There are countless books written on the subject of how to form habits and basically every self-improvement guru has talked about it. But still, creating habits is one of the hardest things many of us will ever do. Why is this? Well, because change is hard in the first place but changing something you do (or don’t do) automatically adds an extra layer of challenge. Plus, you have that whole, the brain doesn’t like change thing going on. So, how are you supposed to overcome all that? Find out how to form habits the easy way that will last a lifetime!
Choose ONLY One
Habit creation is difficult so don’t take on everything all at once. Focus on one and only one habit to change at a time.
It’s best to start with the habit with the biggest impact (aka, a supercharged habit). That could mean you start with the one that is most detrimental to your health or interferes most with your goals. Or it could mean that you start with the one that causes you to (or not to) engage in other habits.
For example, I’ve found that staying up late dramatically impacts other habit formation and success. When I don’t stick to a fairly strict bedtime I tend to snack on junk food at night. I also oversleep in the morning causing me to skip my morning routine. This means, no workout, no body brushing, starting the day stressed and decreased productivity throughout the day. So, addressing my bedtime habits eliminates late night snacking and improves my likelihood of success in forming the morning habits I long for. Choosing this one habit to work on first has profound impact in a number of ways!
Do you have a habit that if changed would create a domino effect? If so, that’s a great place to start!
Change Your Thoughts (Make Your Habit Part of Your Identity or Release it)
What do you think about your habits and yourself because of them? It’s easy to get stuck in the repeating loop that you’ll never be able to change or that you’re a failure. But how does this serve you? Does it help you make change or turn into quicksand that sucks you in deeper and deeper?
Sure, you may not have successfully kicked (or picked up) your habit yet but that doesn’t mean you can’t. And it doesn’t mean anything about your worth or value. Acknowledge these negative self-defeating thoughts. Write them down. Get them out. And give yourself some grace! Beating yourself up certainly won’t get you closer to your goals.
Replace those negative thoughts with positive ones. Think about what you would tell your friend, son, or sister if they were in the same situation. Now apply those thoughts to yourself!
Positive thoughts and affirmations increase your confidence and even change the way your brain works. They build neurological connections that make you more adaptive and resilient which makes it easier to make or break habits! To learn more about how to create a powerful affirmation practice (that will literally rewire your brain) be sure to check out my Affirmation Masterclass Series in Inner Circle.
Get Fired Up (and Stay That Way)
We’re all fired up when we first get started but self-discipline and white-knuckle willpower won’t keep you going. What will is the constant reminder that you’re more than capable! And that means adding your new habit to a long list of ones you’re successfully doing.
Most of us are familiar with this practice frequently referred to as “habit stacking”. And while you have likely heard that it’s easier to do a new habit inside a routine because you’re already doing the rest of your routine, you likely haven’t heard what I’m about to share next (and it’s a complete game-changer, especially for neurodivergent people).
When you stack your habit inside an existing routine you’re already successful with you are able to capitalize on the momentum you already have. No more worries about how to get or stay motivated. BUT… in order to make this happen you have to give yourself credit for each habit you’ve done before it in the routine. When you acknowledge your success your brain gets a little dopamine boost. And remember… dopamine is the feel good neurotransmitter that creates motivation (turns out motivation isn’t a feeling, it’s a chemical reaction in the body… just like hunger).
Uncover Your Triggers
Habits don’t just happen; they are triggered by something. So, uncovering your triggers or discovering things that can become triggers to form new better habits is key.
A trigger is the signal to your brain to do the habit. Almost anything in your surroundings or even within you could be a trigger. It might be a thought or feeling (such as stress) or a sight, sound, or location (and those are just a few possible trigger sources).
For example, when I wanted to quit smoking, I discovered that there were activities in my day such as eating and driving and feelings like stress that triggered me to reach for a cigarette.
In order to quit smoking, I had to address both the activities and feelings that triggered it so I could head it off in the pass. This meant I had to plan to do something else immediately after eating and while driving. And I also needed to find another thing to reach for when stressed (NOT food… I went with deep breathing and taking a quiet break).
You can also plant triggers in your surroundings to help you form a new habit. Leaving the tools of your habit (like a journal and pen) out where you can see them or creating a special space or scent associated with your new habit can be incredibly helpful.
Identifying or planting triggers will help you create plans that lead to success.
Surround Yourself with Positivity
When you set out to create new habits you might be tempted to either keep your intentions to yourself or shout them to the world. The truth is the best thing to do is somewhere in the middle.
Assess carefully who you tell about the change you’re making. We all have people in our lives who are less than supportive, or pessimistic (or simply too realistic). It’s hard enough to overcome your own negative self-talk, you don’t need anyone else echoing it.
You may also want to rethink sharing your plans with those who have similar struggles but aren’t ready to take them on. Your commitment to change may make them feel called out and defensive and without meaning to they may slip into undermining your attempts.
Be sure tell the people in your life who you know will support you, cheer you on and hold you accountable and join a community for more support, guidance, and accountability. You can use all the encouragement you can get! When you’re struggling you can lean into them and count on them to reassure you and keep your spirits high!
Stay motivated by practicing self-care regularly.
Changing habits can be hard work and extremely draining and disheartening. That’s why it’s so important to take excellent care of yourself throughout the process. Don’t withhold self-care because you had a slip or missed it one day. Reward yourself for the effort you’re putting in and remember to keep your spirits high and your thoughts positive.
Deliberately plan pampering self-care at least once a week. It could be as simple as a bath, painting your nails or making a sugar body scrub. It doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive and it shouldn’t undermine other goals. Doing something nice for yourself will inspire and motivate you to stick with the changes you’re making even when it’s difficult!
Track Your Success
Keeping track of your success makes a huge difference. You can count on enthusiasm to get you through the first few days or even weeks. And once you’ve accumulated a few days of tracked progress it’s easier to continue. Plus, it’s oh so nice to see those trackers filling up.
The best way to track your progress is by using The Routinely App. It allows you to customize your schedule (for those habits that don’t occur daily), schedule reminders, create and track entire routines, and even skip while maintaining your streak for those unexpected emergencies.
Have a Planned Reward
Planning a reward for yourself may just be the added incentive you need to stay on track! Many of our habits have a direct impact on the bottom line. Smoking, over-eating and even over sleeping can be expensive. Setting aside some of the money you’ve saved (or made) through the process of changing can be a fun way to encourage yourself. When you’ve completed your habit change you can use that money to treat yourself. Get a massage, buy a new outfit or even take a road trip!
Not only does planning a reward give you something to look forward to it also frames your change in a positive way. It’s a way of giving yourself a pat on the back and saying, “YOU ROCK”! And making a concrete plan for the end of your habit change session indicates that you believe in yourself. Which is often the most important part of making and sticking to any change!
No matter how many times you’ve tried to change your habits don’t quit trying. You may have found 100 different approaches that haven’t worked for you but that doesn’t mean 101 won’t.
The number one most important thing about habit change is that you just keep at it until you’ve gotten the results you want. Give yourself grace, be kind to yourself and try again! Nothing worth having in life is easy and I’ve never heard of anyone creating a habit the first time they set out to. So, don’t be disheartened! You’ll get there as long as you commit to never giving up!