We often start off the New Year with great intentions. We’re implementing new routines, developing new habits and have set new goals. You’re committed to lasting habit change. But after a few weeks you lose momentum. You start to fizzle. Why? You don’t have a plan to support yourself. Most people tend to over-rely on willpower, a finite resource. Going back to “status quo” is easier and more familiar.
In recent years, there’s been a lot of research into what works in relation to building and keeping habits. Utilize the new findings by implementing these 14 essentials to create lasting habit change and avoid fizzling out.
14 Essentials to Create Lasting Habit Change
1. Decide if you are an “adder” or a “subtractor”.
“Adders” are people who prefer to add in something. “Subtractors” do better with omitting something. For most people, adding is often easier than subtracting since it doesn’t require deprivation. For example, if you want to eat healthier, the “adder” strategy would be to have five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. A subtractor might cut out potato chips or another food item that is particularly unhealthy. Are you an adder or a subtractor? Not sure? Go with adding.
2. Frequency is more important than duration.
Doing your habit every day, even if it is just for a short period of time reinforces your new behavior more strongly than if you only did the habit once a week. Taking five minutes to stretch everyday builds a stronger habit pattern than attending a yoga class once a week. If you skip a day, make sure you do the habit the next day. Some even do the habit twice the next day to teach themselves that skipping a day doesn’t mean you don’t have to do the habit.
3. Some habits take longer than others to build.
You may have heard that it takes 21 days to build a habit. Well, sort of. Some habits can be built in 21 days, others take longer. It is individual and personal. Don’t expect to have “mastered” your habit after 21 days. Some habits make take much longer, especially if you perceive the habit as difficult.
4. Make it easy.
If you believe the new habit is difficult, you’re less likely maintain the habit even if you did all the hard work to build the habit. Design your habit to be something that feels easy and sustainable. Working out for 90 minutes a day five times a week might work for a while but isn’t realistic in the long-term. In contrast, 15 minutes of brisk walking everyday seems like something nearly anyone could do indefinitely. Remember, you can always do more. Your habit is the minimum you want to do.
5. Create your habit statement.
What exactly do you want to do? Be specific. Make it as clear and concrete as possible. Make it measurable (how often and how much). Write out your habit statement. For example, walk at least 10,000 steps a day. Or, save 15% of my earnings. Post it where you will see it frequently; ideally several times a day. It could be the home screen on your phone or a sticky note on your mirror or computer.
6. Determine the trigger.
What is going to trigger you to do your habit? Triggers could be time-based (first thing in the morning, everyday at lunch, before I go to bed) or be location-based (when I get to work or when I get home). A trigger to meditate could be getting out of bed each morning.
7. Pair the habit with an existing habit.
Pick something that you do regularly and do your habit at the same time. If you always have coffee in the morning and want to and want to walk for 15 minutes a day, don’t let yourself have the coffee until you’ve finished your walk.
8. Schedule time for your habit.
Repeat after me: That which is scheduled gets done. When are you going to do your habit? I generally tend to eat healthy as long as I don’t get too hungry and have healthy food available. The breakdown can be when I don’t have healthy food in my fridge. One of the habits I’m building is scheduling time each week as part of my weekly review to determine a menu for the week and choose a time for grocery shopping. Want to get more sleep? Most everyone needs 8 hours of sleep. Count backwards nine hours from when you need to wake up. This is your bedtime. The extra hour will give you a bit of a buffer and a chance for you to fall asleep so you get the full eight hours of time actually sleeping.
9. Identify your obstacles.
What tends to get in the way of doing your habit? What are your distractors? What gets you off track? Create a plan for when you encounter these obstacles. If you get distracted online, set a timer to trigger you to stop surfing. Take as much of the decision-making about the habit out of it. Place your workout clothes next to your bed, put them on as soon as you wake up and don’t change until you’ve exercised. Remove tempting items from your home.
10. Enlist support.
Who in your life can help you with your habit? Surround yourself with people who do the habit. Find more active or healthier people than you to hang out with. Hire an accountability coach. Remember willpower is finite. Do what you can to preserve it.
11. Learn to pause.
Many of our behaviors are unconscious. When you catch yourself reaching for another helping of food, pause and ask yourself, “Do I really want this?” I also love the question, “Is this calorically worth it?” A square of craft dark chocolate? Absolutely. A square of Hershey’s? Not so much. Learn to pause before you act to make your behavior more conscious.
12. Choose what you are going to do instead.
This is important when you are subtracting or trying to get rid of a bad habit. What are you going to do instead of the habit? Give yourself a replacement behavior. If you want to cut down on your complaining, every time you catch yourself saying something negative, say at least two positive things.
13. Track your habit.
That which is tracked is achieved. Just the act of keeping track of your results increases the likelihood of your success. There are apps that can help you keep track of your habits or you can use a low-tech method and put an “x” or star on your calendar each day you do your habit. Then work on not breaking your chain.
Take time to reflect periodically on your habit. I like to do mine as part of my weekly review. What is supporting your new habit? What is hindering your new habit? Make adjustments as needed.
Lasting Habit Change is Possible
Think of your habits as a marathon not a sprint. Your success is sticking to your plan and performing your habit. Don’t worry so much about the results, those will come.
Not sure where to start? Some habits tend to promote healthier behavior in other areas of your life. These are often called “keystone habits”. A favorite blogger of mine, Mark Manson created a list of six keystone habits: exercise, cooking, meditation, reading, writing and socializing and explains why they lead to benefits in other areas of your life.
- Make a list of three behaviors you want to implement. What would make a huge impact on your health, finances, relationships, and work situation?
- Now make a list of three behaviors you want to stop. What isn’t supporting you in your life? If you are an “adder”, what would you like to do instead of your habit?
- Look at your lists. Ask yourself, which feels like it will make the biggest difference in your life? Or which feels like it would be the easiest to implement? Choose one to start with and use the 14 Essentials to Create Lasting Habit Change worksheet to design a structure to ensure you avoid fizzling out. When that habit is firmly in place, move on to the next one.
Now that you’ve selected your habit, download the free Create Lasting Habit Change worksheet to ensure you’ve created a structure for success and you’ll avoid fizzling out.
What habit are you implementing? Share in the comments.