How many times have you set out to form a new habit only to crash and burn?
With the best of intentions, you’re excited and motivated to make some serious change. You confirmed your new behavior with your diary, calendar and maybe even a loved one.
You’re committed, and the transformation starts first thing tomorrow morning.
….except tomorrow morning comes and goes. And so does the next morning, and the next, until you abandon the idea altogether.
Good-bye morning yoga practice, healthy food choices and evening family time! And hello self-defeating thoughts of, “why can’t I do this?”
Changing behaviors can feel like one of life’s great mysteries.
But why does it look so easy for some people to develop new habits — like jumping out of bed at 5 am — while you hit snooze five times every morning?
Well…because change is really, really hard and you can’t expect it to happen overnight. Those people you admire, or are slightly envious of, have worked hard to develop and stick to their good habits.
Your brain is pre-wired and requires serious retraining to incorporate new behaviors into your daily routine.
According to Psychology Today…
Habit formation is the process by which new behaviors become automatic. If you instinctively reach for a cigarette the moment you wake up in the morning, you have a habit. By the same token, if you feel inclined to lace up your running shoes and hit the streets as soon as you get home, you’ve acquired a habit. Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form. That’s because the behavioral patterns we repeat most often are literally etched into our neural pathways. The good news is that, through repetition, it’s possible to form—and maintain—new habits.
So how can you form new habits?
Develop A Routine
Like the good scientist at Psychology Today suggest forming good habits — or bad habits — is accomplished by repeating them.
And the best way to ensure you practice something daily is to develop a routine.
While our routine helps us develop good habits that are in line with exploiting our full potential, it also helps to eradicate bad habits that do not serve us well. We can slowly replace our bad habits with good ones through repetition.
One theme I have encountered through my experience as a professional development coach — and something that I have refined over the years — is the importance of a morning routine.
A morning routine also happens to be the one things that all successful people have in common.
Whether it’s guzzling a large glass of lemon water, doing yoga, sitting in silent meditation, or cold water plunging — yep, self-help guru Tony Robbins claims he jumps in cold water every morning — successful people do it every single day.
It’s just a regular part of their morning…
…like brushing their teeth.
A consistent morning routine helps set the tone for the day. Something as simple as making your bed every day can determine how the rest of your day will go.
Reduce Your Choices
A good routine also reduces the number of choices you need to make throughout the day.
Knowing exactly what to do and when eliminates the covert feelings of constantly needing to decide what to do next. Like choosing if you should get takeout for lunch or eat the healthy meal you prepared ahead of time — because eating healthy, home-cooked, meals is one of your new habits.
Developing and sticking to a routine is the best way to ensure you practice your new habits.
It’s also a gateway to achieving your goals.
Because when your behaviors and actions are aligned, you’re able to live a life that feels good. And you can reach your fullest potential.
So what are some ways you can develop new behaviors?
Think Baby Steps
You would never show up the day of a marathon untrained and expect to run the whole thing.
No. You’d start with short runs and build up your stamina through proper training. And the act of putting your running shoes on everyday is how you initiate the habit of running…until you can run a full 26 miles.
According to blogger, James Clear….
If you’re serious about making real change — in other words, if you’re serious about doing things better than you are now — then you have to start small.
Imagine the typical habits, good or bad: Brushing your teeth. Putting your seatbelt on. Biting your nails.
These actions are small enough that you don’t even think about them. You simply do them automatically. They are tiny actions that become consistent patterns.
Track Your Progress
Keeping a diary or calendar — like my Expedition Ascent Plan — that allows you to monitor what you are spending your time on is an excellent way to track your progress.
If you notice your time isn’t being spent on activities that are helping you establish your new habits, you can subsequently make adjustments and get back to following your personal routines.
And seeing what you’re doing on paper, whiteboard, computer, gives you the confidence that you are on the right track again.
Don’t Let One Action Lead to Another
While writing this blog post, I got up to get a glass of water only to realize I hadn’t fed the cat.
So I fed the cat. Then read a few messages on my phone. And was about to start in on something else when I remembered I was writing a blog on forming new habits.
….as you probably know, it’s easy to get off on a tangent and into a rabbit hole that has nothing to do with what you set out to do.
Maintaining focus can be difficult — especially in this day and age when instant gratification is everywhere — but it is essential to staying on task.
If one of your new habits is to meditate each morning for ten minutes, do it somewhere with no distractions. Because you know what will happen if you pick up your phone to quickly check your emails.
Make It Easy
If you want to succeed, make it easy!
Don’t try to change ten behaviors in one day. And don’t decide to read five books in one week if you haven’t even read one book in the last six months.
These are surefire ways to fail.
Make your new habits attainable, and easy to complete and track. For example, if you want to start reading more, begin with 5 or 10 minutes a day, rather than trying to read half the book.
Remember, you’re establishing this as part of your new routine. You can slowly increase the time as you get better and avoid feeling resistance to your new habit.
Schedule in Downtime
Scheduling downtime is necessary. Especially if you’re someone who is constantly on the go.
It might feel weird to put “do nothing” into your calendar, but it’s an important habit that also needs to be nurtured. It fosters creativity and helps to restore physical and mental well-being.
And just like any other new behavior, doing nothing takes practice.
Life is never perfect. And if you don’t anticipate setbacks, you’ll constantly find reasons to abandon your new habits.
Setbacks are inevitable.
You’ll get sick. You might need to travel for work, take a family vacation or maybe even move. Just get through them and get back to your routine as quickly as you can.
When you take small steps to form new habits, you’ll experience greater success in many areas of your life. Your finances will improve, relationships will flourish and you’ll feel healthy and energetic.
It’s not easy, but a small amount of discomfort is worth pushing through to form new desired behaviors.
If you know you want to change something in your life, but are feeling stuck please send me an email. Sometimes all it takes is an accountability partner.