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It Is Not About How Fast You Can Build A Habit, It Is What You Build That Matters

It Is Not About How Fast You Can Build A Habit, It Is What You Build That Matters

It seems like many of us are obsessed with figuring out how long it takes to turn over a new leaf these days. There’s a popular myth that 21 days is the magic time frame for forming a new habit.[1]

The now-busted 21-day myth is a commonly misinterpreted finding by Dr. Maxwell Maltz.[2] When he conducted rhinoplasty on his patients, he noticed that it took them a minimum of 21 days to get used to looking at their new faces. He also noted that it took him about three weeks to adopt a new habit.[3]

People took the idea of being able to establish a new habit in 21 days and ran with it, but endless perpetuation of an idea on the internet and in pop culture doesn’t make it true. A 2010 study by UCL found that there was a lot more variation in how long it took participants to form a habit, but habit-formation takes about 66 days on average.[4]

Now we know what the research says. Our success in setting up new routines and habits starts with laying the proper groundwork. What if I told you that building a new habit can happen in as little as 3 days?

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Unlike trying to learn a new skill, new habits form through determination. Skill building depends on our aptitude and experience. If we have an efficient learning framework, then we’ll master new things quickly, but if we don’t, it can take a long time.

For example, people trying to learn new languages do so at different rates. A five-year old will pick up a new language faster than an 85-year old because young brains are primed for language acquisition. Imagine that the person is trying to learn Spanish, but they grew up reading Latin. Since Latin is the basis for all Romance languages, a person who knows Latin is going to learn Spanish much more quickly than someone with no experience with the language.

Forming a new habit has very little to do with all this baggage that we consider when we’re acquiring new skills. Making something a habit comes down to how badly we want it. You already have the end-result in your mind when you set up new patterns and routines. All you need to do is create an environment to support yourself and commit to executing that vision.

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You don’t have to learn a new skill to quit smoking. You start by committing to quitting. Then, you change your environment. You throw out all the cigarettes hiding in your house and car, and you stop putting yourself in situations where you’ll be enticed by others’ smoking habits.

Going to the gym is the same. Anyone can start working out. You don’t have to be “good at it” or an expert on all the equipment, but you do have to show up to form the habit. You have to create a situation in which going to the gym is preferable to what you used to do.

Try not to do too much at a time

You may be looking at yourself right now and thinking, “I need to go to the gym five days per week, quit smoking, stop eating junk food, and get organized.” Striving for self-improvement is wonderful, but if you try to do all of those things at once, you are bound to fail.

Habit building requires a lot of determination. For each bad habit that you replace with a good habit, you will face challenges. It is best to start small so that you won’t become to exhausted or discouraged. Yes, you’ll have to work hard, but you can also “work smart.”

Some good habits provide the groundwork for you to adopt other habits. This can lead you to be able to make changes more quickly than the 66 days it takes the average person to make a shift. You’ll be able to change your behavior more quickly if you start with these foundational habits and scaffold your approach to taking on bigger challenges.

Start doing these 7 things to make it easier to form good habits

1. Institute “No Social Media Day”

Social media is an incredible tool, but it can also be a real time-sink. The average person is now spending up to two hours per day on social media.[5] Most of us don’t realize we’re losing so much time. Think of what you could do with an extra 60 hours per month.

Not only does the mindless scrolling soak up valuable hours of our time, but it can also lead to addictive behaviors. When we check our phones or social media accounts, responses and reactions to our posts can trigger a release of dopamine. That’s why so many people can’t step away from their phone or computer–they are hooked.

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Fear of missing out (FOMO) can also add unnecessary stress to our lives. We feel like if we don’t have our finger on the pulse of the rest of the world at all times, we’ll be left behind. It simply isn’t true.

If you know you’re losing time or getting stressed because of a FOMO, try to unplug for at least one day per week. This can help you to re-center and adjust your focus toward the important things in life.

2. Make speed reading part of your day

Speed reading enables you to consume more written material in less time. You’ll have the opportunity to gain knowledge, which is essential in this fast-paced world. Speed reading can help you pick up main ideas more quickly than the average reader.

A speed reader can read about 1,500 words per minute, while the average adult can only read about 300 words per minute.[6] A speed reader can read in 50 minutes what takes the average adult 5.5 hours.

Reading faster trains you to use structural and organizational cues to find the information you need quickly. It allows you to weed through superfluous material to get to the heart of what you need to know.

3. Write down 10 random thoughts per day

You have more amazing ideas than you realize, but if you don’t have a system for taking note of these things, they can fly out of your head as quickly as you come up with them.

Write down at least ten of these thoughts every day. This action gives you more space to think about other things, and you can give yourself time to revisit these ideas later. You may not be able to find a connection between that random thought you had in the shower and your work, but if you write it down, it may provide new insight for you later.

