When it comes to habits, it’s easy to assume that we’ll all benefit from the same ones, and that we should all try the same tricks to form them.
But our habits are as individual as we are. Just because your cousin Boris swears by ocean-swims at 6am, doesn’t mean they’ll work for you! Even if you love the idea, you might live miles from the beach, be a night owl or just prefer to start with something a little less… biting.
If you’re keen to form a new habit, the #1 thing you can do is look for ways to make it EASY… especially at the start. It’s about reducing barriers and getting runs on the board. And that’s where the below tips and tricks can help.
As you read through, simply cherry-pick the ones that feel right for you.
1. Make it tiny!
When we struggle to form a new habit, we often put it down to not having enough motivation or willpower. But willpower is like a muscle that takes time to build, and motivation comes in waves… powerful on some days, pitiful on others!
To overcome motivational dips, we need to start with a habit that is so easy – so deliciously small – that it takes virtually zero motivation to do it. E.g. If you like the thought of meditating for half hour bursts, start by doing just a minute a day, at a time that suits, and make it a priority. When that’s effortless, add a minute… or four! But start small.
2. Do it daily
Another advantage of starting small is that the more often you do your habit, the more quickly it will take hold. Regular ‘wins’ help us feel good and gain momentum, and doing a habit every day takes away the guesswork. Instead of asking: ‘Will I do it today?’ or ‘Would it matter if I skipped a day?’ we just get in and get it done. As habits expert Gretchen Rubin says: “What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while.”
3. Schedule it in…
If you’re keen to turn a ‘sometimes activity’ into a regular one, scheduling could be your BFF! Scheduling is about choosing a specific, regular time to do your habit.
So choose a regular time to do your habit. E.g. Give my partner a hug every morning OR do ten squats before I brush my teeth OR Go swimming on Wednesday after work.
4. Pair it up
Pairing involves ‘piggy-backing' the habit you’re keen to create with something you love to do. E.g. If you want to walk more and love listening to podcasts, only allow yourself to listen to them when you’re out walking. You’ll be racing for the door! Or maybe you’d like to stretch each day. If you have a favourite tv show, pair 10 minutes of stretching with the start of each episode, and only press play when you’re on the floor, ready to go!
Experts suggest not thinking of one as a reward for the other. Rather, these things just go together. They’re a pair! You never do one, without doing the other.
5. Monitor it
When we track a habit we dramatically boost our chances of success. That’s because monitoring an activityheightens our cognitive awareness and control even if all we’re doing is noting our success. Monitoring is where our good old Habit Stick (link to page) comes into its own! Whether your habit relates to creativity, productivity, eating, drinking, exercising, or spending, tracking it could help. It can also act as a handy visual cue… another success booster!
6. Boost convenience
This strategy is about reducing the effort or time needed to complete your habit. If you’re keen to drink more water, keep a glass on your desk. If you want to do some yoga when you wake up, get your gear ready the night before, or do it in your pjs! The easier you make it to ‘go right’, the more likely you’ll be to follow through.
7. Plan for slip-ups
Hey, even top performers slip up. But they’re pros at side-stepping obstacles and getting back on track. As habits legend Charles Duhigg suggests, we shouldn’t expect to fail but we should plan for it.
So what are some things that could get in your way? When (or where) are you most likely to slip up.. and what could you do to minimise the damage? Some people swear by never missing two days in a row. Whatever your strategy, thinking ahead can help us maintain momentum and avoid throwing in the towel.
8. Know your loopholes…
If slip-ups are environmental, loopholes are all about our mental game. Do you have a favourite excuse that could be holding you back? Gretchen Rubin outlines some of the most common loopholes: ‘I can’t do X because I’m too busy doing Y’. Or ‘I’ve been so good lately, I deserve to....’ Or ‘I won’t worry today because from tomorrow I’m going to….’
Unlike planned exceptions, we turn to these in the spur of the moment and usually regret it later! Knowing our loopholes is the first step to noticing and overcoming them.
9. Strengthen your foundation
Forming any habit takes energy and perseverance. The more we look after our foundation – through good sleep, nutritious kai, fresh air, movement and getting organised – the more luck we tend to have in building other habits. If you see a gap in one of these areas, this could be a great place to start your habits journey.
10. Find what works for you
Yep! We’re finishing where we started because in case you’ve forgotten, the best way to cement a new habit is to find what works for you. Play to your strengths (link to strengths finder)! And whatever strategies you choose, remember that forming a new habit takes time. It’s normal for things to get harder before they get easier. And to have some trial and error.
It’s not about perfection. It’s about doing what we can to take regular steps in the right direction. So start small, start today and celebrate each teeny tiny ‘win’!