How to Create Habits That Stick
So, you want to create better habits. No big deal, right? Wrong. Whether it’s a New Year’s resolution or the every-Monday diet starting, habits can be incredibly difficult to create and maintain. We are creatures of habit, and we cling to our old patterns no matter how poorly they serve us. It’s human nature.
However, all is not lost. You can successfully create better habits…if you are prepared and you know the tricks of the “Habit Game.” It’s a labyrinth of pitfalls and dead ends, but if you have the map, you can come out the other end a winner.
Whether you want to stop procrastinating, lose weight, quit smoking, maintain an organized home or office, start exercising, or be on time, the prep, process and strategy is pretty much the same.
Here are some tips for creating new habits and making them stick:
Commit time – Conventional wisdom says that it takes 21 days to form a habit, but you might need more or less. A month is a reasonable amount of time to commit to cementing your habit. Start there.
Do it daily – Frequency is crucial for making a habit stick. Try to perform your habit every day to ingrain it in your routine. Less frequent habits can be successfully implemented, but the more frequent the better.
Keep it simple – Don’t change everything at once. Trying to take on too much is a sure recipe for failure. Cement one habit first, and then build on that. It gets easier over time.
Reinforce it – After a week or two, your commitment may wane. The excitement has worn off and the urgency has passed. Give yourself reminders. Put notes where you can see them. Set reminders on your phone or computer. If you break the momentum, it’s harder to get back on the bandwagon.
Be consistent – Consistency is key. If possible, do your habit at the same time or same place or in the same manner each time. For example, if you want to exercise, it’s easiest to do it at 6AM every day, than to try to “fit it in.”
Buddy system – Find a buddy to team up with. When you are trying to create new or better habits, having a partner to motivate you and keep you on track is a huge boost to your chances of success.
Put it in writing – There is something very powerful about writing something down. A resolution or goal seems much more concrete, more real if it’s visible, in writing where you can see it. Write in your notebook, journal, sticky note on your computer, note on your wall, or marker on your mirror, wherever you will see it. It works.
Create cues – A cue is another action, situation, or occurrence that triggers you to remember your habit. For example, if you want to exercise each morning, place your workout clothes and sneakers by your bed, so you will see them when you wake up.
Try substitution – When you are stopping or giving up something as part or all of your habit, make sure you replace it with something else to fill the void. If you are quitting smoking, replace the cigarette with chewing gum. If you want to stop eating the double deluxe brownie ever afternoon during the post lunch slump, plan to go for a walk instead and pack a piece of fruit. It’s easier to replace than to eliminate.
Cut some slack – Everyone falls off the habit wagon at one time or another. Cut yourself some slack and get right back on the next time. If you have a setback, start again. You’ll have success eventually, if you keep trying.
Imitate others – Find people who model the habit you want to create. When you’re around people who exercise, stay on task, don’t drink, go to bed early, etc. you are more likely to do the same. By the same token, avoid the people who are “bad influences.” Not forever, just until your new habit has become a constant.
Avoid temptation – Success is far easier when you remove temptations and triggers. Get rid of sugary snacks, cigarettes, alcohol. Block social media if it’s a distraction. Unplug the TV. Don’t go to the coffee room is gossip is a problem. Don’t sabotage yourself by putting temptation in your path.
Keep your eye on the prize – Know why you’re creating the habit. How will it make your life better? Why do you want it so badly? What are the benefits to yourself and others? What are the consequences of failing to create the habit?
Make it yours – “Shoulds” do not lead to success. Societal mandates do not lead to success. Guilt is not a good habit strategy. Create good habits that you want. You decide, you do the work, you benefit.
Creating good habits can be difficult and frustrating, but success is possible. Knowing what works and putting those strategies in your game plan can give you a much better chance of success in the “Habit Game.”