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18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick

18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick

Wouldn’t it be nice to have everything run on autopilot? Chores, exercise, eating healthy and getting your work done just happening automatically. Unless they manage to invent robot servants, all your work isn’t going to disappear overnight. But if you program behaviors as new habits you can take out the struggle.

With a small amount of initial discipline, you can create a new habit that requires little effort to maintain. Here are some tips for creating new habits and making them stick:

1. Commit to Thirty Days – Three to four weeks is all the time you need to make a habit automatic. If you can make it through the initial conditioning phase, it becomes much easier to sustain. A month is a good block of time to commit to a change since it easily fits in your calendar.

2. Make it Daily – Consistency is critical if you want to make a habit stick. If you want to start exercising, go to the gym every day for your first thirty days. Going a couple times a week will make it harder to form the habit. Activities you do once every few days are trickier to lock in as habits.

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3. Start Simple – Don’t try to completely change your life in one day. It is easy to get over-motivated and take on too much. If you wanted to study two hours a day, first make the habit to go for thirty minutes and build on that.

4. Remind Yourself – Around two weeks into your commitment it can be easy to forget. Place reminders to execute your habit each day or you might miss a few days. If you miss time it defeats the purpose of setting a habit to begin with.

5. Stay Consistent – The more consistent your habit the easier it will be to stick. If you want to start exercising, try going at the same time, to the same place for your thirty days. When cues like time of day, place and circumstances are the same in each case it is easier to stick.

6. Get a Buddy – Find someone who will go along with you and keep you motivated if you feel like quitting.

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7. Form a Trigger – A trigger is a ritual you use right before executing your habit. If you wanted to wake up earlier, this could mean waking up in exactly the same way each morning. If you wanted to quit smoking you could practice snapping your fingers each time you felt the urge to pick up a cigarette.

8. Replace Lost Needs – If you are giving up something in your habit, make sure you are adequately replacing any needs you’ve lost. If watching television gave you a way to relax, you could take up meditation or reading as a way to replace that same need.

9. Be Imperfect – Don’t expect all your attempts to change habits to be successful immediately. It took me four independent tries before I started exercising regularly. Now I love it. Try your best, but expect a few bumps along the way.

10. Use “But” – A prominent habit changing therapist once told me this great technique for changing bad thought patterns. When you start to think negative thoughts, use the word “but” to interrupt it. “I’m no good at this, but, if I work at it I might get better later.”

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11. Remove Temptation – Restructure your environment so it won’t tempt you in the first thirty days. Remove junk food from your house, cancel your cable subscription, throw out the cigarettes so you won’t need to struggle with willpower later.

12. Associate With Role Models – Spend more time with people who model the habits you want to mirror. A recent study found that having an obese friend indicated you were more likely to become fat. You become what you spend time around.

13. Run it as an Experiment – Withhold judgment until after a month has past and use it as an experiment in behavior. Experiments can’t fail, they just have different results so it will give you a different perspective on changing your habit.

14. Swish – A technique from NLP. Visualize yourself performing the bad habit. Next visualize yourself pushing aside the bad habit and performing an alternative. Finally, end that sequence with an image of yourself in a highly positive state. See yourself picking up the cigarette, see yourself putting it down and snapping your fingers, finally visualize yourself running and breathing free. Do it a few times until you automatically go through the pattern before executing the old habit.

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15. Write it Down – A piece of paper with a resolution on it isn’t that important. Writing that resolution is. Writing makes your ideas more clear and focuses you on your end result.

16. Know the Benefits – Familiarize yourself with the benefits of making a change. Get books that show the benefits of regular exercise. Notice any changes in energy levels after you take on a new diet. Imagine getting better grades after improving your study habits.

17. Know the Pain – You should also be aware of the consequences. Exposing yourself to realistic information about the downsides of not making a change will give you added motivation.

18. Do it For Yourself – Don’t worry about all the things you “should” have as habits. Instead tool your habits towards your goals and the things that motivate you. Weak guilt and empty resolutions aren’t enough.

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Scott H Young

Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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Last Updated on September 18, 2019

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

What to Write Down

Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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Dates of Events

Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

Names of People

Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

Theories or Frameworks

Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

Definitions

Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

Arguments and Debates

Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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Images

Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

Other Stuff

Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

Your Own Questions

Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

1. Outlining

Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

2. Mind-Mapping

For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

Here’s the idea:

In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

3. The Cornell System

The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

The Bottom Line

I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

More About Note-Taking

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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