Our brains are built on habit. The sooner we take full advantage of this fact, the more we can actualize our goals and make them stick! By understanding how to build a successful habit, you’ll assist yourself tenfold with building successful changes this year.
Some of my favorite personal growth and development articles and books include James Clear’s articles, Optimal Living 101 by Brian Johnson (think of it as the best leadership/health books, but in Spark Notes version!), and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
Here are the top takeaways that I share with clients to help them create and maintain new habits long-term:
DEFINING THE HABIT
This is what every habit is built upon:
Without these three pieces of the puzzle, a habit simply wouldn’t stick! For example, if we don’t even remember to do the habit, it won’t happen. Or if it’s not rewarding, we won’t want to sustain it.
Example: Taking my vitamins. For me, the cue is breakfast time. I have all my bottles laid out near my kitchen table, which triggers the “reminder.” The routine is that I always take them with my morning shake. And the reward is feeling great and knowing I’m taking them consistently for the health benefits!
HOW TO PUT HABITS INTO PRACTICE
- Start with why! This helps you stay on track and solidifies the belief. You’ll come back to this time and again if your motivation ever wanes.
- Then, decide your what, when, where, and how — and schedule the habit! Choose something you enjoy, the environment you most enjoy it in, and the routine that best suites you. If you’re saying you “should” do it, that’s a sign it doesn’t light you up! Example: Scheduling exercise into your calendar like a business meeting is far more successful than saying “I’ll exercise this week.”
- Focus on 1 thing at a time. This tends to be more successful because you can narrow your focus and get that particular thing done without getting overwhelmed or distracted.
HOW TO KEEP THE HABIT
Here’s what makes a successful habit stick long-term:
- Belief. If we lose faith in the habit and in ourselves, we’ll let it fall away. In the book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that this is why groups like AA are so successful, because belief is built into the system!
- Craving. Think of the craving one might feel for sugar or a glass of wine. We want to use that, but for our positive habits such as exercise — like cravings the endorphins you’ll feel from working out to the point where you’re excited to go and can’t imagine your day without it!
- Community. This can be finding an accountability buddy, a coach (we’ve got you covered!), or even surrounding yourself with like-minded people who want to make personal improvements with their health. This is a HUGE advantage, rather than feeling you have to do it alone. Far more successful with support!
- Start with Keystone Habits: Which habits you choose will be based on your desires, personal goals, and what excites you! And a great place to start is with “Keystone Habits” — habits that have a ripple effect of positive change in all other areas of our lives. Examples of Keystone Habits include Sleep, Drinking water & eating whole foods, Movement, Stress-reduction/relaxation, and Community. At Be Well, we know these as the 5 Pillars of Wellness. If any of these are off, we feel off our game.
- Foresee your potential challenges! This is greatly important, as these are things that could/tend to get in your way when creating a new habit. Resistance will come up — we’re human after all! So I like to establish my “If/Then” statements in advance. Example: IF I eventually get bored with my workout routine (I always do at about 2-3 months in) THEN I’ll either a) get new music that inspires me, b) switch up the routine like taking a class, or working with a trainer or c) start working out with a friend (when someone’s expecting me, I always show up!). That way, I keep the foundation of the habit intact (Exercise), but I simply switch up the style of the routine to still get the end reward. It keeps me going strong! The If/Then statements that motivate you may look different. That’s where it becomes fun getting to know yourself really well and what inspires you. :-)
- Always replace an old habit with a new one. Simply telling ourselves not to do something doesn’t have the same success rate, and can set us up for failure. Example: I tried giving up coffee three times! It only stuck when I replaced it with tea, which was a much better fit and still satisfied the craving. So keep the “cue,” change the routine, and make sure it still establishes a reward!
- Lastly, choose “win/win” habits! As in, something that makes you feel great in the moment AND helps you continue feeling great about the decision hours/even days later! “Win/lose” habits are those that tend to make us feel great in the moment, but not so great hours/days later. We realize they no longer serve our highest good. The best replacement for an old habit is something that rewards you now and long-term, so you don’t feel deprived. Example: I love dessert, so when I go to a party where I know there will be cake that would make my stomach hurt, I bring my own dessert, like these! I have a delicious treat, I share with my friends/family (they love it!), and I feel great afterwards. Win/win. ;-)