One thing I was not prepared for growing up is how hard it is to create new good habits.
Everyone focuses on breaking bad habits, but not much is said about creating new habits. So I gathered ideas from friends on the internet. Sadly, when I quoted and mentioned those who helped, this column got too long. So I went with a shorter list, but my thanks to those who helped.
- Be accountable to someone else: Some habits are easier to maintain if someone else is reminding you to do them. This can go so far as to have someone doing them with you, which makes both try to keep up with one another.
- Make it a competition: Those with a competitive nature can find ways to make almost anything competitive from weight loss to smoking and there are apparently even competitive book clubs online.
- Keep a schedule: Scheduling is twofold as keeping a reminder alarm on your phone makes the "I forgot" excuse impossible. Scheduling time every day also means your body will get into a groove and make workouts and things like writing easier during that time.
- Set up rewards: When you start, if you set up clearly defined rewards for clearly defined accomplishments you enhance the part of your mind that reacts to positive reinforcement. A friend referenced temptation bundling, which is similar, and she only gets coffee in the morning if she is out of the house by a specific time.
- Ease into it: You don't need to start big, and with some habits it can be a bad idea to start too big. This helps your mind to get into a specific mindset and prevents you from making excuses not to start, whether that means starting with 1- to 5-minute intervals or fewer reps or less weight in the case of strength training.
- Be OK with the bear minimum: Remember this G.K. Chesterton's quote: "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." If you always obsess with doing things perfectly or to the extreme, you might find yourself not doing your usual routine when you feel unable to give it your all, and that could be fatal to any good habit. Doing a 5-minute walk when you're sick instead of a 30- to 60-minute walk may keep you from falling out of a good habit.
- Make success visible: Some things, like weight loss, aren't necessarily that visible. I had no scale and only a tiny mirror when I lived in China for a year, and with every little bit of weight I lost I got used to how I looked. I had no idea I lost more than 50 pounds until someone back home saw a photo of me. This doesn't mean you have to weigh/measure yourself all the time (if that works for you, go for it), but if you keep a journal tracking your journey, you remind yourself every day of your progress whether that be in your reading, writing, mindfulness, reps or weight, calories or virtually anything.
- Find joy in your routine: Find something you enjoy about your new good habit or you'll be fighting yourself the entire way. Think of this quote by S. McNutt: "Fall in love with taking care of yourself." If you have ever had your ear talked off by someone who has started running and they mention a "runner's high," or maybe it is a new reader talking about a character, then you have met someone who is finding something to enjoy. Learn from them and try not to wreck it for them.
- Include small goals: If all your goals are lofty and take years to achieve, then you are missing on the reward part of classical conditioning. Consciously setting small goals or checkpoints along the way will help you feel like you are accomplishing something. I have a strength training goal to catch back up with my ninth-grade self, who was pretty fit. Along the way I celebrate every 10 pounds I add to my bench. This can be applied to weight loss or so many other things as well.
- Remove stumbling blocks: For me this is vital. Bad shoes can end a new jogging routine. Distracting environments can hamper a reading routine, and poor sleep habits can stop you from waking up at a reasonable time. Before you start a new habit, think about what could possibly get in the way, and do your best to schedule around those things or remove those stumbling blocks somehow. They might be less of an issue once the habit is established, but in the beginning they could spell the end.
Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.