Why does our grandmother get up at 5 AM effortlessly, even on holidays? Why do some people cannot keep their towels on the shelf despite telling them multiple times? Why do some people crave for deep-fried snacks despite knowing that deep-fried foods are not healthy? Why do some people think positive even when things are going bad? How are super achievers able to perform well consistently and effortlessly?
We see ourselves and others around us doing the same things again and again for years. Same thought patterns, same emotional responses continue for years. Why is it so tough for us to change? What makes us make the same mistakes or do the positive actions repeatedly? The reason is these behaviors have become habits. Even though we consciously want to change certain things about our lives, many of us are unable to make a change because these behavior patterns have become our habits, and it is tough to change habits. Please note it is tough to change a habit but it is not impossible.
So, what is a habit? Habit is an action done by us without much thinking. They are done automatically, like our second nature. It does not need any motivation or reminder to perform a habit. Our habits drive many of our thoughts, emotions, words, and actions. Our life is the sum-total of our habits. Great people have great habits, and ordinary people have ordinary habits. Habits play a key role in one’s success or failure in life.
How are habits formed? When some action is done by us repeatedly over a while, it becomes a habit. For example, if someone loved meditation and kept practicing it every day, meditation becomes his habit. If someone chooses to shout back when angry(maybe learned from parents or surroundings during young age) and does it repeatedly, shouting in anger becomes a habit. It needs repetition to create a habit. It does not matter why a person is repeatedly performing certain action. Some people might be repeating due to the force of other people or self-motivation or interest or to achieve something or trying to emulate their role models like parents etc. The reasons don’t matter. The only thing that matters in building a habit is repetition.
So, how to build new habits? Here are some pointers on building new habits.
7 ways to build a new habit:
1. Start small: For example, if you want to build a new habit of walking 1 hour per day, break it down into a small goal of walking 10 minutes per day. When a goal is too big, the mind resists, and it becomes tough to do it consistently unless one has incredible willpower and motivation every day. With most people occupied in busy jobs and family responsibilities, motivation and willpower are not very high in building a new habit. So, starting small helps in sticking to the habit. Break down your big goal into small goals which your mind does not feel very tough to do. Small successes motivate you to do more and help you sustain longer.
2. Increment in small numbers: Every day, increase your goal by a small number. Going by our example of walking 1 hour per day, the initial goal is walking 10 minutes per day. Every day, increment it by 30 seconds. Don’t underestimate this small increment. Just by increasing 30 seconds of walking time every day, you will achieve your goal of 60 minutes of walking per day in 100 days. Don’t become impatient and increase in bigger numbers beyond your comfortable pace, as it is challenging to sustain.
3. Be consistent: Consistency is the key to building a habit. Repeat your small, easy goal every day without fail. On days when it’s tough to stick to your goal of 10 minutes of walk, just walk 5 minutes but walk. Be consistent in repeating the action.
4. Have a contingency plan for failure: Some days, situations can be beyond our control like rain or some event at home or sickness due to which you will not be able to stick to your goal even for a minimum amount of time. That’s ok. All of us will have such lapses. What matters is how quickly you come back to the track. Resume your new habit as soon as possible. Do not go into the attitude of “do it every day, or don’t do it at all.” Do not be disheartened by some breaks in between. Resume your goal as soon as possible.
5. Tie it to an existing habit: When you are trying to build a new habit, tie this action to an existing habit of yours. For example, your existing habit is brushing your teeth. You can tie your new habit of walking 10 minutes per day to this existing habit. So every time you brush your teeth, take a walk. This makes it easier to sustain new habits.
6. Pick up only one habit at a time: Work on creating only one habit at a time. Once you have successfully created your new habit, you can move on to the next habit. Choosing to build multiple habits at one go makes it difficult to continue longer, and after a point, it becomes overwhelming.
7. Celebrate success: When you could stick to your goal for one week or 15 days, celebrate such milestones by treating yourself in a way you enjoy like buying a new book or enjoying your favorite smoothie here, etc. Celebrate your small successes. This gives you enough motivation to look forward and repeat the actions.
You can build any habit like exercising, cooking, meditating, writing, saving money, etc. using the above steps. Once you build a new habit, it becomes part of your personality, and you will be on auto-pilot mode. You will not need any motivation or willpower to continue practicing your new habit.
Habits are the reason behind quotes like “Success breeds success” or “Richer get richer and poorer get poorer.” If success is someone’s habit, they carry the same habit to every new venture they start, and they become successful no matter what they pursue. If failure is someone’s habit, they carry the same habit to everywhere they go. The good news is one can change habits at any age, and it all starts with one step at a time.
Build your habits, build your life!