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Last Updated on February 5, 2021

7 Tips for Building New Habits

7 Tips for Building New Habits
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Building new habits is one of the most challenging and most rewarding processes we’ll experience in our lives. The tips below are specifically about starting new (and hopefully healthy) habits, but you can also adapt them to support you in breaking existing unhealthy habits.

1. Find your motivation

Habits are far more likely to succeed if they are based on intrinsic motivation, rather than extrinsic motivation. Entire books have been written about this complex topic so, in a nutshell, the difference between the two is that intrinsic motivation is internal, while extrinsic motivation is external. For example, perhaps you want to create a new exercise habit. An intrinsic motivation for doing this might be wanting to be healthy (an internal motivation that just concerns yourself). An extrinsic motivation might be wanting to lose weight so that other people will perceive you as more attractive (an external motivation that is based on the perceptions and judgments of others).

To give yourself the best chance of creating a sustainable habit, take a good, long look at your motives before you even start working on this new activity. You might find that your motivation is intrinsic to begin with (great!), that you need to shift your thinking slightly, or notice that this particular habit is something you’re doing for someone else, rather than for yourself.

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Even if you realise that you’re engaging in this particular habit for someone else, that doesn’t mean you have to ditch the habit entirely, it just means that you need to think more about whether you have a personal, intrinsic motivation you can use to sustain the habit in the long term.

2. Start small

The easiest way to sabotage a new habit is by taking the ‘all or nothing’ approach and going from 0 to 100 in the first few days. Starting small and increasing the frequency and intensity of the habit will make it far easier to sustain in the long-term than leaping right in. This is especially the case if you are starting something like a new exercise habit, where throwing yourself into a rigorous training regime before your body and mind are ready could result in injury and set you back more than it helps you.

Setting the bar low also reduces the likelihood that you’ll get discouraged and drop your habit because it’s ‘too challenging’ or because you’re not making the progress you’d hoped you would. Which leads onto the next tip…

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3. Be compassionate, not critical

If you only pay attention to one tip in the entire post, this is it: Internal criticism is the kryptonite of building new habits and you’ll find it much easier to create a sustainable habit if you’re on your own side. That doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of the inner critic (in my experience, that’s not a realistic goal), but being mindful of it.

When we’re mindful of our inner critics, we hear what they say but we’re not controlled by what they say. Maintaining this distance can take some practise (and you might find yourself with ample opportunity to do just that while building your new habit!). At the same time as maintaining distance from your inner critic, take the opportunity to strengthen your internal ‘nurturing’ voice—the voice that tells you your best is enough and supports and encourages you on your journey.

4. Enlist support

Feel free to ask trusted friends and family for any help and support they can give you while you’re building your new habit. External support is especially helpful when you’re building habits that require lifestyle changes, such as changing your diet or your exercise habits. If you are around other people who have a similar lifestyle to you, asking them to support you in making your lifestyle habit changes by, for example, not bringing sugary foods into the house, will make it easier for you to maintain a new habit.

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5. Be accountable

Declaring your new habit to others is a great way of getting support from people around you, and it’s a great way of adding a healthy dose of accountability to your situation too. Being accountable might involve enlisting the help of a dedicated accountability buddy that you check in with on a regular basis, or going public with your new habit to your wider circles of friends.

6. Set a regular schedule

Making your new habit a regular part of your daily or weekly routine from the very beginning will give you a much greater chance of sustaining it over a longer period of time. Dedicating a specific block of time to your habit on the same day and hour each week will make it easier to integrate that habit into your life than just waiting until you feel like doing it.

In addition, some habits are easier to implement first thing in the morning, particularly activities like exercise, meditation or keeping a journal. Setting aside time for a new habit first thing in the morning not only makes it easier to remember but it also gives you the satisfaction of moving on with your day, knowing that that particular activity is ticked off your to-do list.

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7. Have a goal in mind

Having a specific goal to work towards can help maintain your new habit and give you a challenge to work towards. If you choose to create a habit-related goal, make sure it is SMART: specific, measurable, appealing, realistic and time-based. For example, ‘start running more’ is a goal, but it’s hard to know when you’ve achieved it and what ‘more’ looks like in practical terms. Instead, setting a goal like “Run that charity 10K in September” is a SMART goal and therefore easier to work towards. It’s specific, measurable, hopefully appealing and realistic, and it’s time-based.

Featured photo credit: Debby Hudson via unsplash.com

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Hannah Braime

Hannah is a coach who believes the world is a richer place when we have the courage to be fully self-expressed.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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