However you define the good life, what’s one thing you can do to live it?
You can do this thing even if you don’t have goals, resolutions, or intentions. If you do, this thing can become the backbone of your goal-getting success.
In time, you become your habits.
Habits are the actions we take that we don’t have to think too hard about. We just do them until they become second nature. This seems contradictory to the mindfulness mindset we keep hearing all about these days, but if you’re conscious and deliberate about your habits, you can be both mindful and effective.
What habits can help you reach your goals?
The most impactful habits depend, of course, on you and what you want to achieve. For general health and happiness, Mark Manson lists some really good ones in his post Your Goals Are Overrated. To his list of six I’d add playing and sleeping. Your brain and body dig both.
Take a look at your goals. What actions can you take on a daily basis to move toward them? Those actions are the habits worth creating.
Hellz yeah I know it’s not always as easy as that. Creating new habits is tough. No worries, though, because when it comes to creating new habits, there are a few things you can do to make the process less painful.
Harness your intrinsic motivation.
There must be something inside. Yes, inside you that makes you WANT to change your behavior toward a specific outcome. Not should. There’s a lot of shoulding going on out there. Disregard the shoulding noise. Do you really have to drink green juice everyday? No. Must you write down three things you’re grateful for everyday? No. What about meditation? I like to take naps instead, but that’s me.
Your habits will ultimately be a reflection of you, so make sure they start out that way. You gotta want it or that habit is going to be a hardcore bummer to get into.
Set implementation intentions aka “if, then” scenarios.
Heads up: this tip right here is, I believe, the crown jewel of habit setting and goal achievement.
Implementation intentions are pretty much “if, then” plans you create for yourself. Let’s say your goal is to eat healthier but your major downfall is that candy bowl on your coworker’s desk that you always pass around 3 pm at that vulnerable moment when the snacking mood strikes. You say to yourself, “If I walk by Sandra’s candy bowl when I’m hungry, then I’ll go back to my office and eat the apple I packed myself.”
Boom, you have a plan. You’re creating behaviors out of existing habits—things you already do. Lots of research shows that implementation intentions lead to more successful outcomes. Here is some meta-analysis on it.
- If I log into Facebook, I’ll set a timer for 15 minutes and log out when the timer is up.
- If I’m brushing my teeth, I’ll do ten squats.
- If I feel jealous or bad about myself after viewing someone’s curated life on social media, I’ll stop and write down one thing I’m grateful for.
- If I feed my cat, I’ll scoop the litter box.
- If I finish eating lunch, I’ll go for a ten minute walk.
- If I’m done working for the evening, I’ll spend five minutes filing, shredding, or throwing away papers in the stack on my desk (ahem, Lindsay).
- If I’m drinking my morning cup of coffee, I’ll write down the three most important tasks I need to complete today.
- If I’ve finished eating dinner, I’ll put the dishes in the dishwasher.
You get the idea. The point here is not to rely on willpower because each of us has a finite supply that tends to be depleted as the day goes on. Rely on cues or triggers (the if’s) instead.
Make it as easy as humanely possible for yourself.
Do yourself a solid here. It’s not about babying yourself, it’s about eliminating excuses and possible obstacles. Let’s say that instead of getting to the gym to exercise every morning before work, you keep making it out the door too late to get a good workout in.
You figure out that dressing for exercise and packing your gym bag is a real drag when it’s dark and cold outside and you’re only half awake. Pack that bag the night before and have your gym clothes and bag all ready to go next to your bed.
Consider what you can do to make things super easy and convenient for yourself? Tweak your environment and the rituals surrounding your habits.
Start incredibly small.
Put your running shoes on. Sit in your writing chair and turn on your computer. Read one page. You may think this sounds trivial or silly, but don’t underestimate how small bits of progress can add up to something big. By starting small, you’re creating a string of successes and making progress little by little. Researcher BJ Fogg calls this TinyHabits and has a whole program developed around the idea.
When you get off track, ask yourself why.
There’s probably something you can do to make it easier for yourself. There may be a trigger that’s so engrained in your life that you don’t even realize what you’re doing and why. We react to cues in our environment without thinking. That’s what habits are and why they can be tough to break.
What’s your cue? Red lights cause us to stop and green lights make us go. What makes you eat junk food, check your phone while out with friends, and toss whatever’s in your pocket into that random drawer in your kitchen? What “if, then” plans could you build around those existing habits?
Hang around other people who have the habits you want (or even similar habits)
While running at the gym, I see a lady zoom by me on the track. Oh yeah, I think. It’d be good to add in some sprints instead of running at a constant pace like I always do. Hellz yeah, I want to get faster. Later I see another runner head over to the stretching area with a foam roller. Ah-ha, yes, I should stretch and foam roll my muscles so I don’t feel as sore. Apparently I zone out when I’m running and need a lot of social cues to remind me of habits and behaviors that can make me a more successful runner.
We can learn a lot of from observing what other people do. Those who already have the habits we want can trigger us to do the same. Their good examples serve as reminders and inspiration.
So how long is this gonna take?
Enough with the 21 days bullshit already. This study followed 96 participants and found that habit formation was achieved in as little as 18 days and as long as 254 days. The average time? 66 days.
The main point here is that forming new habits can take a lot longer than is commonly believed. Don’t get all bummed out if it takes a forevvver and things don’t feel so automatic despite your repeated efforts. Just keep going cuz, yeah, this could take a while.
What new habits are you building this year?
What “if, then” scenarios can you create to help you make those habits? What’s the smallest thing you can do to start? Go do that and then let’s chat about it in the comments.