How to Build Positive Habits that actually Stick!
Building positive habits is one of the most important steps for having a successful career, relationship and life! Imagine if we had to think, ponder and decide when to wash our teeth, when and how to get to work, how to clean the floor, etc. We would go crazy! Our brains need efficiency and that’s where habits take place.
We might think it’s difficult to new create habits. But in fact, our brains are very good at that task. The problem is that it can’t differentiate positive habits from bad ones. That’s our job.
I read two books on the subject that are the inspiration for this post. One is The Power of Habit written by Charles Duhigg and the other is Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister.
Both have valuable insights that go very well together. In order to create new positive habits, we must use some willpower and that needs to be managed very well!
Step by Step Process on How to Build Positive Habits
According to Charles Duhigg, all habits can be broken in a 3 step process:
Habits are triggered by cues, which tell our brains to go into automatic mode. Those clues lead to the routine associated with it. And after the routine, comes the reward.
In fact, when the routine is repeated hundreds of times, you feel the pleasure associated with the reward even before doing the routine.
When you want to implement a new positive habit you should create a cue that will lead you to execute the routine. Let’s say you want to learn a new skill, such as playing guitar every single day after lunch. You can literally place your guitar next to your kitchen table which will remember you to execute the routine. The reward you should expect is a sense of progress! Or you can associate other type of rewards in order to feel more motivated.
Exercising is also a great habit to start with. If you want to start exercising right after waking up (which is what I’m currently doing) you can leave your gym clothes right next to your bed the night before. Some people sleep with their gym clothes to avoid excuses. Seeing your gym clothes will be the cue, which will lead you to the routine of going to the gym or working out at home. The reward will be the endorphins and the energy you will feel throughout the day!
In order to get into the routine, you must be exposed to the cue. Those cues are related with:
- Location (when I go to a specific coffee shop, I know I should work)
- Time (after waking up, it’s time to work out)
- Emotions (when I feel sad I’ve got the bad habit of eating junk food)
- Last Action (when I exercise, I tend to eat a more healthy breakfast)
You probably have some bad habits going on, just like I do. The key is to find the cue that leads to the bad routine. If you eat junk food after coming from work, the cue might be the fatigue you feel when the work day is over. Or the bad habit can be triggered by the act of sitting on the sofa, watching television. Those actions or feelings can make you crave junk food.
You can’t delete a bad habit. But you can replace it with a good one. In this case, you can simply STOP buying junk food. And replace unhealthy snacks with healthy ones by placing them right next to your sofa.
When stopping a bad habit, make sure you don’t replace it with another bad habit… People who stop smoking have the tendency to start eating more. Instead, they should try to replace the habit of smoking with the habit of running!
“Change might not be fast and it isn't always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.”-Charles Duhigg
What you need to create new positive habits
According to some research made by Baumeister and Tierney, willpower is the key to success and to a better life!
We can think of willpower like a battery that drains throughout the day. So, the more we use it, the less we have. That’s why it is so important to use willpower wisely in order to create new habits, which will then run in autopilot.
Last year, I wanted to start getting into the habit of working out a few hours before dinner. It didn’t work! Because late in the day, I didn’t have enough willpower to do it! I would simply accept all the excuses I made. Now, I workout after waking up and it works much better (I’m way better at rejecting my crappy excuses).
Willpower is finite so don’t use it with unimportant decisions. That’s why some entrepreneurs, such as the creator of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, wears the same t-shirt every day. So he won’t waste any willpower deciding which clothes to wear.
I don’t want to wear the same clothes everyday, but I pick what I want to wear the night before! Instead of wasting willpower in dumb decisions, we should use it in a more productive way, creating new positive habits!
How to Increase your willpower!
Eat! If your glucose is low your willpower will also be low. Eat healthy foods!
Rest! A good night of sleep is essential for well being and to recharge your willpower.
Meditate! Your brain gets stronger and better on controlling impulses when meditating. Meditation builds new neurons, it helps on focusing, building a discipline muscle, etc.
Clean your work environment! In one experiment, a group was exposed to a nice neat laboratory room while others sat in a disorganized place. The people in the messy room scored lower in self-control on many measures! The same happens when participants visited a clean website and a sloppy one.
Exercise! It reduces cravings and makes you happier. Which will lead to more motivation to start new positive habits such as learning a new skill or waking up early!
Pro Tips on How to Keep up with a new Habit!
Before starting positive habits, write some difficulties or problems that might emerge during the process. Charles Duhigg, believes this is essential to keep up with a habit in the long run. If you actually try to predict possible obstacles you won’t be so prompted to give up.
This could look like this:
“I’m now starting to exercise every morning. I know I can make time for it no matter what. The fact that I will have 3 different new projects at work next month, won’t be the excuse for making me stop.”
Another very important aspect is: Make it easy for you to complete your daily habit!
If you just now started to learn how to play guitar, you don’t need to set a goal of practicing for 1 hour! Set 15 minutes or 5 minutes. And feel awesome if it sounds horrible! Same with working out or learning how to program.
If you want to start a new habit, such as practicing guitar or meditating, make sure your physiological needs are fulfilled! I learnt the Hierarchy of Needs by Maslow this year in college, and it makes total sense. If you want to fulfill your top needs, you must figure out sleep, nutrition and exercise first!
If you commit yourself to practice every single day, you will progress and become better! You might even master a skill! Even the habit of waking up early, when done a lot of times, becomes easier!
Jerry Seinfield is a comedian who decided, early on his career, to commit himself to writing one joke per day. That was it. He would then mark up his calendar with a huge X. His goal was to never break the streak! And that’s how he became very good writing jokes.
Don’t miss a day! And if you do… never miss 2 days!
“Self-discipline predicted academic performance more robustly than did IQ. Self-discipline also predicted which students would improve their grades over the course of the school year, whereas IQ did not... It has a bigger effect on academic performance than does intellectual talent.”-Charles Duhigg
Why aren’t we teaching discipline in schools?
One good habit impacts all the other ones!
When you build a good habit you feel more motivated to start more positive habits. The habit of playing guitar might motivate you to start learning other skills and reading more about different topics! The habit of exercising might motivate you to start meditating or waking up early! Don’t underestimate the power of one positive habit in your life!
“Typically, people who exercise, start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.”-Charles Duhigg
Believe you can change your habits!
Don’t forget, you must believe that YES YOU CAN change your bad habits!
Which is the one habit that if you implemented right now, would change your life? It doesn’t have to be something big!
“If you believe you can change - if you make it a habit - the change becomes real.”-Charles Duhigg