If you could develop any habit instantaneously, what would you choose? Would exercise be a part of your everyday routine? Would you replace your nightly snack session with a relaxing stretch? Perhaps you’d like to keep a daily journal, read for 30 minutes each morning, or finally floss daily (and make your dentist proud!). Whatever your goals, you can’t deny the power of habits. As Will Durant wrote in The Story of Philosophy, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” It’s easy enough to want a habit. To learn how to make a habit stick, you’ll need to develop discipline. Check out our tips below to get started.
How to Make a Habit Stick
Focus on One Habit at a Time
Do you want to change several facets of your life? That’s wonderful – you’re ambitious! However, if you try to implement all of your goals at once, you will almost certainly fail. Change is hard. Choose one goal at the start and if you can successfully make it a habit, you can move on to other goals.
Consistency is key when it comes to new habits, especially in regard to your schedule. So instead of saying “I’ll walk for 45 minutes, 3 days a week,” make your goal, “I will walk for 45 minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays before lunch.” That way, you can put it in your calendar and don’t have to constantly decide which three days of the week you’ll be going for a walk.
Take Baby Steps
Although some people find it helpful to jump in the deep end, many people are more successful with their habits if they slowly wade into the water. For example, if you want to start meditating, begin by meditating for just 10 minutes or so. Once the habit is ingrained and you’re reaping the benefits, you can increase the duration to 30 minutes, 45 minutes, or even an hour.
Create a Reminder
Don’t let a poor memory hold you back. If you’re struggling to form a habit because you’re constantly forgetting about it, create a reminder. You could set an alarm on your phone or use an old-fashioned alarm clock. You could also try pairing it with a well-established habit. For example, let’s say you want to read for 30 minutes a day. Consider pairing it with something you already do everyday, like eating breakfast. You could read while at breakfast or right after breakfast. Soon, you won’t be able to eat breakfast without pulling out a book.
Anticipate Your Excuses
Be honest with yourself. What’s held you back in the past, and how can you prepare for that excuse? For example, will your area’s sweltering summers and frigid winters prevent you from exercising outdoors each day? Perhaps that’s the wrong goal for you. Instead, create an indoor exercise habit.
Make It Fun
You’re far more likely to stick with a habit if you enjoy it. So even if the goal itself isn’t particularly fun, do your best to make it fun. Check out these examples of potentially unpleasant habits and ways that you might boost the “fun” factor:
- Flossing while playing your favorite music
- Exercising while socializing with friends
- Journaling after you’ve lit a scented candle
- Reading the newspaper while enjoying a hot cup of coffee
- Stretching while watching TV
Find an Accountability Buddy
Many people find it easier to stick to a habit if they tell someone about it. So before starting a big goal, find an “accountability buddy” with whom you can share your progress. Ideally, this buddy will have a similar goal, and you can hold each other accountable.
Track Your Progress
Just seeing a calendar filled with Xs (for each day you completed your goal) can be hugely motivating. Whether you track your progress on a calendar, on your phone, or in a notebook, don’t skip this step if you’re wondering how to make a habit stick. Many people stick to goals simply because they don’t want to “break the streak.”
Understand the Benefits
Why is this goal important to you? What are you hoping to gain? If you understand and value the benefits of creating the habit, you’ll be more motivated to stick with it. Do a little research before you begin. And although it might be tempting, we encourage you to avoid rewards if possible. Do it for yourself, not for the candy bar you promised yourself if you succeeded. Setting intrinsic goals that are meaningful to you will help you sustain your enthusiasm and stick with your goals.
Persist in the Face of Failure
Everyone fails occasionally. If you skip a workout, forget to journal, or neglect your stretching routine for a day, don’t beat yourself up about it or decide that you’ve failed and may as well quit. When it comes to your habits, don’t equate success with perfection. Recognize that success is also about acknowledging your missteps, forgiving yourself, and getting back in the saddle.
Creating a habit is hard work because you’re fundamentally changing the way you live your life. But if you’re like most people, you already have a few well-established habits – brushing your teeth each morning, drinking a cup of coffee, watching your favorite TV show, reading before bed. What would you like to add to the list?
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