In elementary school, I used to slick my hair back with a large dollop of gel every day. I actually applied so much hair product that my teacher sent a note to my parents describing how my hair was distracting the other students. She explained, “Austin’s hair has become a disruption to the class. Students continually get out of line to feel the gel hardened hair.”
Today, I don’t use any hair products, but styling my hair was second nature back then. It was a habit built into my morning routine. Our lives are constructed around habits.
In fact, habits account for 45% of our actions on any given day.
Therefore, understanding how to build new habits is critical to improving our health, careers, relationships, and life in general.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle
Naturally, habits can have both a positive and negative impact on our lives. Typically, our brains are wired to pursue the often unfavorable quick fix to a problem. You feel sad so you eat chocolate and temporarily feel better. Trigger – Behavior – Reward.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be the victim of your habits. You can be the architect.
This strategy guide provides a simple, straightforward approach to create lasting habits in your life. I want you to build new habits that stick.
1. Start with small habits.
Do one habit at a time, and do it super small. – Leo Babauta
Break down a habit into small achievable milestones. The definition of success for each milestone should be easy enough to complete with little willpower or motivation. For example, instead of trying to exercise every day for 45 min, start with a goal 1-2 times a week for 15 min. If you are consistent with the first milestone, then move onto the next. Otherwise, lower your threshold for success and repeat the process.
2. Make a detailed plan.
A goal without a plan is just a wish. – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Without a specific plan, the chance of following through is slim. Give habits a home on your calendar. I will do ____ on Tuesdays at the library at 5:30 PM.
Still, don’t be too rigid. Life happens. It is ok to adapt the plan as time goes on.
3. Remove negative triggers from your environment.
One of the most overlooked drivers of habits is our environment. – James Clear
Willpower is a finite resource that ebbs and flows throughout the day. When willpower reserves are low, we are more likely to make decisions based on our surroundings. For instance, think about what you bought the last time you went grocery shopping on an empty stomach.
Therefore, design an environment where you can’t fail. Get rid of the cookie jar. Wear your gym clothes to bed. Turn off social media notifications. Whatever your goal, make at least one change to your environment to make it easier to succeed.
4. Curiosity is the key to habits.
Mindful smoking: smells like stinky cheese and tastes like chemicals, yuck! – Study Participant
In a recent study, habitual smokers struggling to quit were asked to be curiously aware the next time they smoked. Participants noticed how terrible smoking smells and tastes and were disenchanted with the behavior. Instead of trying to force themselves to quit they just became less interested.
In the same manner, notice which cravings hinder your new habit. Each craving is made up of sensations that come and go – nervousness, fear, restlessness. Manage each sensation individually instead of trying to overcome the overall desire to give up.
5. Do the math.
We become what we repeatedly do. – Stephen Covey
You may not notice a difference, but the actions you take each day are evidence of change. Think about habits the same way as compound interest. Making one small change today may seem insignificant, but a series of tiny wins will add up to a substantial change in your life.
As I said previously, pick a pace you can sustain. Don’t overestimate your willpower and burn out at the starting line. Play the long game.
6. Make a list of short term rewards.
Treat yo’ self – Tom Haverford
Instead of fighting our brain, we should tap into the reward based learning process. Identify short term rewards for completing a habit. If I do _____, then I will reward myself with 15 min of reading an enjoyable book. Make a list of small, realistic incentives that will motivate you. It could be as simple as giving yourself a compliment and taking time to enjoy your success.
Avoid rewards that involve spending lots of money or indulging in sweets. You don’t want to create a bad habit while trying to start a good one.
7. Review your progress every week.
Never confuse movement with action. – Ernest Hemingway
It is important to keep track of how you are doing throughout the week. I recommend using a planner of some sort, but use whatever method works for you. Take note of your struggles and successes in the moment. What caused you to fail or what helped you succeed.
At the end of the week, look over your notes. What changes could you make to promote success next week? Adapt your plans and environment accordingly. Again, minor adjustments will have note-worthy impacts over time.
Call to action
If you consistently follow these 7 steps, I am sure with a little patience you will have success creating new habits in your life. Your future-self will be grateful!
Want more useful tips to add contentment to your life? Check out my free 3-Day Contentment Challenge. You will learn 3 simple techniques to help recognize discontentment in your life and eliminate it.