Your life is essentially the sum of your habits. But what if you want to improve? What if you want to form new habits? How would you go about it?
Last week we explained the power of habits and how habits work. In this article, we provide 6 scientifically proven tips for creating new habits and making them stick. Follow these and change your life for the better.
THE SECRET TO ESTABLISHING LIFE-LONG HABITS
#1 START SMALL
When a behavior is really easy, one doesn’t need much motivation to do it. When a behavior is hard, much more motivation is required.Relying purely on motivation is risky, as your motivation rises and falls. Stanford professor BJ Fogg calls this the “motivation wave.” Solve this problem by picking a new habit that is easy enough that you can get it done without motivation.
“Make it so easy you can’t say no”
Rather than starting with 50 pushups per day, start with 5. If you start out exceedingly small, you won’t say no. You’ll feel crazy if you don’t do it. And so you’ll actually do it!
Make “micro quotas” and “macro goals”. In a study on motivation, researchers found that abstract thinking is an effective method to help with discipline. In other words, it is good to dream big. Your goal should be the big picture, the thing you want to achieve one day. Quotas, are the minimum amounts of work that you need to do every day to make that big dream a reality. They make your goal achievable.
Writer, Nathan Barry, forced himself to write 1000 words per day no matter what. The result was three self-published books resulting in thousands of dollars in sales.
If you can do two weeks of 1-2 minutes of exercise, you have a strong foundation for a habit. Once the habit is strong, you can add few more minutes. Soon you’ll be doing 30 minutes on a regular basis. One glass of water a day. One extra vegetable. Three push-ups. One sentence of writing a day. This is how you start a habit that lasts.
#2: MAKE IT DAILY
Consistency is key if you want to establish a habit that sticks. If you want to start exercising, go to the gym every day for first thirty days. The more consistent your habit is, the easier it will be for you to stick to it. So go to the same gym, at the same time. Keeping cues such as time and location the same will make it easier to form a habit. The greatest gains are made with early repetitions.
#3: PUT A NEW BEHAVIOUR AFTER AN EXISTING ROUTINE
In order to establish a behavior as a new routine, it is helpful to use an existing routine such as brushing your teeth which will act as a reminder. You must know what the new behavior comes after, and use that already ingrained behavior as a launchpad for the new behavior you want to establish. This is known as ‘If-then’ planning.
For example, after I get dressed in the morning, I will do two push-ups. It has been shown over 200 studies to increase rates of goal attainment and productivity by 200-300% on average, says Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson, Associate Director of the Motivation Science Center at the Columbia Business School.
So piggyback your desired habit with other habits or routines that you already have. For example, if you want to start taking vitamins, place the tablets next to your coffee mug. Every time you make yourself coffee in the morning, you can take your multivitamin for the day. Relying on contextual cues is a successful and Multiple studies confirm this.
#4: HOLD YOURSELF PUBLICLY ACCOUNTABLE
Tell others that you are going to begin practicing a particular behavior. It can be your best friend, your partner or your Facebook post. Being accountable to someone other than yourself can be very motivating and will help you stick to your goal. It is amazing how much more disciplined and determined you become when you know that others are watching you to see if you have the willpower to follow through on your resolution.
Recent research by the Dominican University of California‘s psychology professor, Dr. Gail Matthews, shows that people who wrote down their goals, shared this information with a friend, and sent weekly updates to that friend were on average 33% more successful in accomplishing their stated goals than those who merely formulated goals.
#5: ELIMINATE THE “ SCREW IT!” MOMENTS
Also known as the “What the Hell Effect”, this is when we slip up just a little from our schedule and decide to give up on all of the progress we’ve made. For example, when you’re on a diet and have one small cookie, get mad at yourself for it and then eat the whole content of your fridge.
Such minor setbacks are habit killers: they give us excuses to skip our habit or trick us into thinking it’s okay just to blow the whole thing off when we mess up. One simple advice is to focus on the total days you’ve done your habit, rather than the fact that you broke the chain. Research has shown that missing your habit once, has no measurable impact on your long-term progress. Rather than trying to be perfect, abandon your all-or-nothing mentality.
Do not be too hard on yourself. This study shows that self-blame is in fact counter-productive. Even top performers make mistakes and get off track. But they get back on track as quickly as possible. Take a close look at your routine and identify where exactly ‘getting started’ falls apart and try to create shortcuts so that the uncomfortable moment is lessened.
#6: REWARD YOURSELF
The main reason why we develop many bad habits is that they make us feel good, even if it’s just temporarily. Find a healthy way to reward yourself for practicing your new behavior. Treat yourself to a new book or a new exercise outfit. Every time you reward yourself, you reaffirm and reinforce the behavior. Soon you begin to associate, at an unconscious level, the pleasure of the reward with the behavior.
The great thing about developing good habits is that after doing them repeatedly, they soon become automatic. Follow our 7 steps and make big dreams a reality.