A good habit isn’t formed overnight. In fact, according to Psychology Today, “the behavioral patterns we repeat most often are literally etched into our neural pathways.” That’s basically the clinical way of saying that repetition is key to habit formation.
Think about it: When you check your phone in the morning or plop down on the couch after a long day of work, you’re being pulled into these actions without any conscious effort. Now, how can you apply those automatic actions to ingrain positive habits to help you meet long-term goals, achieve health objectives or lead a happier life?
Below are 4 smart tricks to form better habits.
A study at the University of Victoria followed gym members over 12 weeks to see which people kept their exercise routines and which did not. The deciding factor came down to frequency. Gym members who visited the gym four or more times per week carried on with strong habits after four months. Those who exercised less frequently started to lose their routine by week six.
Here’s an interesting angle, though: The study doesn’t say what the participants did when they arrived. The important part is that they showed up. Start small on whatever habit you intend to create. If it’s attending the gym, just make it a point to go. You can stay for five minutes or five hours, but the point is that you’re teaching your brain that you do indeed go to the gym on a consistent schedule. Once you find it easy to get yourself through the door, then you can approach what you do for exercise.
Our brains tend to resist repeating difficult things. B.J. Fogg, author of Tiny Habits and a world-renowned behavioral scientist based out of Stanford University, says people “change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad.”
Here’s an example: If you want to read more, start by choosing an easy, light-hearted book and read just one page a day while you’re drinking your morning coffee. After a week, add another page. Then try waking up ten or 15 minutes early to get in a whole chapter (but only attempt this when you start to enjoy the few pages you’re reading a day). Associate the activity with the morning java jolt each day, so you’re adding your desired habit to something you already like doing.
As the days go on, you’ll find yourself relishing the time with your book (and you’ll watch your TBR pile decrease by the day!) and you’ll start to look forward to the time you spend with your latest novel or non-fic pick. You’ll have built yourself a new habit without the guilt!
3. Stack New Habits with Old Ones
One of the most effective tactics for habit formation is to stack a habit you’d like to build with a habit you’ve already established. For example, if you hop in the shower every morning at the same time, add 30 seconds of meditation before you turn on the water.
Because strong daily habits are already deeply ingrained in our minds, adding an additional step to them doesn’t feel overwhelming; this makes the new activity easier to integrate consistently.
Rewards drive us to keep pursuing a goal or objective and they eventually help us form strong habits.
Short-term rewards are necessary for creating long-term habits because we don’t see the real reward for some time (and our brains tell us that’s crap). But after exercising for a few days, for example, we don’t look stronger. That’s why it’s particularly important to offer yourself the right kind of reward. Don’t expect to have muscle definition by day five of a workout regime; instead, reward five days of a workout schedule with a new gym outfit or pair of shoes. Proper rewards are both relevant to the action performed and actually rewarding.
Research shows it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a habit, which averages out to 66 days.
Be patient as you implement these tricks into your daily routine. Just because you mess up a single day does not mean you’re off track. In fact, expect to slip up; demanding perfection from yourself won’t get you anywhere. Stick with the routines, reward yourself regularly and one day you’ll find you’re doing what you set out to do without even thinking about it.