Habits and routines rule our lives. Sometimes in ways that we do not like as habits can limit us and hold us back from achieving what we would like to accomplish and experience. Nearly half of our actions are habits, which are often unconscious, so the concept of willpower is not enough to change habitual behaviors and reach our goals. Studies reveal that bad habits take only a few days to form while good habits sometimes take about 3-4 weeks to form. While this information is hardly cheering, it is helpful to know what we are up against when we set new goals. When we rule our habits, we rule our lives in a strong and focused way as we build the lives we desire. Small incremental changes help us reach larger goals.
Setting goals is key. Typically, goals are often very broad and not specific enough. To really make changes, especially big changes, we need to be extremely focused on small, actionable changes that are measurable. For an example, fitness and being in better shape is a very common goal but actually, as described in broad terms, it is much too broad a goal. Let’s say a smaller goal, for instance: walking more. Actually, this is still too broad! To start with, make a goal so small and easy that it is so easy that instead of choosing not to do it, you just do it. Putting on exercise clothes and walking shoes at a specific time (when arising or after lunch or dinner for instance). You don’t even need to start walking yet. After a few days, begin with a short walk. This a simple way to start.
Or if the goal is going to the gym six days a week? Well, if we aren’t typically active and a regular gym goer, this is too big a goal that can be overwhelming and intimidating. If being a regular gym goer is the goal, start with making it a part of your schedule to go to the gym. You don’t have to go inside just yet but this small change builds a routine from which you can grow from. Getting to the gym is the first muscle.
Beginning to develop a new habit and pairing it with an older established routine can be helpful. Bringing workout clothes to work and going directly to the gym after work can help as many people can lose energy in returning home, changing clothes and then going to the gym. For some people, sleeping in their exercise clothes helps them to exercise when they wake up. People may be interested in starting habits regarding chores in their home and personal habits. A meditation practice takes time to develop and growing accustomed to being receptive and quiet. Building a meditation practice takes patience and doggedness. Meditating immediately after rising helps many people as the mind is in a subdued state and not dealing with the myriad of details that being once the daily demands start. In working on the discipline of household chores, putting dirty dishes into the dishwasher directly after dinner can build in a new behavioral routine that is easy to follow.
Is there any way to make the new habit more fun and pleasurable? Whether it is listening to an interesting podcast or audiobook, exercising with a friend or great music, be curious and find a way to see where the fun and pleasure is in the new habit. If this proves difficult, keep highlighting your goal and intention. Of course, you wouldn’t bother even trying these new habits and goals if it wasn’t going to add to your life. Take the time to find the happiness in this new pursuit and how good it will feel when you reach your goals. Maybe watching a wonderful tv show only while walking or running on a treadmill or listening to an audiobook only while exercising are other ways to add to the pleasure of the activity itself. Soon, your mind will connect the pleasure of the show or audiobook with exercise, which makes the idea of exercising more pleasurable and easier.
Environments influence us a great deal. For many people, watching tv and eating have been paired through years of habit. One problem with this is that we become so focused on the show and simply overeat. In this case, changing the environmental cue can be a big difference. Making it a rule to only eat at the dining table can help make eating a conscious activity.
Waking up early can be difficult for many people but having an alarm that gradually lights up the room can be helpful to getting out of bed faster than before. Junk food is tempting and when it is steps away in the kitchen makes it even harder not to reach for chips or cookies. If we are trying hard to cease eating junk food, why have them in the house? Or relocate them to a space that is out of sight in your home that makes it more difficult than just opening up the nearest kitchen cabinet. When the thought comes into your head for junk food, research shows if you wait about fifteen minutes, the urge passes. Recognizing these urges as passing thoughts that will fade shortly can help not giving into the temptation the first time the thought occurs.
Celebrating your wins is essential and not just reaching your ultimate goal. Many people celebrate with foods that go against their stated healthy goals. Actually, not rewarding reached goals with food rewards is a good choice to make. Whether your celebration is a simple day trip, celebrating with friends and family over dinner or doing something else you enjoy helps you to mark your own inner satisfaction on the journey to meeting your ultimate goal.
Be patient with yourself. Pin down an actionable and reachable ultimate goal. Then build towards it slowly with small, easy to enact behavior changes. When linked together, these behavior changes will form a bridge that will allow you to keep moving steadily to your ultimate goal. Life is about growth, learning, stretching and reaching new levels of experience. Your newly learned habits can help you create the life you want to design. Settling into habits, routines and behaviors that don’t fulfill you can create a stagnant energy that erodes positive feelings about your life and the direction you are going in. By changing any old habits and flat routines that no longer serve you, you are revitalizing your life!