Why is it that New Year’s resolutions run out of steam, often after just a few days? How can you create new and lasting habits that will have a positive impact on your quality of life? I’ve distilled some of the key ways you can ensure your good intentions become sustainable behaviours. Here are a number of tips, combining wisdom from some of the experts in this field.
Almost half of our behaviours are habitual. Habits control much of our lives, operating below the level of conscious thought. This is helpful. Habits enable you to operate on autopilot, gliding through your morning routine from waking to getting to work without expending unnecessary energy on intentional thinking. Habits are resilient and become ingrained. This is why, when you’re trying to create new ones, there’s a risk you’ll default to easier, old habits.
To create new habits that will stick:
1. Consider your environment
Psychologist Kurt Lewin described behaviour ‘as a function of the individual and their environment.’ Moving house, changing areas, jobs, becoming single or cohabiting all create opportunities to reinvent yourself and your habits in your new environment. Or you can change your existing environment. If you’re guilty of frittering away hours mindlessly checking e mails and social media, putting your phone inconveniently out of reach can be replaced by more productive and enjoyable activities.
2. Practice Mindfulness to develop greater awareness of your bad habits
Given how much of the time you operate on automatic pilot, Mindfulness can help you become more aware of what you’re doing. For example, eating food with your non-dominant hand will force you to eat more slowly, thinking about what you’re eating and stopping when you’re full.
3. Stack a small new habit onto an existing one
This approach will make a new habit more likely to stick. Making a hot drink will give you one minute to take several deep breaths or perform 10 squats. While these actions might seem negligible, over time you’ll feel the cumulative benefits of habit stacking.
4. Divert your craving
If you crave a sugary snack at a certain point in the day, what is it you’re feeling? Are you tired? bored? Lonely? Don’t resist your craving- just shift your focus onto something else for 15 minutes. Your craving will diminish after this length of time. Divert your attention by taking a brisk walk, drinking a glass of water or having a conversation with a colleague.
5. Make it easy on yourself
Motivation coupled with your capacity to change and the stimulus to do so are more likely to lead to new habits than motivation alone. Habits need to be easy. Look for small, enjoyable, easy wins. Dopamine is a crucial motivator. It kicks in not only when you are enjoying food or drink, but in anticipation of reward. If you can anticipate the good feeling you’ll get when you’ve completed a difficult project or a gym workout, this will help spur you on. Attach a treat to something you consider a chore- by harnessing a need with a want. For example, watching Netflix while on the treadmill.
6. Getting started is the key
To make a habit stick, limit it to just 2 minutes. For example, just read 2 pages of a book a day. Very small expectations make it more likely you’ll quite quickly increase the number of pages.
7. Focus on delayed gratification
Our brains are hard-wired to achieve instant gratification. However, focusing on a longer, satisfying goal with corresponding behaviours can be achieved. For example, if you’re trying to save for a holiday but enjoy eating out, why not put the savings you make by not eating out into a ‘holiday savings’ fund and enjoy watching it grow.
8. Track your progress
Although your steps may seem very modest, keeping a journal is a good way to record your progress. The cumulative effects of small changes to behaviours over time will make a significant difference to your health and wellbeing.
Atomic Habits James Clear
Making Habits, Breaking Habits Jeremy Dean
The Power of Habits Charles Duhigg
Tiny Habits B.J. Fogg
Better Than Before Gretchen Rubin
Good Habits, Bad Habits Wendy Wood