Habits are everywhere in your life. During the week, when I wake up, I brush my teeth, make a protein shake, take a shower, and then get to work. There’s no thinking or second guessing involved, it’s just what I do in the mornings.
We’ve got good habits (flossing before bed) and bad ones (smoking a cigarette when drinking). According to researchers at Duke University, around 40–50% of our daily activity is made up of habits (source). Habits take time to develop, and, once developed, take even more time to change. They are quite difficult to develop due to the presence of many distractions and inertia.
Creating good habits can vastly improve your quality of life, but requires effort. If you never exercise, attempting to do so every morning before you go to work can seem impossible. But, with the right practices, you can create and modify existing habits to deliver long lasting rewards.
Today we will review how to create sustainable, life changing habits.
Start with a positive mindset
A positive attitude and mindset is an essential part of the habit development process. Have strong faith in yourself and your abilities. Do not let anyone demotivate you and never give up. Stay motivated no matter how many hardships come in your way. Knowing that you have the power to change your life is the very first step in creating a habit.
Abstract thinking is an efficient method to improve discipline (source), meaning that dreaming big provides the foundation for developing habits. Setting an realistic, achievable, and quantified target (e.g., 100 push ups in a row within 3 months) provides a destination, which lends itself to creating a plan of action (start with 10 a day and then ramp up). Creating this goal and action steps will allow you to start taking the steps to creating a muscle memory for the habit you want.
Make changes to your lifestyle
Once you have a goal, you need to figure out how to balance your goals with your day-to-day activities. Visualizing how, when, and where you will complete the actions to achieve your goal are crucial to supporting your motivation — nothing will hurt you more then ambiguity or uncertainty about your routine.
Reward yourself for successes
Divide your goal into smaller quotas and reward yourself after completion of each part. This brings a much-needed regularity to the habit development and creates a positive feeling with the task you’re doing. If your goal is to go to the gym daily, eat a piece of chocolate (or something else you enjoy) to associate the benefits of chocolate with the task of working out. This positive association will reduce the mental barrier to going to the gym and keep your motivation levels high.
Habits require a minimum of three to four weeks to become a somewhat regular part of your life (source). This time frame is critical. If you can control yourself during this period, the chances are that your habit will become routine. Work on it every day — even skipping a single day will cause severe damage to the habit development process. The regularity in your practice reflects the success rate of the habit formation.
Keep it going step by step
Bringing a change or developing a habit cannot happen overnight, it takes time and patience. If a habit that you are trying to create does not stick, do not abandon it. Figure out how to make your habit work by altering the circumstances (how, when, where) or your reward — we can train ourselves as long as we are determined to do so.
Find a positive alternative
If you want to leave a bad habit, the first and foremost step is finding a positive alternative to the habit. For example, if you want to stop drinking sugary soda, try something else like club soda in its stead. These alternatives will be the conduit to substituting the bad habit for something better
Learn from people like you
Try to spend time with people who have gone through a similar phase of making positive changes in their life. Listen to their stories. Follow their guidelines. Their experiences and successes will keep you motivated — in them you can see your future, achieving their level with with hard work, discipline, and patience.
To learn more, check out The Power of Habit (Amazon) — a great instructional for changing your life.
Have you managed to create a positive habit or eliminate a negative one? Post your successes in the comments below!