Most of us may feel the need of changing a few habits (for say waking up early), forming new habits (like going to the gym), and discarding some nasty old habits (like smoking and drinking). Most often we make plans, write resolutions, and start with enthusiasm; but soon we fail to continue with our plans and end up in the initial stage. So, how can we form new habits and stick to them? Here I am going to talk about a five-point strategy of building new habits and sticking to them:
1) Ask ‘why’
The first important step is new habit formation is being able to answer why you want to form the new habit in the first place. The clearer and more unambiguous is your answer, the better chance you have in taking proactive approach in forming new habits. Therefore, conscious evaluation of the need of the new habit is very critical. For example, the real reasons for beginning to read the newspaper daily can be genuine feeling that being informed about various developments will help you making better decisions in personal and professional life. The reasons of forming a new habit MUST be motivating in themselves. If you can strongly feel the needs of forming a new habit chances are that you will be more successful in sticking to the habits. Creating intrinsic motivators i.e. being motivated to do things on your own and not through any rewards or punishment is an essential process of building habits that last.
1) I will start reading the newspaper every day. Most of my colleagues do it.
1) I will start reading the newspaper every day. I am not doing well in my job because of my lack of knowledge about current developments in my field. So it is a ‘must-do’ for me.
2) Visualize the process
Most often we visualize how effectively forming the new habit will make us better. For example, before starting to exercise daily or starting a new diet, we often visualize (or often fantasize) how we are going to look with our newly formed 8-pack abs. This is a wrong way of visualization. Rather than visualizing the end, if we can visualize how we will effectively execute the plan everyday (i.e. carryout the micro tasks daily), we will have a better chance in being able to stick to our habits. For example, visualizing you exercising daily and eating the right food is more effective than visualizing having a toned body.
1) Wow, I am looking so toned up!
1) Wow, I am going to wake up at 6:30 and then run for 30 minutes in the treadmill.
3) Develop contextual cues
If you can associate your new habit with something that you already do on regular basis then you have more chances of being successful in forming the new habit. So if you want to form the habit of keeping your room clean, tell yourself: “I will clean my room for 15 minutes after I comeback from work every day.” Therefore, you are associating the new habit (cleaning room) with a regular task (coming back from office). This will help you in initiating the new habit and sticking to it.
1) I will not eat junk food.
1) If I am eating out, I will only eat fruit salads and vegetables.
4) The beginning is the most important and it should require least effort
Most of us fail to build a new habit because initiating a new habit requires significant amount of effort. Since beginning is the most important part of new habit formation, ideally it should require very less effort. For example, if you find that you cannot start a new diet plan only because there is a drastic change in your planned diet from your existing diet, then you should take an incremental approach towards starting the new diet. In this approach, you need to start making small and incremental changes in your diet so that over a period of time (for say two weeks) you can completely shift to your new diet. Therefore, taking a very tiny step toward you goal rather than a very ambitious and big step will help you in sticking to your new habit and reduce your chances of faltering.
1) I will exercise for one hour from tomorrow.
1) I will exercise for 10 minutes from tomorrow and increase by 5 minutes every day till I reach one hour.
5) Don’t prevent, push
Don’t prevent or force to stop something, just push what is required to be done. So next time you want to stop smoking, don’t fight force yourself to stop smoking by ‘Will Power’, just push the idea that smoking is not good for your health in your mind. The more you focus on pushing what is required than preventing what needs to be stopped, the more successful you will become in sticking to your new habits. So focus on what is required and do not emphasize on what needs to be stopped.
1) I will have to reduce the amount of meat I eat every week.
1) I will eat more fruits and vegetables in my meals.