Not long ago, my daily life was in really terrible shape—I was sleeping anywhere between 3 am to 6 am on average, and on really bad days, I wouldn’t sleep at all. Because I slept late, I would wake up late. Subsequently, my day would start off late, which meant I was busy “playing catch-up” and being late for my appointments.
My diet was horrendous; I was eating lots of junk food and snacks at night to stay awake. It worsened month after month, and I didn’t want to continue—I needed to revamp my lifestyle!
I picked out 9 habits I wanted to cultivate for the next 21 days, such as sleeping at/before midnight, waking up at 5 am, reading a book or listening to a podcast at least once a day, meditating, being timely for my appointments, and even eating a raw food diet!
Nearly all my habits have stuck—my life has become significantly organized. Some people might think this positive change is exclusive to me, that perhaps I have some incredible determination, persistence, or discipline to pull this off—it’s not.
What I do have, though, are these tips that have been critical in enabling my lifestyle change.
How to Stick to a Routine
If you have been trying to cultivate new habits with little success, you might find these very useful. These habits are not rocket science; they are easy to understand and apply and have worked tremendously for me.
1. Know the Real Reason Why Your Habit Didn’t Stick Previously
Address the root cause of the issue, not the effect.
Desperately battling with yourself every morning to wake up at 5:30 am is to address the effect. Understanding why you keep failing to wake up at 5:30 am is to address the cause.
Root Cause Analysis is an effective method for diagnosing and resolving problems. Determine what negative events are taking place and then, examine the complex systems that surround those issues to identify key points of failure. Finally, find solutions to those key points, or root causes.
For example, I couldn’t wake up early for the longest time ever, and all I kept doing was to keep trying and failing the next day. This continued for several months until I finally realized it was just going nowhere. I began analyzing my situation to understand why I couldn’t wake up early, through a self-questioning process.
I probed into the situation and asked myself “why” this was happening to drill down to the root cause.
Below is an example of the drilling process:
- Why can’t I wake up early Because I’m tired.
- Why am I tired? Because I didn’t have enough sleep.
- Why didn’t I have enough sleep? Because I slept late.
- Why did I sleep late? Because I had too many things to do.
- Why did I have so many things to do? Because I can’t finish them.
- Why can’t I finish them? Because I schedule more tasks than I can accomplish for the day.
Getting down to this root cause helped me realize two things:
- All our habits are tied to one another (sleeping time, waking time, timeliness).
- I underestimate the time taken to finish the tasks (and subsequently overestimate how fast I can do those tasks).
I often would target to finish multiple projects in one day, which wasn’t possible at all. This meant that in order to make my habit of waking up early stick, I needed to change habits that are related to waking up early (see Tip #2). I had to be more realistic in my planning.
Rather than stuff in so many tasks for a day and not finish them, I now go for a challenging yet achievable schedule and complete my tasks accordingly.
2. Pick Habits That Reinforce Each Other
Habits are not only the things we do but is also the way we think and believe. They include our self-beliefs, which influence what we do, how we behave, and what actions we take.
Our habits are not standalone; they are interlinked. Some habits have a stronger linkage with each other than others. For example, sleeping early and waking early are linked to each other, while sleeping early and reading a book a day might not be so closely related.
For example, my new habits of waking up early at 5 am, sleeping before midnight, being on time, meditating, and having a raw food diet are all interlinked.
- Waking up early means I have more time to do my tasks, which helps me to sleep earlier in the night. This helps me to wake up early the next day.
- Being on time helps me to get my tasks completed on time, which helps me adhere to the day’s schedule. This means my sleeping time and, subsequently, my waking time is unaffected.
- Meditating clears out mental clutter and reduces the amount of sleep I need. Usually, I sleep for about 6 to 10 hours, but on the nights I meditate, I require about 5 to 6 hours.
- Switching to a raw vegan diet has helped to increase my mental clarity, which means I don’t need to sleep as much as before.
I’m not saying that you need to go raw vegan just to cultivate a habit of sleeping/waking early, just that I noticed this particular benefit when I switched to this diet. You can sleep and wake up early perfectly fine by changing other habits.
3. Plan For Your Habits (Right Down to the Timing)
Having a schedule keeps you in control of your life. It will guarantee that you’ll reach your goals.
It also lets you know when you are on or off track with your habits. For the 1st day of my new lifestyle, I did a full-day planning and continued thereafter for all other days.
What I do is this:
- Put together a list of all the tasks: I put together a list of all the tasks I need to get done for the next day. This includes what’s on my calendar (I use Google Calendar).
- Batch them: I batch them into major projects, medium-sized tasks, and small administrative activities.
