In my practice, I’ve seen what people struggled with the most and what enabled them the most.
Creating new habits doesn’t have to be a slog. Here are five easy tips to eliminate the struggle from developing good habits:
1. Make It Tiny.
By far, the #1 struggle with developing habits comes from inflated ambition. Our minds are bombarded by media with incredible transformation stories, so we want impressive results and we want them NOW. Or, better yet, yesterday. Thus, when people develop a new habit, the #1 mistake is trying to do too much too quickly.
You try to lose weight by pumping iron for 3 hours a day.
You try to write a book by writing for 5 hours a day.
You try to learn a new language by learning 199 new words every day.
It is too much. Your subconscious will quickly rebel against such overcommitment.
The solution? Make your habit tiny; a tiny habit is an activity that:
-you do at least once a day,
-takes you less than 30 seconds,
-requires little effort.
Additional hack: design a tiny habit, which you can do multiple times a day, preferably dozens of times a day. Developing a habit takes 66 repetitions on average. With a tiny habit, you can compress this process into a few days.
Take the free Tiny Habits course. It starts every Monday, takes less than an hour for the whole week, and in the process you will develop three new habits.
2. Celebrate Your Habit.
Bad habits easily stick to us because they go hand in hand with our body’s reward system. You eat something sweet, and dopamine hits immediately. You yell at others, and you immediately feel powerful. You gulp alcohol, and you feel the boost of self-confidence in mere seconds.
However, good habits rarely can tap into this reward system so easily, if at all. For example, in the moment, working out or fasting is more of a punishment for the body, than a reward. Even purely intellectual habits, like reading or writing are, at best, neutral for our bodies.
Thus, in order to connote your good habit with a reward, you need to celebrate. That’s the fastest way to activate your body’s reward system, and the easiest way to make your habit pleasurable.
Here is what BJ Fogg, the inventor of the Tiny Habits framework, recommends for celebration:
3. Get Educated about Habits.
Knowing the habit science is not obligatory – I developed dozens of habits being clueless about it – but helpful. The Tiny Habits course gives an excellent pill of habit knowledge: small, but practical and digestible. I can also recommend my blog post series about habits:
Get to know what a habit loop is, how to pick the right triggers, etc.
4. Get Someone Onboard.
We are VERY social animals. Don’t try to develop your habit by your own power. Leverage the help from others.
Ideally, muster some support from someone who “has been there and done that” – had similar struggles, but overcame them and now has a habit you want to develop. Human beings learn by mimicry, this is how kids learn life. Just being around people who possess your desirable habit will “magically” rub off the habit from them.
But any support is much better than no support. Declare your goal. Talk with a friend. Find an accountability partner who wants to develop the same habit. Join a group focused on this habit. Get a coach.
Just involve minimum one other person in your personal quest.
5. Become Your Habit.
Make it part of your identity: “I am a person who…”
If that rings false in your ears, you can always use the variation: “I am becoming a person who…”
When I got the idea to become a writer, I put in my personal mission statement a sentence, “I’m becoming a writer.” I couldn’t truthfully tell myself I was a writer, so I used this trick.
Back then, I had been so clueless that I didn’t even know what it meant to be a writer. It took me the whole month to figure out that writers write! Yet, repeating that sentence from my personal mission statement put my mind on the right track. Nowadays, part of my personal identity is “I am a person who writes every day.”
Identity is a powerful motivator. No excuse can get in its way. If you are clueless, you will figure it out. If you are exhausted, you will persevere. If you are discouraged, you will do your habit anyway.
Because this is who you are.
Be mindful about generating a dopamine boost for your new habit.
Get familiar with the habit science.
Get some social support.
Adopt this new habit as a part of your identity.
This is how you make developing a good habit less of a struggle and more of an adventure.
Originally Published in Quora.