Getting into a habit

Most people when they want to make changes to their lives, they sit down and write down goals. We all know what happens to majority of goals set, they don’t get achieved because it is so hard to get started. Those who start focus too much on results and give up easily.

This series is going to provide a way you can use to trick yourself into turning a goal into a lifestyle. When you make something a lifestyle, it becomes part of you. You no longer see it as something that you need to take time off your busy schedule because it is now part of your everyday life. Before you turn something into a lifestyle, you need to start get into a habit of doing it.

You turn an action into a habit by doing it repeatedly over a certain number of days. Some researchers claim that you only need 21 days to get into a habit of doing something. Some say it can take up to 30 days. Some say it takes longer that than. We aren’t going to dwell too much into the numbers. Human beings are different and they get used to something at a varying pace. On this series, we are going to use 21 days. You can tweak number of days based on how long you take to get used to doing something. Whenever you see 21 days, just replace it with your personal number of days to get used to doing something on a regular basis.

I have to admit, turning something into a habit isn’t something to be taken lightly. If it was easy, everyone was going to achieve their goals easily. We are going to focus on 10 tricks that you can implement to make the process of getting into a habit easier. Here are the tricks I use when I want to make something a habit:

1. Focus on one habit at a time

Throwing up an orange and catching it is easy, but juggling two oranges at the same time makes it harder and more prone to dropping both of them. Add another orange to the equation and now juggling becomes even harder. It is the same with focus. When you are focusing on turning something into a habit, you need to focus on one habit at a time. That way there will be little room for failure. Reason most people fail to achieve their new year resolutions is because they want to apply big bang approach. They are so impatient in such a way that they end up sabotaging their own progress. To make it easy, focus on one habit at a time, then move on to the next.

2. Make it a challenge and ask your friends to join you

Majority of people find it easier to focus on doing something when they are accountable. Reason you complete projects at work and/or school is because you are expected to complete them, otherwise you will be penalised. If you are planning on taking on a new challenge, you don’t need to be alone. Invite friends who are also in the same boat as you. Hold each other accountable. Update each other on a daily basis. That way you will always have someone to remind you when you are slacking.

3. Do less in the beginning and adjust periodically

Another thing that makes people to give up early on their quest to achieve their goals is making it hard for themselves. Let’s say you are unfit and unhealthy. You don’t climb on the treadmill for 20 minutes at a speed of 10km/h on the first day. Not only you will get tired easily, you risk fainting or even worse dying. The harder your challenge is in the beginning, the more likely you are to quit.

For an example, instead of making a challenge of jogging 5km a day, aim to jog just a kilometre. Jog that kilometre everyday until the end of the challenge without skipping.  Aim is to get into a habit of jogging. It is OK to brisk walk instead of jogging also. Aim is to get into a habit. Don’t expect any results. Don’t even measure the results. There is an article in the series which deals specifically with getting into a habit of exercising.

4. Your body doesn’t like change, but it was designed to adapt to change

The first thing your body does when it is challenged, it is to reject that challenge, complain against it as a sign that it doesn’t want that change. Your body will do everything it can to sabotage you. Unfortunately, that’s how the body was designed. It doesn’t like sudden change. This can be a bad thing or a good thing, depending on your situation. When you are trying to recover from an addiction, your body will make it harder in the beginning.

Your body can’t different between a bad habit and a good habit. It reacts the same way. When it is used to bad thing happening to it, it will act in retaliation against any effort to change that habit. After days of doing something, it will realise that this is here to stay, it will stop fighting and adapt to the new habit. Some people say it is easier to get into a bad habit than a good habit. I don’t know about you, but the first time I tried smoking, my body reacted badly and I never tried again. Same when I started drinking, my body used to reject alcohol. I forced it to adapt and at some stage, I was close to getting addicted to alcohol.  So, because your body doesn’t like change, you need to force it to accept new changes. Force it to adapt.

