Developing new habits and routines is difficult. This is the best way to do it.
Habits are the little things you do every day, like what you eat for lunch, whether or not you go to the gym or meditate, and whether you read a book or look on Instagram in the last few minutes before going to sleep. They are a significant part of the decisions and actions we take every day. When was the last time you bought another brand of toothpaste? Or cooked a completely new meal?
Since habits make up many of our daily decisions and actions, they have a significant impact on our health and happiness. If it̵
Habits have a lot of momentum, so changing them can be difficult. If you’ve ever failed on a New Year’s resolution, you know what I’m talking about. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to drop bad habits and develop good ones. Let’s start.
Think about what you want to do – and why
Have you ever decided you want to do something like go to the gym every day or meditate or whatever, and start the first week super gung-ho? What happened at the beginning of the second week when your motivation dropped? I suspect your commitment to your new routine has diminished as well. It happens to everyone. The problem is, your first flash of motivation will only get you this far. To develop a more sustainable motivation, you need a much clearer idea of what you are trying to achieve and why.
When it comes to goal setting, there is one thing to remember. They must be SMART:
- Specific and clear; not vague. Things like “lose 4 pounds” instead of just “lose weight.”
- Measurable. You should be able to track your progress. If you lose 0.1 gram, you have technically achieved a “lose weight” goal, but not your specific “lose 4 pounds” goal.
- Achievable. Your goal should be something you can actually do. There’s no point in setting a goal to run a marathon in less than three hours if you can’t run a mile non-stop.
- Relevant to your wider goals. If you want to be healthy, it’s not a good idea to set a goal to get on Dirty Dan’s Dirty ‘Dogs most-hot-dogs-in-an-hour rankings.
- Limited time. In general, goals in a day are pretty useless. All of your goals should have a defined timeline, such as “before Christmas,” “in the next eight weeks,” and so on.
Go through your broad, vague goals and make them SMART goals. Then you can start developing habits that support them. With realistic, attainable, defined goals, you are much more likely to stay motivated for longer.
The biggest mistake people make in their personal development or in changing their routines is getting too big and trying to do too much at once. It’s hard to start a new exercise routine, change what you eat, or learn to meditate. It’s even more difficult to do all three at once.
Don’t try to change everything at once. Start small and work to develop a few easy habits that will support your goals. Try to incorporate them into your existing routine. For example, if you want to learn to meditate, make it your routine to meditate as soon as you wake up, after your morning coffee, or at any other particular point of the day.
Likewise, don’t try to meditate for an hour every morning. Start with ten minutes and build from there. You are much more likely to stick to an easy one than a difficult one, and by sticking to the habits you are trying to develop, you can turn them into real, automatic ones.
Track your success (and don’t break the chain!)
Consistency is the key to developing habits. The more consistently you do the same thing over and over, the more automatic it becomes. To make sure you stick to your habits, keep track of them.
The best way to do this is Jerry Seinfeld’s Don’t Break the Chain method. The idea is that every day you complete a habit, you mark it on a calendar (either a physical calendar or with an app like Streaks). As the days pass and your streak of success grows, you will be motivated not to miss a day and ‘break the chain’.
And once you have a rhythm, the habit will become ingrained.
If you fail, forgive yourself and keep going
Missing a day every now and then is normal when you’re trying to develop a new habit. Life gets in the way of things; just continue the next day as before.
Missing two days is a bit of a red flag, though. It makes it much easier to miss a third and fourth day and so on. Your goal in developing a habit should be to never miss two days in a row and do whatever it takes to get the habit done so that you don’t.
Once you start missing three or more days in a row, stop and find out why. Is the habit too much or not something you are really interested in? If so, that’s fine. On the other hand, if the habit is still something you want to develop, then you need to find a way to make it easier to achieve and come back with.
Whatever happens, if you fail – and you will fail – don’t beat yourself up. Forgive yourself and keep going.
Embrace the long term
Developing new habits and routines takes time. You can only work on a few things at a time, and they can take months for them to really stick. There’s no quick fix for going from someone who watches Netflix for hours every night to a marathon runner. You have to embrace the long term.
Changing your habits is difficult, but it is also rewarding. Put the work in early, and soon you’ll be on autopilot.