What does a “Habit” mean in the first place?
Pretty simple: A habit is a consistent daily action that needs to be taken in order to achieve a goal that we set for ourselves. Your thoughts and vision give you a direction, a specific goal gives you a focus, while a habit will give you the discipline you need to achieve that goal, built out of your own vision!
We all have visions and goals in our lives, but without a consistent habit, we would never be able to achieve those.
Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.
– Jim Ryun
Many of us want to include healthier and more productive habits into our lives. We either try to eat healthier, exercise more, lose some excess weight, read more books to gain more knowledge, maybe even learn a language. There are endless goals on these lists.
While it all sounds so simple, the reality shows: it’s not. Most of us find it very difficult to create and stick to new habits. It’s easy to start, but hard to keep going. In the end, we are disappointed in ourselves and abandon our new habits to reach our goal faster than we started it.
Why do we have a hard time sticking to new habits?
Although we know that a certain habit would benefit us, our health and overall well-being, humans like to stick to familiar structures and routine. Breaking through those usually means some kind of extra effort, which we usually try to avoid.
But it’s not only comfort that makes us fail. It’s also a lack of understanding how a habit is structured and how we can use that exact structure for our advantage.
Have you ever heard of „The Habit Loop“. No?
Don’t worry! Before I will tell you more about how to build new habits, let’s quickly talk about that loop.
The so called „Habit Loop“ consists of three elements:
Understanding these three elements will help you understand I. how to change a bad and unproductive habit and II. How to create and form better ones!
Here’s what these components mean:
I. The Cue
The cue can be anything that triggers a specific habit in any kind of way. It could be a location, a specific time of the day, a person, an emotion, or an immediately preceding action. No idea what I’m talking about?
Well, here’s an example: Everyday at 12:30 p.m., you hear the sound of the ice cream truck that regularly drives by your office during your lunch break. That sound, which is the actual cue, will put your brain into automatic processing mode. Your brain will now take effort to resist this specific trigger, or it will follow that trigger for satisfaction.
2. The Routine
The Routine of a habit is probably the most obvious and self explanatory one. A Routine is the behavior you either wish to change, like stop getting that ice-cream, or reinforce: instead of getting that ice-cream, taking a short walk around the nearby park.
3. The Reward
The Reward is actually the reason why your brain decided your current steps are worth remembering for the future. It provides your brain with a positive reinforcement for the desired behavior. A Reward can be anything, from ice-cream, to watching your favorite show to getting a new piece of clothing.
To learn more about „The Habit Loop“, check out this very detailed and informative website.
Now, let’s come to the good part:
How To Build New Habits
The following steps will teach you how to build new habits & if done right, make them stick this time!
1. CREATE A LIST OF HABITS & PICK ONE HABIT AT A TIME
You’re probably super excited and ready to build new habits and get into a new, better routine. Although you may want to jump into all your new habits to reach your goals, I suggest to start very slowly.
Building a new habit requires your focus, and as you may have already noticed, it’s hard, sometimes even impossible, to focus on a lot of things at the same time.
Also, trying to make too many changes in your life at the same time will only leave you confused and demotivated. In the end, you probably won’t be able to stick to any of your chosen habits.
So as I said, pick one habit, make it a part of your daily routine, and work yourself through your lists of habits one habit at a time.
2. SET REALISTIC GOALS & KEEP TRACK
We already learned that it’s very easy to start, but hard to continue. Most of us can’t stick to our goals because we are simply over-expecting. We set the bar way too high and often create unachievable goals for us.
Here’s an example:
I really wanted to start reading more often. So I set the goal to read at least 30 Minutes every day. Doesn’t sound too much, right? Well, for someone who didn’t even look at a book in over three months, it was a pretty unrealistic goal.
Guess what… I only ended up reading in my new book for 2 days until I quit again. Those 30 Minutes were just too much at that time and didn’t fit into my usual routine. So the next time, instead of setting the bar so high, I told myself to read only one page a day. Although it sounds like such a small amount, it actually helped me stick to my new habit. The best part? Once I started reading and finished that first page, I ended up reading one more, and one more. There was one day, I read for over an hour without even noticing.
