To start a habit stick it to a habit you already have
What is a habit? A habit is an automated action. An action you do not have to think through or plan. A habit is something you do without even noticing. Turning on the lights as you come into your room becomes a habit. Making yourself a cup of tea in the afternoon becomes a habit.
Your habits become so integrated into your life that you feel uncomfortable if something prevents you from doing them. If you have the habit of clearing out the table after you have finished your meal you will feel uneasy leaving the dirty plates on the table. You will feel it in your gut that you just have to do it. Seeing the mess on the table will trigger you to clean it up.
Habits can be good habits and bad habits. A good habit is an action that you and/or the society approve of. A good habit is an action or activity that brings positive consequences.
A bad habit is the direct opposite. A bad habit is something that reflects badly on you or on your surroundings.
Throughout your life you’ll aim to build good habits and to break the bad habits.
How do you start a new habit? How long does it take to build a habit? Some studies say you have to repeat an action for 21 days in order for it to become a habit. Easier said than done, right?
One popular advice would be to schedule the desired activity. Choose the time of day you would like to dedicate to the new habit and set yourself reminders, calendar events, alarms – whatever works best for you.
Why does this fail? Most of the time the alarm would go off when you’re in the middle of doing something else. And interrupting the activity you are currently busy with to start doing the activity you should do isn’t always possible. And is definitely not pleasant. So the reminder gets snoozed a couple of times until you stop paying attention to it all together.
Involving a friend
Another popular advice is to get help from a friend. Sharing you want to start a new habit with someone close to you makes you more obliged to follow through. No one wants to fail in front of their friends. The friend is then supposed to remind and urge you to do the desired action.
A lot of people won’t do this out of fear of failure. They prefer to fight their own battles. Also depending on someone else leaves you the option to blame it on your friend when you don’t get where you want to be.
Maybe the friend would have a different view on what, how and when you should be doing instead. This could deflect you from builging the habit you want.
Stick it to a habit you already have
An easy way to build a new habit is to stick it to an already existing habit. Connect the desired new activity to an activity you already do on a regular basis.
If it is exercising you want to include in your morning routine then stick it to something you already do in the mornings, like making your bed. Then state it. Out loud. Be clear and specific. Say “Tomorrow morning after I make my bed I’ll do 3 sets of crunches”.
Saying it out loud makes your mind envision and remember the intented action. It makes you better connect one activity to the other. Then in the morning when you make your bed you’ll get the tingling feeling that you’re forgetting something. Voila! You have triggered the need to do the action. The more you complete the sequence of actions, in this case “making the bed -> exercising”, the stronger the new habit becomes.
Make it easy
In order to build a new habit you must remove all the obstacles that stay between you and doing the action. You need to make the new habit easy to start.
If going for a morning run is your desired new habit make sure you’ve prepared the running clothes and shoes from the night before.
The thought of a full 40min running session might feel overwhelming. Set yourself up for success by starting with baby steps – start by a 10min run. Just 10 minutes, easy, right?
Start small, and observe how your life changes.
A recommended read on building habits that stick – Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
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