The start of a new year is often the time when many people (myself included) begin to scrutinise the activities they take on a day to day basis. We are the sum of our habits, and the things we do every day – good or bad – determine what we achieve in the long run.
Eat that chocolate biscuit with your mid-morning cup of tea every day, and while you won’t see any immediate impact, over the months and years you will notice the extra weight creeping on.
Taking a 30 minute walk every day listening to a business Podcast, and while you won’t become super-fit or super-knowledgeable overnight, over the months and years you’ll have more energy and achieve more business success.
Author Jeff Olson calls it the “Slight Edge”. In his fantastic book The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness he looks at why some people seem to make dream after dream come true, while others just continue dreaming. The daily choices we make take us down one of those two paths.
I’ve been experimenting with building better habits over the past twelve months. The overall experiment has been a success as I have a number of new positive daily habits – such as reading a chapter of a book, meditating, going for a walk – which I no longer think about doing each day. Just like brushing your teeth, I just do them.
With that in mind, here are my 3 ways to build better habits immediately.
Measure your progress
The old phrase “What can be measured, can be managed” is never more true than when it comes to building habits. I’ve found that by keeping a track of which days I undertake a positive new activity, I become much more aware of the days when I don’t undertake that activity. When you start keeping score in this way, you quickly become motivated to build a winning streak of long periods of days when you’ve completed the positive activity. Before you know it, the activity has become a habit and you no longer need to keep score.
The tool I found most useful for measuring my progress is Coach.me (formerly known as Lift.do). Coach.me is an App that allows you to create a list of habits you’d like to build, and then check-in to record you’ve undertaken those activities each day. There is a community around many habits, so you can receive props and encouragement from others when you complete your activities, and seek out advice and coaching for those activities you’re struggling with. This accountability is a powerful activator for achieving your goals.
Build a number of small habits
Most of us create singular New Years resolutions that commit us to tackling the big challenges in our life. Overweight or unfit? We vow to go to the gym every day. Except after a week of going to the gym, we miss a day and then, because we’ve missed a day, we decide we can skip a weekend. Before we know it, we’re not going to the gym any more.
I’ve found that building a smaller number of more achievable habits, you gain the momentum and enthusiasm to tackle the bigger habits more consistently.
For instance, one of my ambitions for the past year was to go out for a walk for at least 30 minutes every day. At the end of some busy days, I’d not made the time to go for a walk and so I just shrugged my shoulders and said I’d start again tomorrow.
But when I starting adding a number of smaller activities to my Coach.me list of habit building goals each day – habits such as reading a chapter of a book, drinking more water, calling a friend – I found that by ticking off those smaller goals as done, I’d be more inclined to go out for a walk. In short, I didn’t want to spoil my scorecard by not ticking off all the items on it!
Try it yourself. Surround one more challenging habit goal with a number – say 3 to 5 – of smaller habits that you can typically consistently undertake without too much hassle. Watch as you become more motivated to build those bigger habits off the back of those smaller habits!
Understand Why you want to develop a habit
Committing yourself to building a positive new habit is admirable, but ask yourself why you want to build that habit?
Speaking personally, I’ve found that without understanding why I want to build a new habit, it’s hard to stick to doing that thing.
If you’re asking yourself to go for a run every day or to visit the gym each day, why is that really? “Losing weight” or “getting fit” are legitimate answers, but not very compelling ones. “To give myself more energy to enjoy the activities I enjoy” is a stronger answer and one you can remind yourself of when you’re feeling less than enthusiastic about undertaking that activity.
If you simply list goals for habits without a compelling reason why you want to build those habits, then experience tells me that you will probably fail to build those activities into consistent positive habits.
Understanding why – in your own words – you want to build a positive habit helps you stay on track and successfully build that habit.
All of us have something positive we’d like to do more consistently. Many of us try to build these positive habits, and fail because we run out of commitment.
By measuring your progress of habit building on a day-to-day basis, you’ll find you are more inclined to build positive “streaks” of success. By focusing on a number of smaller habits every day, you’ll find you build the enthusiasm and commitment to tackle building bigger habits.
And if you fail to build a habit, ask yourself why you want to build that habit in the first place. What was it you were really hoping to achieve by building that habit?
Those small decisions we make every day lead us down one of two paths – one of those paths is towards the success we want, the other is away from it. Which path will you choose today?