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Last Updated on February 5, 2021

7 Tips for Building New Habits

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7 Tips for Building New Habits

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

More by this author

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 October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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