Habits can do many things. From going to the gym to smoking, habits can have both positive or negative affects on our lives. The question is how do we build a habit in to our lives?
To first build a habit it helps to understand what a habit is.
A habit can be explained as a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously.
The American Journal of Psychology (1903) defines a habit, from the standpoint of psychology, as “a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.”
Habitual behavior often goes unnoticed in persons exhibiting it, because a person does not need to engage in self-analysis when undertaking routine tasks. New behaviors can become automatic through the process of habit formation.
Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form because the behavioral patterns which humans repeat become imprinted in neural pathways, but it is possible to form new habits through repetition.
When behaviors are repeated in a consistent context, there is an incremental increase in the link between the context and the action. This increases the automaticity of the behavior in that context.
Habits can be extremely useful and it would be impossible to run our lives without them. They automate many of the routine activities in our lives and free up our minds so that we are capable of concentrating on higher level activities.
For example, if we had to consciously think about basic functions like walking or chewing our food or talking, we would have no mental ability available to perform other functions. The ability to write or type automatically allows us to focus on producing a great article, letter, email or novel.
Secondly habits can help to build you as an individual. They can assist in furthering your knowledge, improving your body or helping your relationships.
When most people struggle to stick with a new habit, they say something like, “I just need more motivation.” Or, “I wish I had as much willpower as you do.”
This is the wrong approach.
Research shows that willpower is like a muscle. It gets fatigued as you use it throughout the day. When you exercise a muscle, you don’t start by picking up the heaviest thing you can find. This is a sure fire way to get disheartened and put off. Much the same way with your willpower.
Don’t run before you can walk.
This problem can be solved by picking a new habit that is easy enough that you don’t need motivation to do it. For example; rather than starting with 50 pushups per day, start with 5 pushups per day or rather than trying to meditate for 10 minutes per day, start by meditating for one minute per day.
Make it easy enough that you can get it done without motivation so you can build your willpower muscles.
Working on from the first step you can’t begin small and then jump to the difficult things. Instead, you should increase or decrease (depending on what you are trying to do) in small increments.
If you take one percent improvements they will add up surprisingly fast.
Rather than trying to do something amazing from the beginning, start small and gradually improve. Along the way, your willpower and motivation will increase, which will make it easier to stick to your habit for good.
For example if we take our push up habit from the previous section. You can start with 5 push ups day one and increase the number you do at a single push up a day. In this way you can build up your muscles and will constantly improve. Much like what we want to do with our will power.
If you continue adding one percent each day, then you’ll find yourself increasing very quickly within two or three months.
It is important to keep each habit reasonable, so that you can maintain momentum and make the behavior as easy as possible to accomplish. If you try to push yourself too hard or too fast, again you will be on the path to failure.
Back to our push up analogy. If you’re trying to do 50 push ups per day, splitting it up in to five sets of 10 should be much easier as you make your way to where you want to be.
Everyone makes mistakes, commit errors, and gets off track. The difference between those who are good at building habits is that they get back on track as quickly as possible.
Research has shown that missing a habit once, no matter when it occurs, has no measurable impact on your long-term progress. Rather than trying to be perfect, abandon your all-or-nothing mentality as it can put too much pressure on yourself.
You shouldn’t expect to fail of course, but you should plan for failure.
Take some time to consider what will prevent your habit from happening. What are some things that are likely to get in your way? What are some daily emergencies that are likely to pull you off course? How can you plan to work around these issues? Or, at least, how you can bounce back quickly from them and get back on track?
Be consistent, not perfect. Focus on building the identity of someone who never misses a habit twice.
Learning to be patient is perhaps the most critical skill of all.
You can make incredible progress if you are consistent and patient in building your habit.
If you are adding weight in the gym, you should go slower than you think. If you are adding daily sales calls to your business strategy, you should probably start with fewer than you expect to handle.
Patience is everything. Do things you can sustain consistently.
You should now have the tools to reach the goals you want to set for yourself by building the good habits to work towards them and hopefully a better life for yourself.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
― Mahatma Gandhi