I’m all about building good habits in my life, and endeavoring to build good habits into my kids while they were younger. Our habits have the power to shape our futures and determine our success or failure in life.
All that is well and good, but how do you actually forge good habits in your life?
Here are a few tips to help you.
Understand that a Habit is Something You Do Frequently
Basically, to become a habit, something has to be done over and over again until it becomes second nature. So, an activity or action won’t be a habit just because you decide to make it a habit. Some scientists say it takes a minimum of 21 days of consistency to forge a new habit. 21 days!
So, if you want something to become a habit, you need to force yourself to make it happen for at least every day for three weeks. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
Right now, I have a new dog, and we’re doing obedience training with her. I can’t just teach her something once and assume she’ll understand “come” and “stay” or “sit”. No. I have to repeat it over and over again, several times a day, with rewards, to get that to stick. The same is true of humans of all ages.
Focus on Your Why
For most of us, keeping in mind why you are doing what you’re doing, and why you want it to be a habit in your life, is super important to making it stick. When the going gets tough you need to remind yourself why you’re doing this.
As with my dog training, rewards do help. If you set up a series of rewards for your benchmarks, you’ll have a goal to look forward to. Just make sure the goal is in your control. For example, “Exercise 15 minutes every day” is something in your control. “Lose 5 pounds this month” is not totally under your control, although exercising 15 minutes a day will help you get closer to that goal.
Find Some Accountability in Building Your Habit
If possible find someone who will hold you accountable to doing what you have set out to do. We often do better if we have someone in our lives
nagging encouraging us as we push on.
Sometimes we can find accountability online too through programs like MyFitnessPal and FitBit. I have found, as strange as my husband finds it, an app like 7 Weeks helps me to stay on track. Just knowing I have to check off that box at the end of the day makes me have more resolve.
Break It Down Into Baby Steps and Small Bites
I have a friend that likes to say, “You eat an elephant one bite at a time”.
Well, to get anything in your life done, you have to take small bites. You can’t do it all at once. Even our habits have to slowly build. Using exercise as an example, you cannot reasonably expect to go from sofa spud to running a half marathon. You have to slowly build towards it. If you don’t exercise at all right now, but you think you “should” exercise an hour a day, perhaps you should first build the habit of any exercise at all daily.
I have been working out for three years now. This is not a natural habit for me, and I have fallen out of the habit a few times (particularly during times of illness and right after the car accident). I had to stop looking at how many calories I wanted to burn, and start with just doing something. I have a program on my X-Box Kinect that lets me do some balance exercises. These are not strenuous, and they feel good on my back and shoulders. I would do one of these workouts, lasting just 4 minutes. Then I built up to doing two or three of those. Once I had a good habit, I did something more strenuous. I added some aerobic exercise to it. Now I do about thirty minutes or more of Zumba plus the stretches. If I had started trying to do all of that at the start, I’d have given up.
Take small bites. It’s better to build a habit than to achieve some sort of ideal sporadically.