Have you ever set out to start a new habit with all the best intentions, but even day one or two struggled to get it done? Ugh… the worst, right? It can be so challenging to translate what you know in theory into what you actually do in real life. But after decades of both research and (let’s be honest) trial-and-error figuring out what WORKS when making sure a new behavior becomes a hard-core habit instead of a forgotten resolution, below are five tips that make a world of difference.
Link it with something else.
A few weeks ago, I wanted to solidify a few new practices into my morning routine, like writing down my goals and what I’m grateful for. So I linked them to something else that I do almost every morning and LOVE — having my cup of decaf coffee or tea. Not only does it give me something to do during my other habit (a warm cup of coffee as I get my day going) but it connects the new habit to something I already enjoy so I’m more likely to do it. (If I were to link my new habit to something I don’t love as much, like doing the dishes, how likely do you think I would be to incorporate it as something I enjoy… and keep at it?) Link your new habit to something you already enjoy doing, and you’ll be much more like to make it stick.
Keep it to a certain time of day.
When you’re forming a new habit, you’re rewiring neural networks that are used to a certain way of behaving. So if you pop your new habit in at all different times each day, it doesn’t give your mind much to grab onto. With my new morning routine, for example, I could have chosen to do those behaviors at any time of day, whenever I could squeeze them in. And sure, that’s better than nothing because at least I’d get them in. But it’s much easier for my brain and body to remember and get used to the new routine if it’s at the same time every day. Choose a time of day when you can complete your new behavior, keep it consistent, and you’ll be much more likely to have a habit as second nature as brushing your teeth.
These days, my morning routine has dozens of steps. I write in my gratitude journal, read my mission statement, spend time in meditation and visualization, jot down my goals, and a number of other things. I do it because I notice the difference. But if I had started there, there’s no way it would’ve all stuck. (And to be honest, I tried, and it didn’t.) What works is starting small. If you can break your goal into the smallest steps, start with one. For me, it was spending a few minutes visualizing my goals even before I got out of bed so I could stay nice and cozy a few more minutes, too. That felt effortless and uplifting, and it was easy to add jotting down what I was grateful for and reading my mission statement from there. If you want to become someone who works out in the morning, maybe your first step is simply doing 10 crunches the second you get out of bed, or while you wait for the shower to heat up. Heck, even set your alarm early and do them IN your bed if that’s what it takes to get things going.
Know your why.
Do I always have loads of time in the morning that I just can’t wait to fill up with extra activities? No! Not in the slightest. I’m usually eager to get into work first thing and it’s hard to slow myself down enough to follow through with my routine first. BUT. I do see the difference enough on the days that I do it, to know it’s worth it. My mentors all recommend it. And it helps me enter my day and my conversations with clients much more centered focused, and with the kind of energy I want to give out to them. With any new habit or routine, it’s ultimately about knowing why you do it, and why it’s worth sticking to — so you can, even on the days you don’t feel like it. You don’t have to always feel like doing something — sometimes, it’s just worth it to do it first, then let yourself complain later. (But you will probably be glad you did it.) 😉
Tech startups often have a phrase — “fail fast” — meant to encourage people to try things, then get on quickly if they’re not a success. In other words, don’t waste a lot of time if something fails. And I would apply the same thing to new goals or routines. If you forget them or mess up one day, no biggie. It’s not the end of your routine. You don’t magically run out of attempts. Just get back into the swing of things as fast as you remember to. Eventually, the gaps between when you slip up will get smaller and smaller, and you’ll be able to go much longer in between them.
Do you have any other tips for making habits stick? What’s one you’re working on implementing?