When people talk about how to create better habits, I think they’re really meaning: how can I stop doing the stuff that doesn’t really make my life better, and start doing the things that can make my life better? And how can I make that regular and consistent?
To create better habits, you have to know what it is that you deeply desire because the motivation that comes from your desire will fuel your attention to each part of the quest to form a new habit.
Which habits do you have to frequently restart? What causes you to break the habit? Which habits have you maintained without interruption for years? What prevents them from degrading?
When you are clear on what you desire, you will effortlessly bring more presence to the process and if you want to hack your habits successfully, you need to wrap the process around a solid system.
Positive and negative habits run on a trigger – routine – reward loop and it informs nearly half of our behaviour, every day. Our habitual responses to our jobs, the people around us, how we respond to stress, and more are influencing our lives at a deep level. Changing habits or creating better habits means, quite literally, changing your life.
The impact of consistently making tiny improvements is underrated. However, the potential difference over time is beyond imagination. We bask in the euphoria of one defining moment, overestimate its importance and underestimate the value of making (in)significant improvements on a daily basis.
Regardless of stability, we want visible growth and as such, we convince ourselves that massive success requires huge one – off action. Whether it is losing weight, building a business, writing a book, winning a contest, or achieving any other goal, we put pressure on ourselves to make some earthshattering improvement that everyone will talk about. Nevertheless, to maintain a steady speed and efficiently complete a task is of utmost importance if we want to get significant things done consistently.
In 2017, I was committed to publishing articles on my blog every Thursday. I kept at this for about 6months before I chickened out in the face of pressure. I unconsciously improved the quality of my writings during this period – and I lost same unconsciously!
Improving by 1 percent isn’t particularly notable— sometimes it isn’t even noticeable—but it can be far more meaningful, especially in the long run. The same can be said of a decline.
Each experience we have creates a processing template through which all new input is filtered. The more frequently a certain pattern of neural activation occur, the more indelible the memory becomes.
Whether you want to change something tangible or something personal to your way of being, thinking about how to create better habits starts with thinking about what you desire and then looking at the habits that surround that desire.
Building a Better Habit
Why is it so easy to repeat bad habits and so hard to form good ones? Few things can have a more powerful impact on your life than improving your daily habits. And yet it is likely that this time next year you’ll be doing the same thing rather than something better. It often feels difficult to keep good habits going for more than a few days, even with sincere effort and the occasional burst of motivation. Habits like exercise, meditation, journaling, and cooking are reasonable for a day or two and then become a hassle.
However, once your habits are established, they seem to stick around forever—especially the unwanted ones. Despite our best intentions, unhealthy habits like eating junk food, watching too much television, procrastinating, and smoking can feel impossible to break.
Changing our habits is challenging for two reasons:
- we try to change the wrong thing; and
- we try to change our habits in the wrong way.
Our first mistake is that we try to change the wrong thing. To understand what I mean, consider that there are levels at which change can occur. You can imagine them like the layers of an onion.
James Clear in his book, Atomic Habits defined habit as a routine or practice performed regularly; an automatic response to a specific situation. Whether it is losing weight, building a business, writing a book, winning a contest, or achieving any other goal, there is no single solution that works for everyone. You may have to try several different techniques, often through a process of trial and error, to achieve your goal.
It’s during this period that many people become discouraged and give up on their behaviour change goals. The keys to achieving and maintaining your goals are to try new techniques and find ways to stay motivated.
Change might not come easily, but people change their behaviour with time when they understand the elements and phases of change, and ways to work through each phase can help achieve your goals.
Critical Questions you should ask yourself:
- Do you have the resources and knowledge to make a lasting change successfully?
- Is there anything preventing you from changing?
- What might trigger a return to a former behaviour?
In 1983, James Prochaska led the team that developed one of the best – known approaches to change: the Transtheoretical Model of Behaviour Change, TTM. The Professor of Psychology and Director of cancer Prevention at the University of Rhode Island and his team were studying ways to help people quit smoking. The Stages of Change model has been found to be an effective aid in understanding how people go through a change in behaviour.
In this model, change occurs gradually and relapses are an inevitable part of the process. People are often unwilling or resistant to change during the early stages, but they eventually develop a proactive and committed approach to changing a behaviour. This model demonstrates that change is rarely easy. It often requires a gradual progression of small steps toward a goal.
Pre – Contemplation
The earliest stage of change is known as precontemplation. During the precontemplation stage, people are not considering a change. People in this stage are often described as “in denial,” because they claim that their behaviour is not a problem. In some cases, people in this stage do not understand that their behaviour is damaging, or they are under-informed about the consequences of their actions.
If you are in this stage, you may feel resigned to your current state or believe that you have no control over your behaviour.
- Have I ever tried to change this behaviour in the past?
- How do I recognize that I have a problem?
- What would have to happen for me to consider my behaviour a problem?
To – Do List:
- Rethink your behaviour;
- Analyse yourself and your actions;
- Assess risks of current behaviour.
During this stage, people become aware of the potential benefits of making a change, but the costs tend to stand out even more. This conflict creates a strong sense of uncertainty about changing. Because of this uncertainty, the contemplation stage of change can last months or even years.
Many people never make it past the contemplation phase. You may view change as a process of giving something up rather than a means of gaining emotional, mental, or physical benefits.
- Why do you want to change?
- Is there anything preventing you from changing?
- What are some things that could help you make this change?
To – Do List:
- Weigh pros and cons of behaviour change;
- Confirm readiness and ability to change;
- Identify barriers to change.
You might begin to make small changes with little or no result to show forth. Now is the time to position yourself and prepare for a significant change. For example, if losing weight is your goal, switch to lower-fat foods, consult a nutritionist or read self-help materials.
