I don’t know about you, but eating Gelato Messina and drinking red wine could both become lifelong daily rituals faster than you could say, “salted caramel white chocolate”. But, on the other hand, the thought of turning burpees at 5am into a habit is just a little harder to get my head around.
So why is it that some habits are so much easier to form than others? Well, after working with hundreds of clients, I think I’ve narrowed it down to 3 things.
We love instant gratification: Developing a clear form of shortsightedness that has caused us to view anything that takes time or effort as a painful experience. We are genetically wired to attain pleasure and avoid pain, so the minute we see something as painful, chances are slim-to-none that we’re ever going to make it a habit.
We mistake healthy obligations for habits: We mistaken the healthier “rules and regulations” of the various diet and exercise regimes for habits. When in actual fact, they’re really only healthier 30-day obligations. What’s the difference? If you’re counting down the days until you don’t have to do it anymore, it’s not a habit – it’s an obligation.
We make it too complicated for ourselves: We love growth but often forget that even slow progress – is progress. Tending to overestimate what can be done in a short period and underestimate how powerful small consistent efforts can be over a medium to longer term.
So how do you make healthy habits stick? Well, it’s pretty simple, if you’re simple about it. So here are 6 tips to develop a “stickiness” to your habits.
1. Execute early
Willpower is a very limited resource. As soon as it runs out, you quickly fall back on the comfort of your old habits. My suggestion is (where possible) get your habits ticked off in the morning when willpower is highest. You’ll also get a lovely little dopamine release for your troubles and also be far more likely to stay on track throughout the rest of your day.
2. Create a window of opportunity
If you’re trying to break existing habits, you need to first create a window of opportunity to act on your new intentions. I always tell my clients who are struggling with sugar addiction “You can’t eat chocolate if there’s only celery and hummus in your fridge.”
3. Stack & hijack
Stack your new habit on top of an already existing habit. For example, “Before/after I do this (i.e. enter current habit), I do this (enter new habit)”. You’re basically just hijacking a neural link that already exists for the benefit of your new habit – saving energy in the process.
4. Start small. like, really small
As I mentioned in above, willpower is limited. So rather that overdoing it, just start with 1-2 micro habits with the biggest positive impact on your outcome. For example, rather than saying you’ll floss your teeth after you brush them, make your habit only flossing one tooth. Chances are, if you floss one, you’ll floss them all.
5. Repetition, repetition, repetition
Studies have shown it can take anywhere from 15 to 254 days to truly for a new habit. There’s no exact formula, it will eventually just become habitual – so stop counting the days and just be consistent.
6. Celebrate wins, no matter how small
I know, high-fiving yourself for flossing one tooth seems a little ridiculous, but you need to develop a link to “pleasure” feeling for the achievement of your habit. After all, no one wants to feel like a failure for not flossing.