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Connecting random thoughts and building from these kernels of ideas can lead you to be more productive and creative.

4. Listen to a new album at least once a week

It’s easy to play the same playlist over and over. There’s nothing wrong with liking a certain playlist, but branching out is good for you. By expanding your horizons, you can find new things that you like. You are also subconsciously training your brain to accept new things when you allow an unfamiliar song to play.

Compared to some of the other habits you might be trying to form, this one is as simple as switching to a new radio station. If you don’t like what you hear, you just move on to the next song.

5. Go for a 30-minute walk every day

It’s way too easy to be sedentary. After a long day at work, it might be tempting to forgo exercise for time in front of the TV.

Going for a nice stroll can be a refreshing experience. Walking improves your circulation, and we do need around 10 minutes of sun exposure (without sunscreen) to get enough Vitamin D.[7] If you plan to apply sunscreen, have a darker complexion, or cover up, thirty minutes is a reasonable amount of time to be out.

You may not have the time or energy to spend several hours every day at the gym, but walking around the park during your lunch break or taking a stroll through the neighborhood can work wonders for your health. If your work day involves sitting at a desk for most of the time, then incorporating movement into your routine is even more important. The effects of sitting all day can be as detrimental to your health as smoking.[8]

6. Wake up an hour early and stretch

For some of us, waking up early can seem like torture, but this is only because we are in the habit of sleeping in. Waking up early boosts your productivity, and it can start your day off on the right foot. Instead of panicking as you wolf down a bagel and run out the door, you can relax, eat a decent breakfast, and center yourself for the day.

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The morning is a great time to get things done because there are fewer distractions. Michelle Obama and Apple CEO, Tim Cook, are just a few among the star-studded cast of early-risers.[9] Successful people use the morning hours to spend time preparing for their day by catching up on reading, exercising, or spending time with other early-risers in their families.

Nothing can cut into productivity like pain, and stretching first thing in the morning can prevent muscle soreness.[10] It also improves your posture and circulation, which can leave you feeling more alert and energized throughout the day.

If the idea of waking up an hour early sounds grueling, remember that you can break this down into smaller steps. Instead of getting up an hour early, try getting up 15 minutes earlier than usual. You can always set your wake-up time back by another 15 or 30-minute increment when you have acclimated.

7. Meditate for 10 minutes every day

With society’s rapid-fire pace and unrealistic expectations, it seems like we are constantly under pressure to do more things, and to do them better and faster than ever before. It’s nearly impossible to be the perfect employee, spouse, parent, or friend by today’s standards.

Sometimes, we just need to have a few minutes to ourselves. Taking 5 to 10 minutes to sit, ground ourselves in the present moment, and relax can make all the difference in how we approach our day. Meditation can settle our thoughts and remind us of what is most important.

Meditation is also one of the few activities that research has consistently said is beneficial for us.[11] It relieves stress, which can cause a myriad of other serious health problems. If you dedicate yourself to a regular mediation practice, the habit will actually improve your brain health.[12]

Small changes lead to great gains

There’s no doubt that adopting good habits can help you live a longer, happier, healthier, and more fulfilling life. Don’t be afraid to start small and build a foundation on which larger changes can rest. Remember why you want to make a change, and never stop striving to be the greatest version of yourself.

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on September 22, 2020

How to Wake Up Early: 6 Things Early Risers Do

How to Wake Up Early: 6 Things Early Risers Do

You have probably heard the success stories about people who wake up early. Apple CEO Tim Cook, Oprah Winfrey, and Olympic medalist Caroline Burckle all talk about the positive impact of waking up early on their lives.

Even though many assign a portion of their success to waking up early, many find it difficult to make the switch. While most people know what needs to happen to change their life, they find then difficult to implement consistently. To understand how to wake up early, you need to tap into the wisdom of those already doing it.

Here are the 6 things early risers do:

1. Stop Procrastinating

The first thing you need to do when you want to learn how to wake up early is to go to sleep earlier. Stop procrastinating. You will find it much easier to wake up when you are getting the proper amount of sleep. Set a bedtime that allows you to get 8-hours of sleep and hold yourself accountable.

The problem most of you will have at first is how tired you will feel. If you are someone who goes to sleep after midnight, waking up by 6 a.m. will not be easy. The reason you need to push through that initial difficulty is that you are going to be very tired at the end of the day. Realistically, you probably would fall asleep at your desk or doze off on your lunch break. Either way, waking up early no matter how you feel will motivate you to go sleep at the proper time that night.

Think of it as someone who procrastinated until the night before their project was due. Having done this myself, you do what you need to do to complete the project, whether that means working all night or cutting some corners because you don’t have time to triple-check your work.

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After you turn in your project, you feel both exhaustion and jubilation. After you make it through the workday and crash at home, you promise yourself you’ll never wait until the last minute again. This same feeling will happen when you force yourself to wake up early no matter what time you went to sleep. You are going to promise yourself you will go to bed at the right time.

