Lifehacker recently re-posted 18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick, a very popular post from back in the day. Hey, on the internet, 2007 qualifies as “back in the day”. The reason this post is so popular is because it is pretty much timeless advice. The need to develop good habits is something that never goes out of style. Dieting, budgeting, working productively, being healthy, etc. all require that we develop good habits that stick. I’m not going to re-hash all 18 pieces of advice here, instead, I will spread them out over a three part series. Kidding, kidding. It’s certainly worthwhile to read and save the original piece. Here, I’m going to try to present a few common themes that run through the 18 pointers.
Commitment and Consistency
Starting a new habit is hard but so is riding a bike and most of us have tackled that one. Like most things, a habit becomes easier if performed every day for 30 days. With a small amount of initial discipline, you can create a new habit that requires much less effort to maintain. For many good habits, going to the gym, calling your parents, cleaning your room, consistency should mean not just every day, but at the same time every day. Your mind will begin to take cues from the time of day, place or circumstances which will help your habit stick.
One of the most common reasons for failing to make a good habit stick is being unrealistic about the challenge. This manifests itself in two ways:
Biting Off More Than You Can Chew
This can be avoided by taking baby steps. If you are aiming to spend one hour a day on the treadmill, start with thirty minutes and once that sticks increase to 45 minutes and then to 60. Another tip is to treat your first thirty days as an experiment. After thirty days, access your experiment to see what can be tweaked.
Thinking You Are Superman
Creating a habit isn’t simple, even with 18 ways to make it stick. Don’t take it lightly and assume that you can change yourself and the world overnight. Be realistic, don’t be surprised if you can’t immediately succeed, and don’t beat yourself up if you do stumble. Being realistic often means that if you are giving something up, you may need to replace it with something else. The Lifehacker post uses this example: If watching television gave you a way to relax, you could take up meditation or reading as a way to replace that same need. Also, don’t try to prove your steel will by remaining in an environment or situation that pulls you out of your good habit. If you are quitting smoking, get rid of the cigarettes.
Knowledge is (Will)Power
Before starting to create a new habit, know the benefits of the habit — read books and articles that explain the benefits of regular exercise– and the consequences of failing to make the change — higher incidence of disease, loss of energy, lower quality of life. Both types of knowledge can serve as incentives to maintain your habits.
There are two types of people that you will want to associate with to help you establish good habits that stick. The first is a good friend who will motivate and encourage you. It might be hard to get to the gym before work but if you know that your friend is waiting outside for you in the cold, you will usually find a way to get there. The second type of person you will want to associate with is someone who already has the good habit you are trying to create. Spend time with them, learn from them and grow from them.
Reminders work. The simplest form is just writing down the habit you are trying to establish and leaving it in a prominent place. Writing down your habit not only serves as a reminder, it also focuses you on your goal. Place reminders in places that will be most effective, especially in environments that present the greatest possibility that you will “fall off the wagon”. Triggers are another form of reminder. When it comes to good habits, a trigger is a ritual or occurrence that can either lead you automatically to your positive habit — every time the phone rings you straighten your posture– or help you avoid slipping back to your bad habit –every time you feel the urge to eat chocolate (never happens, I know), you snap your fingers which reminds you that you aren’t eating sweets on weekdays. Finally, remind yourself, in a positive way, that you can be better. Every time that you think that you’re not doing so well in establishing your habit, use the word “but” to change your negative thoughts. “I’m putting on a lot of weight but if I buckle down I know I can take it off and get healthier.”
It’s pretty amazing that we only need one excuse to create a bad habit but we need 18 tricks to solidify good ones!