Though we all have habits we’d very much like to adopt, and others we’d like to get rid of, most often we fail to stick to our decisions for long or we can’t even begin to put them into practice in the first place.
To help you with that, today I’ll present a few steps that will simplify the process and assist you in reaching your goals.
A. Define Your Goal
It makes no sense to adopt a new habit if it’s not clear to you what you gain from it.
Exercising, meditation, or healthy eating are not goals in themselves but a means to reach a specific goal – better health, inner peace, or balanced bodyweight.
If your goal is to improve happiness, you might decide to practice meditation. But practicing meditation, despite the potential benefits, is not for everyone.
Nonetheless, I often come across people who get angry with themselves for not practicing, not practicing “enough”, or failing to enjoy the practice.
And thus, instead of increasing inner peace, they increase self-judgment and completely miss the goal.
If, instead, they had asked themselves, “What makes me feel good and increases my inner peace?” they may have decided to invest their time in drawing, cooking, or gardening; exercise, play music, or read a good book.
If your goal is to advance in your career, you should first figure out for yourself what career path you’re pursuing and what skills you need to acquire in order to achieve what you want. Otherwise, you might be constantly disappointed in yourself for not doing enough, while you are not even sure where you are headed.
If your goal is to create a satisfying relationship, you should check whether your habits get you closer to what you want or maybe stand in your way.
Using dating apps, for instance, can be a beneficial strategy to get to know potential partners. But if you sit for hours every day and scroll through profiles until you are fed up, the beneficial strategy might quickly become an unhealthy habit that only creates frustration.
If instead, you set a reminder to check the app once a week (or as often as it works for you) and forget about it for the rest of it, chances are you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits this platform offers without creating frustration.
B. Clarify Your “Why”
Just before jumping into habit-formation strategies, make sure it’s clear to you why you are pursuing a certain goal.
An effective goal is one you really want and feel from within it’s the right thing for you. For example:
- Cleaning your house for the pleasure derived from living in a clean house
- Pursuing a college education that will open the door for the career you desire, or because you find it really interesting
- Looking for a relationship that will make you feel appreciated and loved
Goals that most probably won’t bring you the desired satisfaction are goals such as:
- Enslaving yourself to house cleaning in order to feel you are “a good enough wife”
- Pursuing a college education in an attempt to stop feeling inferior to others or to please your parents
- Marry your partner despite your inner resistance because he’s a good guy and you are over 30
As long as you are acting out of fear, you will find it difficult to face the challenges that come your way, feel bitter towards the people whom you have tried to please, or once again feel dissatisfaction shortly after achieving your goals.
So start by clarifying your goals, and then make sure you are in full sync with them.
Now it’s time to move on to the basic principles of adopting healthy habits:
1. Make It Easy
One of the leading principles in the field of habit-formation is to make it easy, almost effortless. For example:
- Instead of 15 minutes of meditation practice a day, start with one
- Instead of exercising three times a week for one hour, start with 10 minutes twice a week
- To get back into reading – buy a book that you find really interesting you and commit to reading two pages every night before bed
- Instead of struggling to maintain a healthy diet, start by adding a plate of freshly-cut vegetables or a fresh salad to each dinner
The idea is not necessarily to start small in order to go big later, but that a small and consistent action can lead to far-reaching results.
And if you enjoy the new habit you might want more of it.
2. Choose the Most Enjoyable Way
If, for instance, you’ve decided to start exercising, choose the activity you enjoy most. And if there’s no activity you enjoy, there must be something that doesn’t make you suffer.
If you have decided to get back into reading, don’t force yourself to stick to the “right” book that you feel reluctant to pick up.
If you have decided to eat healthier, add to your diet only foods you really enjoy.
Not everything can be enjoyable, but if you do something that makes you suffer and feels like you’re coercing yourself, you should probably find a different way to achieve your goal.
3. Make Sure It Works for You
Often we try to adopt habits that are considered healthy or that some known mentor or guru recommended while ignoring the fact that these habits don’t really work for us.
It could be a diet plan that limits us to three meals a day, prevents us from eating sweets or carbs, or forces us to stop eating at 7pm – the kind of diet that we never manage to maintain.
And maybe someone said that it’s really healthy to get up at 5am, that all achievers do so, but when you get up at 5am you are tired all day.
Or maybe you’ve heard that if you want to be happy you must practice gratitude; but for you it feels like a chore, and thus, it doesn’t make you happy.
So look for the immediate benefit the new habit you’ve adopted supplies – a sense of relief, increased inner peace, better business results, or the desired response you receive from someone after changing your attitude towards them.
If none of this happens, you will find it difficult to maintain the new habit over time and it won’t become second nature.
(Many, instead of doubting the habits they have adopted, doubt themselves and insist: “It’s not that positive thinking doesn’t work, it’s just that I don’t practice hard enough.” If you do this too, give up the harsh and unfair judgment towards yourself and start listening to your inner voice.)
Breaking Unhealthy Habits
Breaking unhealthy habits – such as smoking, screen addiction, or following your ex on social media – is no less important than adopting healthy ones.
The same basic rule applies both for adopting healthy habits and breaking unhealthy ones – in order to succeed you must be fully aligned with your goal.
One of my clients, for instance, admitted she’s afraid to quit smoking lest she gains weight.
Some clients who really want a relationship admitted they are not yet ready to give up following the ex on social media or to let go of the relationship with the man who’s not willing to commit to them.
And someone who wants to start dieting might find themselves reluctant to do so if they buy into the false idea (based on my experience) that in order to succeed they must give up sweets altogether.
Ultimately, the catch in giving up unhealthy habits is the immediate reward they provide.
The Secret Key to Success
The secret key that can determine failure or success, both in adopting and breaking habits, is self-forgiveness and compassion.
Most changes don’t happen overnight and thus, in order to achieve success we must forgive ourselves time and time again when we fall back into bad habits or fail creating the habits we want.
If we get angry with ourselves and condemn ourselves for every mistake we make, we will soon feel discouraged and give up.
But if we forgive ourselves, it will allow us to shortly get back on our feet and try once again, until the old habit dissolves, or until the right moment to start the new habit arrives.