes a difference is how quickly you recover. So don’t panic when you make a mistake, and don’t punish yourself. Just get back on track as soon as you can and move on.
- Link Your Behaviors: Studies have shown that one of the most effective ways to form good habits that last is by attaching it to another behavior you do automatically. For instance, if you’d like to become more proactive about daily planning, tell yourself that every day, while you’re having your morning cup of coffee, you’ll write a to-do list for the day ahead. Because you never miss that first cup of the day, you’ve now given your brain a cue: a reminder that connects morning coffee to planning your day.
- Use the Buddy System: Being accountable to another person is one of the best and proven methods for keeping yourself on track. If you’re always forgetting to follow up on emails and phone calls, enlist a friend who has the same bad habit, and agree to check in with each other about any pending communications. Knowing your friend will be asking you about what needs to be done will put automatic pressure on you to keep better track of outstanding issues.
- Remind Yourself: It’s easy for new behaviors to slip our minds, especially when things get stressful. To keep your new habit top of mind, leave yourself sticky notes around your home and office, and send yourself reminders through your mobile phone.
- Eliminate Unnecessary Decisions: Forming a good habit requires as much brain-power as it does willpower. To lighten the load, reduce the amount of mental energy you expend on things that are less important, at least temporarily. For instance, if your goal is to start getting up a half hour earlier each morning, focus just on that. Eliminate decisions like which route to take to work in order to beat traffic. Instead, just pick one route that makes sense, and stick with it. Instead of spending time deciding how you’ll do your makeup each day, decide on a weekday makeup routine and save the flair for the weekends.
- Be Patient: Creating new habits is a marathon, not a sprint. New habits take a long time to form, and it takes even longer before you can trust that habit to stick. Patience may be the most important new habit you’ll have to adopt.
- Identify Your Why: It may seem obvious but if you want to be sure your new habit sticks, you’re going to have to be clear on why you want to adopt that habit to begin with. Without a strong “why” it’s quite possible you could adopt a new habit, only to abandon it a few weeks or months later. If you want to keep up the behavior, you’ll have to continue reminding yourself why it’s important. Why haven’t you ever stopped brushing your teeth? Because you know that if you don’t, your breath will smell terrible, your teeth will start to decay, and you’ll get stuck going to the dentist, which you hate.
Starting a new habit is pretty easy, but sticking to one is something almost everyone struggles with. Still, with a little organization, a strong sense of purpose, and by using the tricks above, you can give yourself the best possible chances of success. The most important thing to remember is to be patient, because after all, changing ourselves for the better is the most challenging new habit of all!
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