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How to Build Good Habits

Aristotle once said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”

The question is – how do you develop good habits and make them stick?

The reason we often stop ourselves from changing is that we like to stay where we are. Call it inertia or what you may want, but you need to give yourself a push to get things started.

To be successful, do more in life and have a sense of fulfillment, you need good habits. And it doesn’t come easy.

You may hear some people say that doing something for 21 days will make it a habit. In all honesty, this does not work. To build good habits, you need motivation, a good plan and a thought out approach to follow it.

Here are the five tips that will work for you.

1. Planning

Benjamin Franklin had a very innovative plan to overcome his bad habits and build new good habits.

He listed 13 virtues which he felt were very useful in his life. He stated that working on each of them in a 13 week period, one virtue per week, can deliver some great results.

If he felt that he had got over his bad habit, he proceeded on the next one; if not, he repeated the cycle again.

While spontaneity is the essence of an adventurous spirit, it doesn’t apply when you are embarking on adapting to a new habit. You need a properly planned approach for the practice to become a habit. Here is the approach that can work for you.

  1. Set yourself a “goal” that you want to achieve someday. Keep in mind that your goal should be specific, realistic, achievable and time-bound.
  2. Identify the habits that will help you in realizing your goals and that are in-sync with your already existing habits.
  3. Try to select a habit that suits your already established day-to-day life, so that it’s easier to adapt.
  4. Find your motivation to complete the goal. Motivation is what should get you started, and habits are what should keep you going.

2. Micro Quotas and Major Goals

Everyone has heard the motto “slow and steady wins the race”. Setting goals that you can stick to and introducing them in your everyday life will not result in any sudden or drastic changes in your life. It will definitely reap benefits over time.

Creating the right intrinsic motivators is important. You don’t want to do something because you are being punished or rewarded for it. Instead, you want to do it because you want it yourself.

Imagine that you have decided to lose weight and made a decision to run 5 miles every day in the morning. Now, imagine that you made the decision solely under the pressure of your loved ones. The plan has failed even before starting.

Set goals and quotas to guide you. Here is how it can work.

  • Goals are the ultimate achievement you want to accomplish, like topping the class.
  • Quotas are the small steps you have to take each day to realize that goal, like doing your homework regularly.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you make unrealistic goals and are unable to achieve them, it leaves you disheartened and have a negative impact.

3. Be Positive

Ask how you can do something rather than say it cannot be done. You need positive thoughts to help you build on your skills and do more.

Having positive thoughts does not only result in moments of happiness but they enhance our capability to develop good habits and acquire skill sets which will help later in life. Focus only on the present and try not to dwell in the past.

Often, the things that you end up worrying about for days may not even happen at all. Even if they do, you probably cannot do anything about it – so why bother to ruin the present? We all are going to die, but that doesn’t mean you should ruin your life for it. Minimize your worries and let go of the negative emotions.

4. Eliminate Excessive Options

Have you ever wondered why Barack Obama prefers to wear only black and blue suits and not any other colour? There’s a good reason behind it.

Identify those aspects of your life which are mundane and are not resulting in any satisfaction. It has been observed in a 1990s study by Roy Baumeister, who was a professor at Florida State University, that making repeated choices can stop you from making smart decisions, even if the choices that you make aren’t that taxing by themselves.

5. Find healthy ways to reward yourself

Remember those days when mom used to give you a candy to complete your homework? Of course, you do. Didn’t the thought of getting an extra candy gave us the strength to even face demons of maths problems? What if we apply the same principle when building good habits?

Bad habits are developed initially because they make us feel good, even its for a short period of time. We cling to that feeling of happiness thinking it soothes us when we are going through a stressful or frustrating time or just plain out of sorts.

For example, you have decided to start on a health regime, but it’s just not your day today, so you overeat to compensate for the day’s problems, which will result in you feeling sad next day. The same goes for smoking or drinking too much.

You feel relaxed and at peace, when realization dawns you vow to stop doing the act soon. But the vow slips off your mind when the next bad day comes around. Break this continuous cycle; reward yourself when you achieve even small victories over your bad habits. Treat yourself to what you like. It could be anything from a new book to a movie, to perhaps even your favourite game.

Invest in having the mental energy you need to commit to new habits. Positive habits aren’t formed overnight, but are a gradual change. It’s a change that will help you relive your life, and forget the past for a better present and future.

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