Gather as much information as you can about ways to change your behaviour. Prepare a list of motivating statements. Write down your goals. Find resources such as support groups, counsellors, or friends who can offer advice and encouragement.
- Am I making any change?
- How can I sustain this energy?
- What do I need to know about this journey?
To – Do List:
- Write down your goals
- Prepare a plan of action
- Make a list of motivating statements
Now that you are taking direct actions in order to accomplish your goals, keep at it. Experience teaches that these definitive actions are vital to success, but these efforts are often abandoned in a matter of weeks because the previous actions have been overlooked.
If you are currently taking action towards a goal, reward yourself for any positive action you take. Friends who support this new quest are extremely important in maintaining positive steps toward the desired change.
Take the time to periodically review progress in order to stimulate your commitment and belief in your abilities.
To – Do List:
- Reward your successes;
- Seek support from family and friends.
The maintenance phase of the Stages of Change model involves successfully avoiding former behaviours and keeping up new behaviours. If you are trying to maintain a new behaviour, flee at the sight of temptation. Replace old habits with more positive actions and reward yourself when you are able to successfully avoid a relapse.
If you do falter, don’t be too hard on yourself or give up. Instead, remind yourself that it was a minor setback. As you will learn in the next stage, relapses are common and are a part of the process of making a lifelong change.
To – Do List
- Avoid temptation like a plague;
- Remember to reward yourself.
When you go through a relapse, you might experience feelings of failure, disappointment, and frustration. Sometimes, you feel like an impostor. Read on How to beat Impostor Syndrome Here.
The key to success is to not let these setbacks undermine your self-confidence. If you lapse back to an old behaviour, take a critical look at why it happened. What triggered the relapse? What can you do to avoid these triggers in the future?
Reassess your resources and techniques. Reaffirm your motivation, plan of action, and commitment to your goals. Also, make plans for how you will deal with any future temptations.
While relapses can be difficult, the best thing to do is to start again. Initiate a come back by entering from any of the previous stages of behaviour change. It’s not easy to make a major change and make it stick. You may be more successful in keeping your resolutions by using these steps.
This process of creating some internal representation of information depends upon the pattern, intensity and frequency of activities produced by sensing, processing and storing signals.
To – Do List:
- Identify triggers that lead to relapse;
- Recognize barriers to success;
- Reaffirm your goal and commitment to change.
With a small amount of initial discipline, you can create a new habit that requires little effort to maintain. Here are some tips for creating new habits and making them stick:
- Commit to Twenty – One Days –If you program behaviours as new habits you can take out the struggle. Wouldn’t it be nice to have everything run on autopilot? Three weeks is all the time you need to initiate a new habit. If you can make it through the initial conditioning phase, it becomes much easier to sustain.
- Make it Daily – Consistency is critical if you want to make a habit stick. If you want to start exercising, go to the gym every day for your first thirty days. Going a couple times a week will make it harder to form the habit. Activities you do once every few days are trickier to lock in as habits.
- Start Simple – There is nothing like overnight success. Don’t try to completely change your life in one day. It is easy to get over-motivated and take on too much. If you wanted to write two hours a day, first make the habit to go for twenty minutes and build on that.
- Remind Yourself – Around two weeks into your commitment it can be easy to forget. Place reminders to execute your habit each day or you might miss a few days. If you miss time it defeats the purpose of setting a habit to begin with.
- Stay Consistent – The more consistent your habit the easier it will be to stick. If you want to start exercising, try going at the same time, to the same place for your thirty days. When prompts like time of day, place and circumstances are the same in each case it is easier to stick.
- Accountability– Find a group of like – minded folks who will go along with you and keep you motivated if you feel like quitting.
- Identify a Trigger – A trigger is a ritual you use right before executing your habit. If you wanted to wake up earlier, this could mean waking up in exactly the same way each morning. If you wanted to quit picking your nose, you could practice snapping your fingers each time you felt the urge to put that finger in your nose. You shouldn’t touch your face by the way. Thanks to COVID – 19.
- Replace the Feeling – How do you feel when you are done with the habit you want to give up? Excited or a sense of relief? Whatever that feeling is, find a way to recreate that feeling. There should be something else that makes you feel in that way.
- Be Imperfect – Don’t expect all your attempts to change habits to be successful immediately. It took me four independent tries before I started exercising regularly. Now I love it. Try your best, but expect a few bumps along the way. Read About Perfectionism Here
- Remove Temptation – Restructure your environment so it won’t tempt you in the first few days. Remove junk food from your house, cancel your cable subscription so you won’t need to struggle with willpower later. Read My Article on Self – Discipline Here.
- Associate with Role Models – Spend more time with people who model the habits you want to mirror. A recent study found that having an obese friend indicated you were more likely to become fat. You become what you spend time around. I curate some of the finest productivity tips you’d ever find on the internet in my weekly Newsletter.
- Run it as an Experiment – Withhold judgment until after a month has past and use it as an experiment in behaviour. Experiments can’t fail, they just have different results so it will give you a different perspective on changing your habit.
- Write it Down – A piece of paper with a resolution on it isn’t that important. Writing that resolution is. Writing makes your ideas clearer and focuses you on your end result.
- Know the Benefits – Familiarize yourself with the benefits of making a change. Get books that show the benefits of regular exercise. Notice any changes in energy levels after you take on a new diet. Imagine getting better grades after improving your study habits.
- Know the Pain – You should also be aware of the consequences. Exposing yourself to realistic information about the downsides of not making a change will give you added motivation.
- Do it For Yourself – Don’t worry about all the things you “should” have as habits. Instead tailor your habits towards your goals and the things that motivate you. Weak guilt and empty resolutions aren’t enough.