- Slot them into my schedule for the day: When slotting them into my schedule, major projects would have the most amount of time assigned. The principle I usually go by is 60-30-10 (% time spent) for major, medium-sized, and small groups, respectively.
- Be aware of how much time each task requires: Most of the time, we underestimate the time we need. Make it a realistic yet challenging time to work towards. Usually, I assign 5-10 minutes of buffer time in between tasks to account for the transition from 1 task to the next.
- Assign exact timings for when each task starts and ends: for example, 9 am to 10:30 am for Project A, 12:30-1:30 pm for lunch, and 6:30-7:30 pm for commute.
If there are more tasks to be done than my schedule allows, I’ll prioritize the important ones and postpone the unimportant ones.
It may seem like a hassle, but it isn’t. It just takes me about 10 minutes to get each day’s schedule done. Not surprisingly, I have allocated time in my daily schedule to do my scheduling for the next day (11-11:10 pm). All you have to do is create a template once, and then you can reapply this template for the other days.
There will be similar items across all our days that can be reapplied, such as waking, breakfast, commuting, working, dinner, and sleeping times, so it’s very straightforward.
If you don’t plan exactly when to get the habit done and instead just arbitrarily say that you want it to be done sometime today, then there’s a very high chance it might not get done—this is why most people’s habits don’t stick. Other things will invariably keep popping in, and you’d engage them without realizing it and throw your schedule off track. From there, other things get pushed back, and you never get to carry out your habit.
4. Stay Ahead of Your Schedule
I found it extremely motivating to stay ahead. According to research, momentum plays a huge role in our success. Sequential runs in our habits lead to high-performance levels, which means we also experience the momentums of success more frequently.
Waking up early at 5 am means I’m ahead of most people in the world (and myself too, if I were up to stick to my old schedule), which motivates me to work fast and stay ahead. What helps me continue this momentum is that I end my tasks earlier and start the next task before the scheduled time.
By ensuring I stay ahead of my schedule, I’m naturally motivated to work on everything I have planned, including my habits. There’s no resistance to getting them started at all.
If a task is taking more time than needed, try the following:
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This decision-making process is important. Otherwise, you will end up playing catch-up for the rest of the day, which affects all your planned habits/activities. Subsequently, it also affects your will to maintain your habits.
Stay ahead of your schedule, and you will find it easier to stay motivated.
5. Track Your Habits
Elite performers frequently quantify, track, and assess their growth in various ways. Each tiny measurement yields feedback. It provides a cue as to whether they are moving forward or need to adjust their strategy.
Tracking keeps you accountable for your habits. I have a whiteboard in my bedroom to track my habits. On the whiteboard, I drew a large table, split by days (21 days to cultivate a new habit) and by habits.
For the days when I do the habit I will give it a check, and for those I don’t I make a cross. It’s very satisfying to do the checks every time you finish a habit! You can also track your habits on paper or your computer.
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6. Engage People Around You
Engagement can occur on two levels:
- Active engagement – where you inform your friends who might be interested in and cultivate the habit together with them, or
- Passive engagement – where you let others know about your plans and have them morally support you.
I had both forms of support in my habit change. Two days before I started my lifestyle revamp program, I posted an article on my blog, “The Personal Excellence Blog,” on the new 21-day Lifestyle Revamp Program I was taking on. I wrote in detail about the rationale behind the program, the benefits, the habits I was taking on, and how I would achieve my goals.
I also invited them to join me in cultivating new habits. Much to my pleasant surprise, many readers enthusiastically responded about new habits they wanted to cultivate and joined me in the 21-days of change.
For my raw food diet, I told my mom that I would be eating just fruits and salads for the next 3 weeks. She began to stock up the house with fruits like bananas, grapes, and strawberries. In fact, I just finished a box of strawberries while typing this post.
Yesterday, I watched How To Train A Dragon with my friend, and I filled him in on my raw food diet. He kept a lookout for the restaurants we could dine in that night, and in the end, I had warm baby spinach salad for dinner. It was my first time having it, and I can’t say I like it, but it’s nice for a change.
Don’t feel you’re alone in your habit change because you aren’t. There are always people around you who are more than willing to support you.
My new habits have pretty much been integrated into my daily life now. Everything runs on auto-pilot and it feels like I’ve been doing this for a long while. My personal tips above have worked tremendously for me, so while they may look simple and straightforward, don’t underestimate them.
Try them out for yourself and let me know how your new habits are coming along for you.
Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com
|||^||Mindtools: Root Cause Analysis: Tracing a Problem to Its Origins|
|||^||Calendar: What are the Advantages of Scheduling?|
|||^||NIH: Psychological Momentum—A Key to Continued Success|
|||^||James Clear: The Ultimate Habit Tracker Guide: Why and How to Track Your Habits|