In Part 1 of developing habits, I talked about associating good feelings towards desired actions. Can you associate good feelings towards taking the necessary actions to develop the desirable habit and still fail? Unfortunately, yes.
For some habits, creating those good feelings is all you need to do. For others, however, it will take a bit more planning. So here are ways that I’ve personally found effective in developing habits. Remember, once you create the habit, the hard part will be over. The challenge is just doing what you need to do long enough for it to become a habit. Tip: Go into this with a warrior’s mentality instead of a wimpy wishy washy one.
The 7 Steps to Developing Habits
1. Get clear on the end result of developing habits.
2. Develop strong enough reasons why you want the end result.
3. Educate yourself. Know what it really takes to form the habit.
4. Prepare to be attacked.
5. Get reinforcements.
6. Continue on the stairs until you reach the escalator.
7. It’s all maintenance from here.
Get Clear on the End Result
This may sound elementary but you must first know why you want to develop the habit in the first place. What is the end goal for having the habit? If the habit you want to develop is going to the gym every day, your end result could be to get down to a certain weight or be able to run a marathon or to reduce stress. Now the end result should be something that you can get excited about. Remember, a habit isn’t just something you will do a few times and never do again. It’ll be something you will consistently do until you decide to break it.
Develop Strong Enough Reasons
Once you know the end result, you must identify why you want it. You must have enough compelling reasons for doing this because if you don’t, you can easily become discouraged. Most of the time when people fail to achieve a goal they’ve set out, it’s because their reasons for achieving it wasn’t strong enough to help them endure the setbacks and obstacles. Therefore, it’s critically important that you have strong reasons for obtaining the end results because it will be the fuel that will drive your actions in forming the habits that will eventually make everything automatic.
You’ve got to know what it really takes. If you go into something blindly, chances are you will be faced with disappointment. Let’s say your goal is to lose weight. You set a goal to lose 50 pounds 3 months. Then you work on developing the habit of regular exercise and eating correctly. Problem is, you didn’t educate yourself enough to know what proper exercising and eating consists of.
So you go to the gym everyday and run your heart out and come home and eat foods you think is healthy. You also didn’t know what to expect, thinking you could probably lost 15 lbs a month every month. Two months pass and you’ve only lost 10 pounds, you always feel tired, and you’re starting to feel discouraged. If you had taken the time to educate yourself on proper exercise, dieting, and know what to expect, you’d still feel motivated and energized to keep at it. Don’t let this happen to you, be smart, and educate yourself.
Prepare to be Attacked
The greatest obstacle you’ll face in developing habits will come from your own “gremlins”. You know, the charming little voice in your head that comes up with about a dozen excuses to not take action. Persuasive little critters they are. Have you ever wanted to develop the habit of waking up at a certain time every morning? You know how it is right? The first few days might be a cinch. But about the end of the first week, you wake up at the right time, but on this day, something wakes up with you and starts a little sales pitch.
“Boy, it’s sure cold this morning. When did this blanket become so nice and warm? It’s still dark outside and everyone is still sleeping. My eyes and chest are still a bit heavy. I still feeling tired. If I wake up now, I might not have enough energy to last through the day, but if I just sleep a bit more, I’ll for sure have more energy later on. That dream I just had was so awesome, maybe if I close my eyes, I can go back to it. That’d be sweeeeeeet. Okay, just another 20 minutes, that’s just 2 snooze buttons. I’ll make it up tomorrow, I’ve done so well these past few days so I deserve a little reward…”
How many times have you had a similar experience? Some of you probably had this experience this morning! You see, this “gremlin” will be your biggest nemesis. Mainly because it knows you better than anyone else. It knows what makes you tick. It knows how to persuade you into doing what’s instantly gratifying instead of doing what you know will give you long term success. So how do we deal with this gremlin? You get prepared.
You know yourself best and you know the excuses you will come up with when you don’t feel like taking action. In those moments of weakness, if you’re not prepared, your gremlin will win. So here’s what to do. I’ve done this myself and it has worked very well.