5. Make it part of your life

When you want to achieve a goal, don’t see steps to achieving that goal as a once-off thing. Treat it like part of your life. When something is part of your life like bathing, eating, brushing your teeth etc, it becomes easier to do. You don’t even feel lazy to do it because it is part of your life. Same with making something a habit, you need to see it as a long-term lifestyle change, not as something you are only doing to achieve a certain goal, because you will forever go back to where you started if you go back to your old habits that brought you where you are in the first place. So, see it as a lifestyle and before you realise it, it will be part of you.

6. Make it second nature

It goes back to the previous point of making something part of your life. When you make something part of your life, at some point in time, that thing will become second nature like sneezing or coughing. You will do it involuntarily like breathing. That’s your goal. To make it second nature. Ever noticed that if you set your alarm to wake you up at 6am every morning, after some days, you will start waking up few minutes or even few seconds before the alarm rings?

That’s because your body is now used to waking up at that time. It is now second nature. During the first few days, your body will be complaining when you try to wake yourself up at 6am. After some days, it will be fine each time an alarm rings. The problem starts when you dread waking up each time your alarm rings. It will never be a habit. When an alarm rings, wake up and complain later. Don’t snooze. Don’t stay in bed a little longer. Just kick your duvets away and wake up. Don’t allow your body to be lazy.

7. Make rules, write them down and stick to them

Make rules of each challenge you take on. Write them down and stick to them. Review them on a daily basis to remind yourself of the commitment you have made to yourself. Treat is as a marriage vow that you have made with yourself and promised to never break them. Vows you cannot break. Vows you cannot cheat because you will be caught before you even cheat. People cheat and break wedding vows because they think they won’t get caught. When a vow was made with yourself, you don’t have that luxury of getting away with cheating. That way it will be easier to follow rules.

8. Don’t focus on results

When most people want to get out of a bad habit, they focus on results. It is OK to write down what you want to achieve and write down concrete numbers like number of kilograms you want to lose or amount of money you want to make, but during the stage of habit forming, your focus shouldn’t be too much on results because you will be demotivated.

From my experience in helping people to lose weight through low carb diets, I realised that people who get more results aren’t those whose eyes are fixated on the end result. it is not those who measure their weight multiple times a day. The people who get the most results don’t even bother to measure their weight. It is mostly other people who notice the results and tell them. Wow! You are losing weight“. What a nice feeling to hear those words from other people without you even noticing the change because your focus is on getting into a habit of healthy eating. There will be an article dedicated to getting into a habit of healthy eating in the series.

9. Don’t break the chain

When Jerry Seinfield was asked how he managed to achieve so much, he revealed a strategy that he uses to make sure that he improves on a daily basis. That strategy is called Don’t break the chain. Yep, it is what it is called. Don’t break the change. Don’t have cheat days. Don’t take breaks. Don’t skip some days and go back to your old bad habits. Do it everyday. Hold yourself accountable by drawing up a calendar with days.

Each time you do whatever you are trying to get into a habit of doing, make a cross on that day. That way you will not tempted to take breaks because there will be a day left without a cross. Don’t even think about taking a day off on a Sunday. Do it everyday. It is OK to do less on certain days. As long as you do something, that’s OK. Don’t break the chain. The longer the chain, the more likely you are into turning an action into a habit.

10. Join online communities interested in your current intentions

These days, there is a community for almost every interest. When you are busy turning something into a habit, you can join a community with like-minded individuals. That way it will be easier because you will be hearing all sorts of good news about the challenge. You don’t want to hang around communities that discourages whatever habit you are getting into, directly or indirectly. Search for pages on facebook about your interest and like them. Follow twitter accounts who focus on your interest. Soon, majority of your day will be dominated with positive information about whatever you are trying to turn into a lifestyle and you will be motivated.

Thanks for reading until the end. Next article on the series is about getting into a habit of healthy eating.