Developing new habits and routines is tricky. Here is the best way to do it.
Habits are the little things you do every day, like what you eat for lunch, whether or not you go to the gym or meditate, and read a book or watch Instagram in the last few minutes. before you go to bed. They are a huge number of decisions and actions that we take every day. When was the last time you bought another brand of toothpaste? Or cooked a whole new meal?
Since habits are many of our daily decisions and actions, they have a significant impact on our health and happiness. If your lunch habit is to have a salad and meditate for 10 minutes, you will likely be healthier than someone who has a cheeseburger and chases it with a cigarette.
Habits have a lot of momentum, so changing them can be difficult. If you’ve ever failed a New Year’s resolution, you’ll know what I mean. But that doesn’t mean giving up bad habits and developing good ones can’t be done. Let’s start.
Determine what you want to do and why
Have you ever decided to do something, like hit the gym everyday or meditate or whatever, and start super gung-ho for the first week? What happened at the start of the second week when your motivation subsided? I guess your commitment to your new routine has also waned. It happens to everyone. The problem is, your first flash of motivation doesn’t get you far. To develop more sustained motivation, you need to have a much clearer idea of what you are trying to achieve and why.
When it comes to goal setting, there is one thing you need to remember. They should be SMART:
Specific and clear; not vague. Things like “lose 4 pounds” rather than just “lose weight”.
Measurable. You need to be able to track your progress. If you lose 0.1 ounce, you have technically achieved a “lose weight” goal, but not your specific “lose 4 pounds” goal.
Feasible. Your goal should be something that you can actually do. There is no point in setting a goal of running a marathon in less than three hours if you cannot run a mile without a break.
Relevant to your larger goals. If you want to be healthy, setting a goal to be in the ranking of the Dirty Dan’s Dirty ‘Dogs Hottest Dogs in an hour is not a good idea.
Limited time. General, one day goals are pretty useless. All of your goals should have a timeline set like ‘before Christmas’, ‘in the next eight weeks’, etc.
Review your broad and vague goals and turn them into SMART goals. Then you can start to develop habits that support them. With realistic, achievable, and defined goals, you’re much more likely to stay motivated longer.
The biggest mistake people make with any personal development or change in their routines is going too far and trying to do too much at once. It’s hard to start a new exercise routine, change what you eat, or learn to meditate. It is even more difficult to do all three at the same time.
Don’t try to change everything all at once. Start small and work to develop a few easy habits that support your goals. Try to incorporate them into your existing routine. For example, if you want to learn to meditate, make your routine to meditate as soon as you wake up, after your morning coffee, or at another set time of the day.
Likewise, don’t start by trying to meditate for an hour each morning. Start with ten minutes and build from there. You’re much more likely to stick with an easy habit than a hard one, and sticking to the habits you’re trying to develop is the way to turn them into real, automatic habits.
Keep track of your success (and don’t break the chain!)
Consistency is the key to developing habits. The more you constantly repeat the same thing, the more automatic it becomes. To make sure you stick to your habits, you need to follow them.
The best way to do this is Jerry Seinfeld’s Don’t Break the Chain method. The idea is that each day that you make a habit, you mark it in a calendar (either a physical calendar or with an application like Streaks). As the days go by and your streak grows longer, you will be motivated not to miss a day and “break the chain”.
And once you have a rhythm, the habit will become set.
If you fail, forgive yourself and carry on
Missing a day once in a while is normal when trying to develop a new habit. Life gets in the way; just continue the next day as before.
Missing two days, however, is a bit of a red flag. It’s much easier to miss a third and fourth day and so on. When developing a habit, your goal should be to never miss two days in a row and to do whatever it takes to get into the habit of not doing it.
Once you start missing three or more days in a row, you need to stop and figure out why. Is this habit excessive or not something that really interests you? If so, that’s fine. On the other hand, if this habit is still something you want to develop, you have to find a way to make it easier to perform and come back to it.
Whatever happens, when you fail – and you will fail – don’t worry. Forgive yourself and carry on.
Embrace the long haul
Developing new habits and routines takes time. You can only work on a few items at a time, and may take months for them to stay. There is no quick fix to going from a person who watches hours of Netflix every night to a marathon runner. You have to embrace the long haul.
Changing your habits is difficult, but it is also rewarding. Put the work in early, and soon you’ll be on autopilot.