How Do I Develop Better Habits?

When it comes to habits, I’ll bet 99% of the population would like more good ones and less bad.

I’d also wager that a good proportion of that 99% would also love it to happen magically.

Sadly, it doesn’t work like that.

You’ve got to put the work in and good habits are essential if you are to achieve your goals and be a success.

Relying solely on motivation and willpower will not get you over the good habit finish line.

For that you need a helping hand and a few tools……….

Your Habit Building Toolkit

Toolkit to help you Build Better Habits

Start Small

This doesn’t mean you should start with small habits. Choose a big habit you’d like to develop but tackle it in small steps and break it down.

If the first steps are easy and achievable you’ve got a much better chance of building lasting habit that could change your life in a positive way.

Maybe you want to read 40 books each year. Then start with reading 1 page a night and build on it.

The Two-Minute Rule

An article in the Washington Post by Jena McGregor refers to the two-minute rule which creates a type of gateway to the new habit you’re trying to develop. The simple 2 minute habit opens the door to point you in the right direction.

One example could be putting out your yoga mat each day if the habit you want to build is practicing yoga 5 days a week. Once you see it’s there you might as well do it!

Lay Out Your Kit (and plan the night before)

The idea behind this hack is that you’re removing obstacles in advance in order to smooth your route to the habit you want to develop. Similar to the two-minute rule, by laying out your gym clothes the night before, you take away the decision to exercise…. to a large degree, anyway. By leaving your journal on your desk you’re more likely to journal first thing in the morning as it sits there to greet you first thing.

This approach can be extended to how you tackle the work day. You prioritise your tasks for the following day the night before. Maybe allocate the first 2 hours of the day to completing that task before moving on down the list. By deciding the night before you save the mental energy in decision making and use it instead for actioning the task in hand.

Temptation Bundling

When you pair something you should do (your new habit) with something you enjoy doing, you’re more likely to be able to continue the new habit long term. For example, I love listening to audiobooks and podcasts but I need a push to go to the gym. By bundling these together I now look forward to my gym sessions because I associate them with the podcast time. Win – Win.

Habit Stacking

BJ Fogg, a Behavioral Scientist from Stanford University, first came up with the term ‘Habit Stacking’ to describe the process of attaching one good habit to another. They become so connected that you’d rarely do one without the other. One example could be meditation each day after you have your morning coffee.

I realised I’d actually managed to stack habits before I came across the term. Each morning I make a hydration drink, then do my gratitude journal and read the day’s lesson from ‘The Daily Stoic’. After that I’ll do a 20 minute ROMWOD yoga routine. These activities are now almost daily rituals and I’ll rarely do 1 without the others.

Commit to a Challenge

This is a popular way to ensure you do something you know is good for you. Here you take the decision making away from you and do what you’re told to do. The perfect example of this is the personal trainer at a gym. You turn up and follow his instruction. Simple!

Participation challenges such as Whole30 for healthy eating are increasing in popularity because you follow the program step by step. ‘Do this and you’ll get this result’. No need to think, ‘Just do it!’. Sound familiar?

The Chain Method

I first came across this in ‘The Daily Stoic’. Comedian Jerry Seinfield gave a young comic named Brad Isaac some advice about creating material.

The advice was to put a cross in his calendar each day he wrote jokes. The target is then simply to not break the chain. Success then becomes a matter of keeping the momentum.

This is taken a step further by ‘Ultraworking’ with their simple but very effective ‘Lights Spreadsheet’.

When you click on their link it creates a spreadsheet in your Google Drive. You then input the habits you want to develop down the first column and the days of the week are mapped across the top row.

You record whether you did the intended habits each day and the spreadsheet displays these in colour code  (green – red – yellow) depending on your input (Yes – No – Half). The visual incentive of maintaining as much green as possible becomes a strong motivator.

Feel free to make a copy of my ‘Daily Habits’ sheet from my ‘2020 Goals’ Google sheet. It’ll give you a similar picture where you can visibly track the habits you want to develop.  

Review your Circle of Influence

Jim Rohn first coined the phrase ‘we’re the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with’. As humans we want to fit in and we naturally copy and reflect the people we are most exposed to. It therefore follows that if you want to develop better habits and level up, then find better friends.

Once you improve the quality of this circle of influence it also serves to keep your standards from dropping due to the positive peer pressure it generates.

Note that this advice should also be extended to the information you expose yourself to. Listening to podcasts or reading material from potential role models and those who you aspire to be like will rub off on you over time, I guarantee. 

Make Cues for Good Habits Visible

I’m a big fan of the phrase ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and it’s a philosophy that works well in relation to habits, good and bad.

You make the cues for good habits more obvious and the ones for bad habits less visible.

Let’s take the bad first. If you want to break your habit of constantly checking social media on your phone, leave it in another room for a few hours at a time (Maybe build up the time in 30 minute blocks to avoid going ‘cold turkey’!).

Now for the good. Let’s say you want to read more and feel audio books could be your thing. Rearrange your apps on your phone so that the Home page only shows the phone, messaging and reading apps. Your distracting social media apps can then be stored in a folder, preferably on page 2 or 3. Out of sight then less often in your mind.

Forgive Yourself and Reward Yourself

If you fail, forgive yourself. You’re only human. Pick yourself up and start again. Remember you only truly fail in something if you give up completely.

Also you don’t have to commit to the habit each day. Personally I reward myself for good behavior through the week with a little blow out at the weekend. Nothing crazy to undo the good work but an incentive to get me through.

It works for me, so maybe it could work for you…

Here’s to your success……….!

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