How do you create new, lasting habits without going bonkers?
That is the million dollar question! Because we’ve all tried it and most of us failed in our attempts. The good news is that it doesn’t mean we are doomed.
It’s possible to do integrate new habits in ways that won’t feel like a battle.
The first step is understanding the science of our habits and then making a plan to slowly integrate new ones into your existing routines.
The key word in all of this: slowly.
And you need to have a plan!
The Fundamentals Of Starting (And Keeping) A New Habit
First, let’s review the basic structure of a habit:
- There is a cue (or trigger) that makes you want to do something.
- The resulting action is the habit itself.
- Once you’ve completed the action, your brain receives some kind of reward that makes you want to do this action again and again.
Where things get a little sticky is when your new habit (say waking up earlier or exercising) doesn’t exactly spark the same kind of immediate reward as our naughty habits.
But we have ways to work around that whole instant gratification thing.
1. Size matters.
It’s true what they say: the bigger they are the harder they fall. In this case, I’m talking about new, life-changing habits. The bigger the habit, the more challenging it will be to adopt permanently.
It’s why the vast majority of people can’t go from a sedentary lifestyle to working out 90 minutes every day just like that.
That’s way too hard!
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your chiseled abs, my dear.
That’s why the experts recommend taking big goals and breaking them down into achievable parts.
Let’s say you want to start eating healthier.
If you eat at McDonald’s twice per week and buy most of your groceries from the center aisles, you’re not going to replace those things with whole foods overnight and become some instant meal prepping whiz.
Just because you can’t do all of that now, doesn’t mean you won’t ever be able to!
Start by eating a banana (or whatever piece of fruit you prefer) in the morning. Something small, easy, that you actually enjoy. As you become accustomed to starting your day with a healthy piece of fruit, you’ll add in something else.
If eating healthy, whole foods is the top of the mountain, you need to figure out each step that will help you get there, which brings me to #2.
2. James Clear’s 1% rule
The 1% rule boils down to the compounding effect of improving yourself by 1% each day. If every day, you commit to being 1% better at goal you’re trying to achieve, by the end of the year you’ll be 37% better than you were when you started.
One percent is easy.
One percent is manageable.
That’s why it’s so damn effective!
Don’t overwhelm yourself by the enormity of the goal. Instead, focus on how you can improve by just 1% today.
Let’s say you want to get in shape by starting a morning workout routine.
Start with two push ups every morning before you get in the shower. Easy! Depending on your fitness level, you can add another push up every day or every other day.
The point is that your pre-shower push-up routine is going to lay the foundation for starting a morning exercise routine that gets you to your goals.
3. Make a concrete plan.
If you’ve got big goals, you need to break them down into the tiny habits that will get you there.
Big goals take time. It’s important to have a clear road map for how you will spend that time getting there.
Let’s say you want to lose 30 pounds.
You figure, that’s going to require eating three healthy meals per day and exercising at least thirty minutes every day. The next step is to break those goals down into manageable chunks.
Start by exercising for five minutes every day and committing to one healthy snack per day. As that becomes seamless, move on to ten minutes and a healthy breakfast.
Just be mindful of your pace. If you go too fast, you can burn out and give up.
Slow and steady wins the race, my friends!
4. Hold yourself accountable.
James Clear has a great piece of advice on this point: never miss twice.
Mistakes happen to everyone. You might oversleep one day and miss your morning workout. Maybe you think to yourself, “It’s only five minutes of working out anyway. It’s not a big deal.”
Oh, but it is!
It’s not about the length of time, it’s about the behavior itself. You’re building a habit. That requires commitment on your part. So if you a miss a day, get back on track immediately.
The ability to get back on track is what separates those who succeed and those who fail.
Maybe that feels like a lot of pressure, but that’s why we start small and easy.
It eliminates the excuse you have that something’s too hard.
These tiny, daily habits will start to add up.
Eventually, you will become the person who has to get a workout in before you officially start the day. Or someone who enjoys waking up at 5 AM to work on their side business.
Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare?
We love to glorify the hares of this world – the people who drop 15 pounds in a month and post 90-day mega transformation pics on social media.
But there is a reason a lot of those same people can’t sustain their new lifestyle long term.
Who is more likely to stick with a 90 minute fitness routine five days per week: the person who joined a program and white knuckled their way through it for a month or the person who spent a year working their way up to it?
It’s the latter, of course!
Because they’ve integrated the habit into their lives without exhausting their motivation limits.
It’s the same reason a lot of fad/crash diets don’t work (although there’s a bit more science regarding metabolism and set points to figure in as well).
If your goal is to create long-lasting habits, be a tortoise, not a hare.
Easy does it!