You’ve heard the expression “how you spend your days is how you spend your life” a hundred times. Essentially, your habits make you who you are. But it’s not easy to change a habit that you’ve been repeating for 10, 20, or even 30 years! In fact, most of us know what we SHOULD be doing, but we can’t break out of our patterns long enough to go do it.
Today, I want to share with you a couple of simple steps to building a new habit. Along the way I will share with you an example from my own life where I’ve been trying to build the habit of drinking more water.
My new January habit – drink at least half my body weight in ounces of water a day for 31 days in a row (with the hope that after 31 days it would be a permanent habit). (I’ll be forming one new habit each month in 2020 if you want to join in on my monthly challenges over at @runsonoil).
–>Find the friction. First, you must figure out what has been holding you back on doing the thing consistently – AKA, the friction. Often, these are the excuses you say to yourself for why you don’t do the thing.
For example, I don’t drink enough water because I don’t like interrupting my work time to get up and go fill my water bottle (sounds lazy, but it’s true). I don’t drink enough water because I forget to bring my water bottle with me when I’m out.
–>Determine how you can reduce or remove the friction. It’s really helpful if you can take the excuses and find a way to make the process as brainless as possible and really hard to mess up. You can also stack or anchor the new habit with an existing habit you already do consistently.
For example, I made my mornings brainless by doing a few prep steps at night to guarantee success. First, I drew a line on an empty gallon water jug at the level of water I needed to drink each day. Every night before bed I fill it to the line. I fill my first water bottle for the next morning and put it on my bathroom counter. I stack the habit of making my morning coffee with filling a half gallon jug of water to take to work with me every day so I don’t have to get up to refill anything (only to go to the restroom after drinking alllllll the water). I’ve made it effortless to be successful. The water is right where I need it when I need it. No excuses.
–>Build in rewards and motivators. Determine what tools will help you to be successful based on your personality. Do phone reminders trigger an action for you? Do you love to track things and check them off a list when they’re complete? Giving yourself a small reward soon after you’ve done the habit can also help it stick. A larger reward down the road may sound great in theory, but sometimes our brains don’t feel as motivated by that because we crave instant gratification. Find a way to celebrate each small achievement and those quick dopamine hits can help keep you excited about the new habit.
For example, I love my morning cup of coffee on the way to work. I tell myself once I’ve finished my first 20 oz of water, I can enjoy my coffee. If I know I’d like to have a glass of wine with dinner, I’ll tell myself I can have the wine once I’ve achieved my water goal for the day. I keep a tracker in my planner so I can check off my goal for that day, and I track it in my FitBit app (I really love to track things). Writing down the goal and then checking it off is very satisfying!
–>Repeat it until it’s automatic. From what I’ve read, there’s not a lot of science to the 21-days-to-build-a-habit myth. It takes however long it takes and is dependent upon the complexity of the task. However, without consistency, it definitely won’t stick. It must become something that you no longer have to think about. I also find that only working on one new habit at a time brings the most long-term success. When we try to overhaul everything at once, we are most likely going to fail thanks to overwhelm and fatigue.
–>Reflect on the benefits. As you work to ingrain your new habit, take time to reflect on the benefits you’re starting to feel, especially those you didn’t expect.
For example, with my new focus on water intake, my stomach is less bloated, my skin is clearer, my brain fog is reduced, and my headaches have decreased. These are amazing benefits and contribute to a better quality of life! I’m much more likely to stick with a habit when I know what I’m gaining in the process.
Here are some great resources I’ve enjoyed about building better habits if you want to dig further into this topic:
Hidden Brain Podcast
Creatures of Habit: How Habits Shape Who We Are – And Who We Become
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear