Our habits are the underlying driving force of what we achieve in life— in a nutshell, they set the tone for whether we achieve greatness or mediocrity. Duke university researchers have discovered that 40 percent of our behaviors and decision-making processes on any given day stem from our ingrained habits. This is why understanding how current habits work and how to cultivate new ones, is crucial for progressing in your life, happiness, and health. Let’s dive into our fool-proof strategy to cultivate new habits that will go a long way towards improving your productivity and health, and ultimately achieving your goals.
1. Focus On The Big Picture Before You Cultivate New Habits
Every time you are attempting to cultivate new habits, start by taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, or your long-term goal. For instance, if you want to develop a new habit of writing every day, think about where you would like to see yourself in the long run if you decide to pursue it. In this case, perhaps as a future New York Best Selling Author someday.
One way to keep the bigger picture in plain sight is to visualize your end goal day after day. Some may call me out on propagating daydreaming, but we have numerous studies supporting this fact. One research even says that ‘abstract thinking’ can help you cultivate the necessary self-discipline and will-power necessary to cultivate new habits and sustain them.
However, if you are someone who gets lost in the labyrinth of mindless daydreams, there’s a caveat. To thwart your aimless wanderings, try pairing all such visualization exercises with an actionable plan. Think to yourself, “Why do I want to build this habit?” Your ‘why’ should be driven by intrinsic motivation rather than the prospect of external rewards. Ponder hard over this driving motivation or the ‘why’ behind your interest in this new habit.
Once you have come up with a viable reason, try to create more ‘intrinsic’ motivators behind it, before devising an actionable plan to achieve your goals. By keeping sight of the big picture and pairing the ‘Why’ with an effective actionable plan, you can easily cultivate new habits in no time.
2. Start With A Small Habit
Every time people find it a tough nut to crack to cultivate new habits, they make pretexts such as “I wish I had just a bit more will power”, or “I don’t have enough motivation to drive me forward”. This approach will get you nowhere. The worst thing you can do is dive into the deep end —and make a massive commitment straight away.
Research says that Willpower is just like a muscle. As you deplete its resources throughout the day, it gets fatigued. Another reason I am comparing will power to a muscle is that it rises and falls, ebbs and flows. Think of it like a motivation wave. If your motivation wave is hitting the trough, why not start small and pick a habit that doesn’t require motivation to pursue. For instance, if physical fitness is your end goal, why not start with just 5 pushups per day instead of 50. Or if mindfulness is your goal, why not meditate for just 1 minute a day instead of the recommended 10. Make it easy enough that you can get it done without motivation.
3. Increase Your Habit Imperceptibly
Starting a new habit from ground up helps you slowly ease into it. You won’t believe how fast one percent improvements add up. Rather than try to excel at something in no time, start small so it won’t get exasperating, and work your way up from there. Your motivation and will power will inevitably increase along the way, making it easier to stick to your habit instead of giving up after a while.
For instance, I was once inspired by a successful entrepreneur who attributed his success to his love of reading. Over the podcast, he mentioned that he read a book a day. Brimming over with enthusiasm and excitement, I decided that I would commit to reading at least 30 pages every day.
Result: I sustained this habit until my fervor burned out, just after a week, and then I gave up.
This is when I decided to go slow and read just one page a day. Once the ‘tiny habit’ went on autopilot, I gradually increased the number of pages.
4. As You Build Up, Break Habits Into Chunks
By starting small and adding just 1% a day, you’ll find yourself increasing very quickly within two or three months, without even realizing that you are doing anything extra. However, make sure that your habit is as reasonable as possible, in order to maintain momentum and make it hassle free to accomplish. For instance, if you are working your way towards 50 pushups a day, why not split it into five sets of 10 initially, or instead of 20 minutes of meditation a day, you can break it down into two segments of 10 minutes so that it won’t tire you.
5. When You Stumble, Get Back On Your Feet
As humans, we are quick to call quits on a new habit, especially after we make a mistake or fail to take the pertinent action. Especially, in the very early stages of cultivating new habits, your mind will inevitably resist the change and come up with a number of excuses to abandon ship and revert back to your old habits.
Even the most resilient and successful people are prone to errors, make mistakes, and veer off the track like anyone else. However, the difference between resolute and laid-back people is that the former gets right back on the track as quickly as possible. Nobody is perfect and sticking to your “All or nothing” mentality will get you nowhere. Missing out on your habit occasionally isn’t that big a deal and won’t have any measurable impact on your long-term progress. Once you feel like it, you can start right off where you left.
It’s always prudent to plan for failure, but it doesn’t need to dampen your spirits. Introspect and think of all the possibilities that can potentially prevent your habit from sticking. What things can come in your way and thwart your path? Think up the daily emergencies that can veer you off the track. You need to have a viable plan to work around these issues should they arise, so that you can bounce back up if you stumble into a pitfall.