Think of the things you wished you did more or less to be healthier, more productive or happier. Why don’t we just do it if we know it’s good for us? Research shows that it takes an average of 66 days to make a good new habit. That is a long time to stay vigilant with a conscious effort. Here are some tips on how to make the most impactful habits and have them stick.
1. Start with “keystone habits”: The unique characteristic that makes a keystone habit is that it changes how you see yourself and improves your self-image. Exercise is one example of a keystone habit. These habits are a good change that often triggers other good changes without conscious decision. Charles Duhigg mentions in his book “The Power of Habit” that exercise leads people to unknowingly create other good habits. This means that some habits are more important in more global behaviour change. Many people will automatically improve their diet when they start exercising regularly. This makes sense because many people do not want to “undo” all their hard work. However, some behaviour changes are unrelated to exercise. People who begin exercising also tend to procrastinate less and use credit cards less.
2. Use Minimum Viable Effort: Minimum viable effort is based on goal setting rules. Specifically, the A in SMART goals. Make goals that are attainable. The big mistake people make when trying to change behaviour is biting off more than they can chew and going straight for the big goal. If you say you want to exercise 1 hour per day, 5 days a week, it will only take a couple weeks of missing a couple work outs before the habit is abandoned all together. But if you start out aiming for one short work out, that is much easier to achieve. You want to pick the minimum amount that you can do consistently. That will help you maintain your habit long enough for it to become permanent. Once you are working out once a week consistently, add a second and go from there.
3. Make a plan: You can have a goal and know all the benefits, but if you don’t have the plan to get there, you are less likely to continue towards your goal. You need a plan how to get the job done. Additionally, one thing that helps a lot is to actively write down your plan. Make it something material.
4. Reward yourself: Who doesn’t like a prize or bribe for good behaviour? One example of a reward is pairing a “want” with a “should”. We do it with kids all the time. Want ice cream? Only if you eat your vegetables. Sometimes these can even happen at the same time. For example, if you want to listen to an audiobook but you should exercise, you can tell yourself you can only listen to the book while exercising. If it isn’t possible to multi-task, you can make a reward for good behaviour. Maybe you want new clothes or a new phone. Make a deal with yourself that you can have your reward if you successfully execute your plan for a given period of time.
5. Use reminders: You need to resist giving in to bad habits, but you need to remind yourself to do good habits until they become permanent. Maybe it’s an alarm. Maybe it’s a chunk of time blocked off into your calendar. If you are a “To Do” list person, put your good behaviours on the list.
6. Build a support group: If you know people who have the habits you wish you had, get closer to them. The people you surround yourself with dramatically influence your behaviour. A good support network shows us that the behaviour is realistic and attainable. In fact, research shows that the people around you might be the key to long lasting change in life. You will have role models all around you and people to help motivate you, celebrate your successes, and support you during struggles.