What a year 2020 was. I’m sure most of us are glad to see that door close; However, if we’re at all realistic, we know that 2021 will carry over some of the challenges of 2020. Just because we’re still amidst a pandemic doesn’t mean that we can’t work on what we can control. And what better way to focus on what we can control than to evaluate and work on our habits?
Whether it’s the bad habits that we’ve allowed to creep into our lives or whether it’s good habits we’d like to adopt, there’s no better time than the start of a new year to make that happen. And when there is a flurry of things we can’t control affecting our lives, it’s more important to focus on the controllables.
How to Successfully Start Good Habits
If you’ve ever read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, this will sound very familiar. There’s a lot of info out there on habit formation and sticking with those good habits. Many of the principles are the same.
Make it Easy
Make it Rewarding
Make it Repeatable
If you want to start out by grabbing the bull by the horns, you may want to hold your horses just a moment. Great, sustainable habits don’t happen at the drop of a hat, and they do take real work and time to keep them consistent.
Making Your Habits Easy
Maybe running a mile every day may turn you into the runner that you wish to be. But if you’re not coming from a place of that level of time and activity every day, running a mile every day may not be a realistic starting point. Maybe for you, shooting for 10,000 steps each day is that starting point. Maybe it’s committing to a 10-minute walk each day at first. Make sure that your new habit is easy to do consistently. We’re not looking to go all-out for three weeks only to ditch the habit completely. Your motivation may fade when it’s too rainy, too cold, your muscles hurt and the motivation to hit snooze seems to be a no-brainer.
Remember why you want to adopt the habit. This can be your answer to a lack of motivation. Post a sticky note in a place you look every day. Remind yourself from time to time why you want to develop said habit. The easier it is to take action on a new habit, the easier it is to create a consistent routine around it.
Making Your Habits Rewarding
There’s some real power in rewarding yourself for sticking with your new habits. As soon as your motivation fades, it’s so much more difficult to continue the new habit. Aside from reminding yourself of your ‘Why’ behind the habit, rewards can really help push you into more consistent behavior.
There are many ways you can reward yourself. Just make sure your rewards don’t cancel out the benefit of the habit. For example, if your habit supports your goal of losing weight, a cupcake may not be a good reward. Perhaps you can treat yourself to a bubble bath and a glass of wine for sticking with your habit for a week. Or maybe your reward for exercising is getting to listen to your favorite podcast while you do it.
Make Your Habits Repeatable
Quite possibly the easiest way to form a new habit is to attach it to a pre-existing habit or environment.
Cues– Use your environment to remind you of your habit in a consistent manner. Cues will not only remind you of your habit, they will direct you on when to execute. Your cue may be your walking/running shoes laid out right before you go to bed. When you wake up, your shoes will be your cue, and they’re ready for you to put on. Another cue can be placing your journal next to your coffee pot so that while your coffee is brewing, you may use your journal to plan out your day or reflect on what you’re grateful for, if either of those are habits you are wishing to enforce.
Habit Stacking– Another great way to make your habits repeatable is to stack your habits. Attach a new habit to a pre-existing habit. We all have some level of habits, even if you don’t feel you have much of a routine. Everyone (hopefully!) wakes up every day. That’s part of your routine. Are you trying to create a habit of making your bed every day? This is a habit I adopted years ago, and I do that as soon as my feet hit the floor after waking up each morning.
You can combine cues and habit stacking for extra help. Your shoes are in the doorway, ready for your walk or run. You can stack that habit to brushing your teeth. As soon as you’re done brushing your teeth, you put on your running/walking shoes.
If you want to walk your dog every day, the new habit may be stacked to returning home from work. Use your cues. Try placing the dog’s leash in the same place you put your keys when you get home.
Habits can be hard to make habitual. Motivation wanes, the day gets too busy, or you may just forget.
- Remember your why when you find you’re losing motivation. If this happens, write it on a sticky note and put it somewhere you look every day.
- Make it EASY. Small, tiny habits lead to big change, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first. If it’s too complicated, you’re not likely to stick with it, especially on days that tend to be more difficult. Create cues that remind you to execute your new habit, and remember your why.
- Make it rewarding. Looking forward to a reward, even something small, can help give you a push to do it.
- Make it repeatable. Habits form by repetition. Use habit stacking to stack your habit with a pre-existing habit/routine. Eventually, you won’t even have to think about it. Utilize cues that push you into your new habit.