There is actually a scientific reason why those „mini habits“ work so well and why they are so much more valuable than „bigger ones“. Check out this amazing video, that will tell you more about „mini habits“.
One more thing you should definitely try doing is keeping record. It’s the best way to see if you’re able to stick to the habit you’re trying to build, or show you the reasons why you can’t.
The best example would be trying to eat healthier or staying away from unhealthy snacks. Write down what you’re eating during the day. Every other week, look at your food record and analyze your patterns. Is there a specific time of the day you reach for snacks. Or a specific activity (watching TV) that make you want to open up a bag of chips?
Seeing those things will help you understand your triggers and therefore make it easier to eliminate those. Try to distract yourself with something else during that snack time. Or prepare a plate of veggies / fruit for movie night. You get the point.
Keeping track is a great way to stick to your habits, so I created a Free Printable Habit Tracker as well as some awesome Worksheets. It’s a workbook with 21 Pages full of information and exercises that you can get and download via Mail. The method in this workbook helped me build more and more habits during the last few weeks and actually made me stick to them.
3. REWARD YOURSELF
Remember the „Habit Loop“ we just talked about? Here’s where the fun part starts: Associate rewards with habit formation.
You actually get to treat yourself every time you managed to stick to a new habit. That doesn’t mean you should get some chocolate because you didn’t open that bag of chips during movie night.
Here are some examples:
1) You managed to resists snacking out of boredom and actually dropped a few pounds during the last few weeks. Great! Treat yourself with a brand new pair of jeans.
2) You read for 10 Minutes every day this month and actually finished that book you got months ago. Awesome job! Get yourself a new, fun book to read.
3) You finally drank more water every day for the past week and are now used to it. Yay! Get yourself a new cute, reusable water bottle that you can carry anywhere you go.
There are so many ways to reward yourself. Maybe you wanted something for a very long time, like a new coffee machine, go get it then! You deserve a treat after all that work! All this rewarding will act as a positive reinforcement and unconsciously prepare you, for giving positive outcomes in the future!
You could also turn the reward effect around and use it as a motivation. Want a new pair of jeans? Wait until you stopped snacking on unhealthy foods for a certain amount of time. This will give you an extra push and help you stick to it.
4. STOP PROCRASTINATING
Don’t wait for tomorrow, next Monday, or next year. Today is the day and exactly now is the time! (Once you finished this post, lol.)
Sit down, write down the list of habits you want to build and pick one so start with. Stop delaying things, cause what you have right now, is your magic moment. You learned all these amazing things today, why wait for a different time to start?
Tomorrow will probably become never. No matter how small the habit you’re trying to build is, just start working on it today!
5. BE PATIENT & DON’T GIVE UP
The most important part: Take it easy and stay patient.
Building a new habit and actually sticking to it is a long process and requires all your focus, dedication, and time.
You are actually trying to change something in your life, that’s not easy! If you fail one day, don’t give up. Just keep going on the next day! Try to be patient and give yourself time.
Have you ever heard about the 21-Day Myth? That’s what it actually is, a myth. It doesn’t take 21 Days to form a new habit, which may disappoint you, but will also help you understand why it will continue being hard even after you managed sticking to your new habit for 21 Days.
Just keep yourself motivated and remind yourself why you started this new habit in the first place. Remember what you learned about how to build new habits. Whenever you feel like quitting, try it another time and have faith in yourself that one day, it will become a part of your daily routine. Why give up when you already invested so much time and put so much work into it?
Instead of giving up, try it again, because…
Giving up is the only sure way to fail.
– Gena Showalter
Now that you learned all about „the habit loop“ and hopefully understand how to build new habits, all you have to do is to start applying it! By continuously applying the 5 steps above, you will build new habits over time that you can be proud of!
So I’m curious, what are some habits you’re trying to build? Let me know if my „How To Build New Habits“-Guide helped you in the end.