Many people think that in order to successfully establish and stick to new habits, you need motivation and willpower. That’s true, but only partially. Willpower and motivation can force you to start a new habit but they won’t ensure that you’ll stick to it.
The reason is both motivation and willpower don’t remain constant all the time but keep fluctuating with moods, emotional states and changing life events. Since habits are something you’d like to establish in a more permanent fashion, relying on motivation or willpower alone is not a great idea.
The core idea behind developing new habits
Habits are automatic subconscious responses that you act out without much conscious thought because your subconscious mind
is convinced they’re important activities that don’t need conscious interference.
When it comes to developing new habits that you know consciously are beneficial to you, the greatest challenge is to convince your subconscious mind of their importance so that they become automatic behavioral responses too.
Here are some useful strategies to develop new habits and stick to them:
1) It all starts with a burning desire
Like I said before, to start a new habit you need motivation. Whether this motivation comes from being fed up with not being able to stick to your habits up until now or thinking about how much your life will improve once you develop new habits doesn’t matter.
What matters is whether or not you have a burning desire to develop new habits. Remember, the inception of new habits is always a conscious choice.
Imagine the rewards you’ll gain when you develop the habits that you want or the rewards that you’ll miss if you don’t develop them. Do a mental time travel and see yourself basking in the glory of the great life that you created thanks to your habits or try to imagine how bad your life will be if you never manage to change your habits.
Visualization, whether positive or negative, if done frequently, can strongly motivate you.
3) A jug fills drop by drop
So you’re done with the motivation part, you decide to develop a new set of habits and even follow your routine for a couple of days. But what’ll make you stick to your new routine a few days later when your motivation fades away? Nothing. This is why it’s important to start small and make incremental progress when you set out to develop new habits.
When you take small, baby steps to change your habits you won’t need a great amount of motivation to keep doing them. That’s a good thing because mustering a good amount of motivation day after day can a become an encumbering task.
Say you wanted to develop the habit of running 5 miles a day. If you don’t do any running now and decide to run 5 miles from tomorrow, you’ll never stick to the habit. The sudden change will be too overwhelming.
Instead, running 1 mile in the first week will be a more achievable goal. Then you may gradually add a mile every week and by the end of the month you’ll have developed the habit of running every day and you won’t find any problems with running 5 miles.
Rome was not built in a freaking day!
When it comes to forming new habits, the perfect triggers would be the things that you already do on a daily basis. Triggers are an important initial step that remind us about our habits and program us to act them out. If you go to the gym at the same time every day, then that time will become a trigger to remind you of your habit.
Similarly, if you want to jog every morning then placing your jogging clothes next to your bed is a good idea because when you wake up they will remind you to jog. Use whatever trigger you can to remind yourself of a habit that you need to carry out.
Repeat the habit till you start to crave it
When you act out your new habit enough number of times, your subconscious mind will start to believe that this new habit is a useful behavior that needs to be triggered automatically. At that point, you’ll have successfully established the new habit and you’ll notice that you now crave the reward that is associated with your habit.
For instance, it doesn’t take a lot of time for gym addicts to crave the feeling that they get after exercising. So whenever it’s time to hit the gym, the anticipation of the reward (good feeling) becomes too overpowering.
Similarly, when you do your new habit enough number of times, the trigger will make you crave the reward and your subconscious mind will help you to carry out the habit.