Bravo on deciding to make a positive change in your life! Change is difficult, I mean the real, lasting kind of change. Just like we have created bad habits, we can consciously create good ones. Although it may seem like your bad habits have always been there, if you really think about it you will see that they took time to grow and get hard-wired, they probably started small, they had and still have immediate rewards and they are usually triggered by something, So now we can harness those same conditions when we create a habit we do want.
If you’re like most of us, you read about some new way of eating or exercise option and you just know it will change your life so you dive in. Or you keep recycling the same New Year’s resolution year after year. This is “half- baked”, made in the heat of the moment idea and is doomed to fail. Take a week so to seriously ponder if this habit will work for you over the long haul, how much of it you can realistically do that will fit into your lifestyle, if you can afford it, etc. What sort of equipment, clothing, memberships, etc. will be required? Getting all these types of road-blocks out of the way before you actually begin will get rid on the excuses for why you can’t do it that day.
If you’re wanting to start a meditation habit, for example, it will be much easier to do if you have set up a spot to do it, decided on the seating situation and might need a blanket, timer, guided recordings, etc. Have it all ready to go and in the same spot so there are no excuses when you come to sit and start it.
- Baby Steps
It’s best to take on one new habit at a time. Deciding to become a vegan, marathon runner, guitarist, writer all in the same week is probably a bad idea. If you are wanting to wake up earlier, get up 5 minutes earlier each MONTH until you get where you want to be. If you want to write a book, run, exercise, start with 5 MINUTES per day for a week or more and work your way up to the amount of time you ultimately want to do the new habit for. The point is to not fail at it and get it to where you can’t wait to do more.
- Get Trigger Happy
A really easy way to gain consistency with your new habit is attaching it to a previously established habit (a trigger), like brushing your teeth in the morning, walking your dog, getting the mail, etc. This trigger should be something you do every single day at around the same time, right before you want to insert your new habit.
Don’t do something else in between your trigger and your habit routine. Perform the habit right away. Your brain will adapt to this quickly the more you reinforce the trigger.
- Reward Yourself
As soon as you perform your new habit after your trigger, give yourself a reward. It’s best if it’s something you already crave, like your morning coffee or checking your Instagram. No joke, I like to pick out really cute stickers and put one on every day on my magnetic calendar on the fridge whenever I go to yoga. I know it sounds silly, but it’s actually been proven to work.
Give yourself a piece of chocolate. You could even simply pat yourself on the back. The key here is for the reward to be consistent and can happen immediately after you perform the habit.
- Enlist Support
My sticker calendar serves a two-fold purpose: a reward (because I like stickers) but also serves as public accountability, which is a huge part of success with a new habit. Just like with children, when you know someone is watching, you are far more likely to “behave”, in this case – performing your habit. Report your daily success or failure to perform your habit in some public way — on social media. Maybe get a group of friends together who are all trying to add a new habit and report to each other in a group text.
If you decide on a new habit without proclaiming it, it’s much easier to allow it to fade if you don’t have to tell anybody, “Oh, yeah, I gave that up”.
- Ready Your Plan B (and C and D)
Inevitably, life will get in the way of your new habit. Traveling, work and family will intrude on your habit time occasionally. You might get sick. While you are planning your week, consider any possible disruptions to your habit routine and how you will handle them. How can you continue your habit if you travel? Could another time of day you work to perform your habit if you’re interrupted?
Going back to the five minute limit if you miss more than a few days in a row is a good strategy for “falling off the wagon.” The key to rewiring your brain to make a habit automatic is repetition and consistency, so daily occurrences are much more important than the duration of each.
Be Patient With Yourself
Building an automatic habit takes time — anywhere from a month to several months depending on the difficulty of the habit. But if you start small, stay consistent, and follow these six easy steps, you will be able to create several new, positive habits over the course of a year. Once you get these steps down pat, you can change your life entirely, one small habit at a time.
Note: A with any physical activity or dietary changes, confirm wth your doctor that you are healthy enough to do so and to be sure those changes are right for you and your state of health.