Take out a piece of paper and start writing down any excuse you can think of that you know will eventually come up. Things like, “it’s too cold”, “I’ll just do it tomorrow”, “I don’t really feel like it”, “I haven’t seen any results yet, what’s the point”, “I just have to learn to love myself just the way I am”, etc. You get the point.
Next, write down ways to overcome these excuses. Know that these excuse making thought patterns is a habit. What you need to do is figure out a way to break them. For each excuse you’ve come up with on your list, write down one or more strategies to deal with it. You’ve got to anticipate these excuses/obstacles in advance and figure out a way to overcome them or set it up where they never come up.
Find ways to remind yourself why you’re trying to develop habits. Examples:
Put your goal in writing where you can see it everyday.
Put a picture of the body you want with your face on it in front of your refrigerator.
Record a message to yourself telling yourself why you’ve got to keep going and listen to it daily.
If you have songs that just pump you up and get you going, listen to it.
Get support from friends and family members to help keep you accountable
The point of having reinforcements is that it’s so easy to get sidetracked. Having these things in front of you every day will remind you of your reasons why you must follow through.
Continue on the Stairs Until You Reach the Escalator
The hardest part of developing habits is the actual developing stage. When something isn’t a habit yet, it will take focus and work. Do you think the people who have great looking physiques have to force themselves to go to the gym and eat right? No. Those activities have become a part of their life. I know this from experience. Only about a year and a half ago, I had to force myself to go to the gym. But once I’ve done it long enough, it just became a part of my life. Now, NOT going to the gym makes me feel like I’m missing something. It’s become a habit for me and is no longer a struggle. That’s the point you want to get to with any habit you want to develop, when NOT doing it makes you uncomfortable.
How long does it take to form a habit? Conventional wisdom says 21 – 30 days. It really depends on the habit from my experience. How long it takes really depends on how fast you can get to the point where it becomes effortless, but for practicality sake, set a goal to do it for at least 30 days, everyday. So your goal is to do take action on what you want to develop into a habit for 30 days so that it becomes a habit.
Regarding the 30 days, know that it’s okay to fail. You read correctly. Too many times people set a goal to develop a habit only to end up quitting just because on day 7 or whatever, they failed to follow through. It’s not all or nothing. If 30 days is too long, break it down. Do it for 7 days in a row, or 5 days, or 2 days. That’s not enough time to form a habit but it will give you confidence that if you can sustain the action for 2 days, you can do it for 5 days and 7 days and so on.
Or you can break it down activity wise. Let’s say you want to develop the habit of going to the gym. On day 4 you stumble. You used everything you could think of but that damn gremlin persuaded you to not go. Instead of beating yourself up, think of a different approach. If going to the gym and working for an hour for 30 days or even 5 days is too much, how about just develop the habit of just going to the gym without actually working out. If that is still too much, how about develop the habit of getting dressed and getting in your car. Now that might sound silly but trust me, it works. Eventually, you’ll be sitting in the car and just think, why don’t I just drive to the gym today. Gradually you’ll be able to work your way up to actually doing the workout. Keep it simple and take it one step at a time if you have to.
Once you’ve formed the habit, from this point….
It’s All Maintenance From Here
This is where you want to be at. This is what makes everything easy. Once you’ve developed the habit, it’ll no longer be a struggle. You will no longer have to force or motivate yourself to take action. It’ll be a part of your life. From here, all you have to do is maintain it. Depending on how strong the habit is, even if you stop say, going to the gym for a few weeks, your habit will eventually draw you back into going again. Now and then you might have to get back into a habit of doing something if you’ve stopped for too long perhaps due to some external circumstances like relocating and not having a gym near by, but don’t worry, the 2nd time around is a lot easier and takes less time.
Hopefully you found this posting to be helpful. One of my goals for this website is to provide you with tools to help you take action long enough to form these habits. The quotes, poems, videos, etc. are reinforcement tools to help you stay focused and motivated. So feel free to use them.