Build a Habit

We all want to build new habits, and we all set out to take up something new, or to drastically change our life through doing something new and sticking with it. Whether it’s to lose weight or learn a language. We start off in high spirits, ready to conquer the challenge and become a better person. But after a few days, you falter. Why is this?

It’s because your motivation for the task was at a high at that particular time. This is why you shouldn’t buy expensive tools/equipment before you try a new thing. You need to know if you enjoy the act of doing it before you invest a lot of money in something that could then be wasted when you realise you don’t enjoy the act of doing it because your motivation for it wanes after either the first or second time you try it.

Gym memberships are a case in point. Think of how many people take up a gym membership (especially after Xmas with the idea of getting in shape to better yourself. Only to then lose interest a couple of weeks into a membership you have invested in for one year.

You need a plan. You need to think long-term.

So how do you turn an interest in something into a long-term plan? You need to build a habit. You need to train your brain into making a routine out of something. This training exercises your brain into forming a habit, something that you do out of discipline and routine.

Start with something small and easy. Something you can do everyday regardless of motivation levels. Make it so simple that all you have to do it think about the thing you want to do and you do it. Make it easy to a point where there is no commitment and hard work to do it. Don’t beat yourself up for not trying something difficult initially, like a gym membership where you show up 4 days a week. You need to develop this habit-building muscle first. Start small and build yourself gradually.

Take brushing your teeth as an example. There is no commitment, it only takes 2 minutes, there is no physical exertion, you just move a brush in your mouth. But it’s something that you must do in order to maintain health.

This is the goal. Make it so that you feel like you must do it, and anything else will be lettering yourself down. It’s such a simple task to you that you do it without thinking otherwise, regardless of the time it takes, the location, the inconvenience, the physicality or exhaustion. You make time for the things that are most important in your life. It needs to get to a point where this thing is so important to you that you fit it into your life and dedicate time for it.

If you’re not going to dedicate time to it, then you’re not going to be able to build a habit out of anything.

You need to feel like it’s going to be of benefit to you. Humans are selfish, we need to feel that something is going to benefit us in order to do it and spend time on it.

You need to have a mindset of; ‘this is just something I do, regardless’.

For example, You go to the gym and it normally takes you 1 hour (the drive and the workout combined). But you have work in 2 hours (30 minute drive). Where you can start deteriorating a habit is when you start making excuses; think of the traffic, what if there are road works, what if I can’t fit a shower in, what if I meet someone and chews into my time.

If you’re looking for excuses, you will always find one.

Think of the quick wins you allow yourself when you do small things first and then improve gradually. You will be more inclined to show up and continue the streak because you will have built up a mentality of completing things on a short-term that the idea of showing up to something else is just another thing to you do naturally. This is the contrary to jumping straight into a challenging task that is hard to attain that needs a good amount of effort to complete. Because when you fail it you are right back to the start and your motivation levels will be depleted for this thing. You may learn something from doing the task, but you’re further away from building a habit.

Habit building is a mindset and transcends other areas in your life. If you are used to taking on ‘medium-sized’ habits, then you will take on other medium-sized habits, such as painting, lettering, running, etc.

Here are some tips for building a habit;

  • Start simple – Something like brushing your teeth after every meal (something we should do but don’t because of work etc.), this small task that is easy to do and something you recognise as important is easy to complete and will give you a quick win 3 time a day. Which leads to the next point.
  • Do it daily – You need to do this task on a daily basis in order to improve your habit-building mentality. In a sense, you always need to be practicing it. Regardless of the task. Think small, then think daily. There are numerous ways you can take up a daily habit, from reading a page in a book you want to finish (instead of doing 20 pages at a time), to doing 10 push ups (instead of 50 in a workout). You need to do small tasks in quick succession, instead of going full-in of one big task.
  • Set a goal – You will never achieve anything without a goal. The goal is where you want to be, the habit helps you get there. Most of the time you will know what you want to achieve for your own happiness, a certain weight, a particular income etc. But if you are unaware of what goal you want to reach for something that is new for you, research it online.
  • Accountability – Get a partner who will remind you that you need to do something at a particular time, for not doing that thing will let them down. It’s easy to let ourselves down, but not when someone else is involved.
  • Surround yourself with others – ‘Nothing unites like a common enemy’, the same can be said for achieving goals together. Get around other people who are striving for the same thing you are. They will help motivate you and remind you why you are doing this thing in the first place. It can also drive you internally. Seeing someone else do something better than you may spur you on to do better than them (in a ‘healthy competition’ way, of course). Find a ‘gym buddy’. There is a sense of camaraderie to help each other.
  • Reminders – Place/set reminders around your work space, your phone, your eating space etc. to remind you as to why you are doing this thing in the first place. Sometimes it’s hard to stay focussed on a particular task when it increases in size, such as a year-long commitment to working out and eating healthy. So that when you fall (and you will fall from time to time), you get back on track quickly.

Don’t give up something if it is going to make your life even harder than taking up the new habit. You need a fall back, something in which you can enjoy with your down time. This is why you shouldn’t do too many things at one. Focus on one thing. Unless the other thing in your life directly conflicts with your new habit, in that case, you must replace it with another thing/habit. You enjoy some chocolate watching your favourite show at 9pm each night, but your new habit is to lose weight and get fitter.

With the example above, you’re actually trying to form 2 habits, and break 1. It’s too many things, start smaller. Simplify the habit, break it up and make it so that your habit is working out at a particular time for example. Then move on to substituting the chocolate for a healthy alternative but having it at the same time, because your brain is defaulting to knowing that habit. But maintain the chocolate at least once a week, as a comfort.

You can see how even with the example in the last 2 paragraphs how complex forming a habit and exercising this habit-building muscle can be. It’s all a mindset. This is why you must start small and develop the formula and mindset for starting new habits.

Once you have the formula down for building habits and sticking with them, you know what it takes to show up and do it. After a time, you increase your discipline, so it becomes easier than it used to show up, because you’re brain (and body, depending if it) is used to the routine of showing up.

It’s not about willpower and motivation, it’s about routine and discipline. Willpower and motivation raise and fall depending on what situation, circumstance, influences you have at a current time or place. You know this yourself. Some days you are more motivated to show up and do something, and others you aren’t that motivated, and you blame not having enough willpower to do that thing.

Dedicate a place and a time. This should be the only place that you do this thing, allow you a clear thought in the process of doing the task. It allows you to show up to that one particular place and do the task because that is what you are there for. This is why people go to the library during exam time.

Not for the peace and quite is has to offer, but because it’s a dedicated place to study,  away from the distraction of home where that is your comfort area. You have made the effort to be there so you feel obliged follow through.

The same can be dictated through dedicating a time to something. It makes it easier to show up because it’s just something you do. You know you are going to write at 8pm on a Thursday for 2 hours. Now couple that with a dedicated place and you have a habit-building formula right there. Then factor in a dedicated utility, where you only do this thing on a particular device or with a certain piece of equipment, and you will form a habit very quickly.

Don’t plan to fail, but know that you will. Just know to get back on track quickly and realise why you failed that time, document it and it becomes easier to avoid repeating the next time.

Studies suggest it takes 22 days on average to build a new habit. Stick with it and write down all the benefits that doing this thing has to offer you, then when you start to realise one after a short spell, it will all make sense.

Focus on being consistent, not being perfect.