Most people don’t go to bed when they should because they know they will ultimately make it up in the morning.

2. Pace Yourself

If you want to start waking up a couple of hours earlier each day, you may not be able to make that change all at once. It stands to reason the more drastic the shift, the more difficult it will be.

So, instead of trying to adjust your sleep pattern by several hours, start in 15-minute or 30-minute intervals.[1] If you wake up 30 minutes earlier each week, you will be a morning person by the end of the month. This may feel like you are drawing out your goal but in reality, you are accomplishing it much quicker than most. Most people who are naturally night owls find it difficult to completely change their sleep habits overnight.

Think of it as someone who is trying to quit drinking coffee. Outside of the fact you may enjoy the taste of coffee, your body is used to operating with a certain amount of caffeine and sugar. Some will be able to quit overnight and their body will adjust accordingly. And if you are one of those people, then do what works for you.

However, if you were to take an incremental approach, then you may first start drinking your coffee black. Then, you could switch to decaf before slowly lowering the amount of coffee you drink each day. As you can see, this approach will help minimize the feeling of withdrawal while getting the results you want.

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3. Watch Your Lighting

Light reduces your body’s production of the sleep-inducing melatonin hormone. In practical terms, your body naturally wants to be awake when the sun is up and go to sleep when the sun is down. This is called your circadian rhythm.

In the technology-driven world we currently live in, you likely look at a screen or two before bed. Studies show television and phone screens trick your body into thinking the sun is up. As a result, your body starts producing less melatonin. To help you fall asleep, you should stop looking at screens at least an hour before bed.

This can also mean that if you want to wake up before the sun, looking at your screen when you wake up can help you to stay awake.

Peter Balyta, the President of Education Technology for Texas Instruments says he wakes up at 5:20 a.m. and scans his emails before starting his day. This is also true for M.I.T. president L. Rafael Rief. He wakes up around 5 or 5:30 a.m. and checks his phone for anything urgent.[2]

4. Make It Worth Your Time

Have you ever woken up early but went back to sleep because you didn’t have a reason to stay up? To put it another way, have you ever fallen asleep because you didn’t have anything better to do?

If you want to be excited about going to sleep and waking up early, then you need to give yourself a reason to be excited. You can accomplish this by listing the three things you want to accomplish the next morning. Notice I said “want” and not “need” to accomplish. You don’t want to be dragging yourself into the next morning kicking and screaming.

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Your list should not only include what you want to accomplish but also why you want to accomplish it. If you want to take it a step further, list the consequences of not waking up early.

People who have figured out how to wake up early are shown to be more successful, persistent, and proactive in their life. They tend to be happier and handle stress better. It is also shown that people who wake up early procrastinate less.[3] If you find any of these benefits something you want to add in your life, then waking up early is shown to help.

5. Avoid Binging

There is a difference between sleeping and getting a good night’s sleep. Sure, you can drink alcohol and fall asleep, but you will not be getting quality rest. You will wake up feeling as though you slept for only a couple hours.

It is best to stop drinking at least 4 hours before bedtime. Binge drinking is known to impact your sleep-inducing melatonin hormone levels for up to a week. The same holds true with eating a large meal right before bed. It is not that your body can’t process food and sleep at the same time. The main concern has more to do with the possibility of indigestion or heartburn than anything else.

If you find yourself dealing with either of these symptoms, then you may want to stop eating at least two hours before bed.

6. Get the Blood Flowing

Those who have mastered the technique of how to wake up early tend to start each morning with movement.

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Your first movement is to get out of bed. To help you get out of bed, have your alarm far enough away that you need to get up and turn it off. Before you allow yourself to contemplate going back to sleep, take a moment, and do 10 push-ups or 10 jumping jacks. Think of each exercise as you taking one step further from being able to go back to sleep.

Mellody Hobson, President of Ariel Investments wakes up at 4 a.m. each morning. She starts each day by exercising. Her exercises include running, weight lifting, swimming, and cycling.

You decide for yourself how you want to get your blood flowing. Whether you want to go on a walk, workout at the gym, or do something at home, make sure you are scheduling time to exercise.

Final Thoughts

The key to understanding how to wake up early is to recognize that it is heavily driven by the actions you take the night before. You will wake up early if you go to bed at a good time and get the proper amount of sleep.

By taking the time to prepare yourself both mentally and physically each night, you can ensure you are positioned for success the next morning. Once you have taken the proper actions the night before, make sure you use that momentum to start your day, on time.

The goal is to make the actions you want to take as easy as possible. The key to changing your life is to discover a way to have the wind at your back, going in the direction you want.

More Tips on How to Wake up Early

Featured photo credit: Laura Chouette via unsplash.com

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