In this article, I will cover:
- The reason why you struggle to stick to a new routine
- The right approach to build a habit
- How to make habits stick with examples
“I will lose weight and turn into a ripped, muscular hunk with toned abs,” said Adam, while checking himself out in the mirror, holding the thick layer of flab at the bottom of his belly. “From the next month, I will work out 5 days a week and follow a healthy diet of grilled chicken and veggies. No more calories from burgers and aerated beverages”, he vowed.
The next month arrived. On the first day, he lifted weights as a man possessed. He also ran on the treadmill like he would give Usain Bolt a tough challenge. He only visited the healthiest restaurants and posted pictures on Instagram with #healthyliving.
The next day, Adam’s enthusiasm dipped a bit. He did workout but not with the same intensity as the first day. He somehow stuck to healthy eating though.
A couple of days later, he gobbled up a jelly-filled donut that his coworker had brought. In 2 weeks, working out was out the window, and the diet had gone for a toss. He was no different than the lazy junk eating Adam he was a month earlier.
Does Adam’s story sound like your own? Have you made a resolution before, sustained for a while, and slipped back to your old habits? We have all been there.
Why do you think you failed with the formation of good habits? You assume that you lacked the discipline to follow the routine, but is that really the case?
Have you considered that you set an unreasonable goal?
The doom of massive changes
Most people attempt to go from chaos to perfection. To make that worse, the timelines set are so stringent that they choke themselves while attempting the feat.
The first step of the change starts when you feel a pinch due to a negative result. The common reasons to set an impulsive goal are:
- You encounter a failure which hurts your ego(Eg: Losing to a lower-skilled person)
- Someone makes fun of you(Eg: Jokes about your weight)
- A change in circumstances(Eg: Birth of a baby leading to more expenses)
- A bet over liquor(Eg: Who among the two drunk folks would achieve a 6 pack first)
- Reaching a point of frustration(Realizing you cannot work for your boss anymore)
Whatever the reason is, you become pumped up and make a bold goal. When you begin, you start strong with all your energy and enthusiasm.
Let us take an example. Assume you make up your mind to workout 5 days a week and cut all junk food because you were fed up with being overweight.
During the first week, you work out 5 days as expected. During the first week, you face two challenges:
- You realize the effort required was more than you anticipated. Working out 5 days every week isn’t so easy after all.
- You do not get the results you expected either. You expected to lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks, but you barely lost 2.
Your shoulders start dropping, your energy starts running low and procrastination kicks in. You dump your running shoes in the corner, give up the idea of losing weight or setting foot in the gym.
When you attempt massive changes, you fail to maintain good habits.
How to make habits stick – The right approach
If you instead take it easy, you will achieve your goal. You might take longer, but isn’t that better than setting a crazy goal which you give up a few weeks later?
Here is what Jacob does instead. He makes up his mind to lose weight too but sets an easy target that he can accomplish. Instead of attempting to lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks, he aims to workout 3 days a week for 30 minutes.
He makes time in his evening routine to ensure he never misses his workouts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. If skips the gym on Friday, he makes up for it over the weekend.
Jacob does not lose as much weight in the first month but sticks to the schedule. In the second month, he increases the number of days he works out from 3 days a week to 4. Jacob now works out Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Also, he cuts sugar from his diet.
A few weeks later, he increases his workout duration from 30 to 40 minutes and reduces fatty food too. He incorporates changes slowly so that his body feels comfortable to accustom to the new routine. Since the change is incremental, the new habit of working out now seems a natural part of the routine.
Once a week, he treats himself to his favorite bar of chocolate as a reward. That way, neither does he curse his stars every evening while tying his shoes, nor does he feel depressed about not eating chocolates at all.
Jacob makes slow progress but achieves better results in the long run by sticking to his habits. He feels fabulous about his new lifestyle which he never imagined he could stick to.
To make a habit permanent, incremental changes are your best bet.
Examples of adding good habits to your lifestyle
You can use a similar approach to adding good habits and eliminating bad ones incrementally. Jacob’s example of working out applies to many other aspects of maintaining habits. Here are some examples:
1. Learning a new skill
When I made up my mind to learn to play the guitar, I set an enormous goal for myself. I dreamed about hitting the strings at a mad speed at a concert while the crowd chanted my name. I wanted to reach that level of expertise within a year.
By the way, I was yet to learn how to hold the chords and strum. I began with a frenzy only to give up on my guitar dreams a few months later.
Had I set a target of learning the instrument for 30 minutes a day, I might have impressed a few ladies today.
Likewise, while learning a new skill, targeting mastery over a short period can lead to disappointment. Instead, you should aside time to learn and practice the right way by increasing difficulty stepwise. Using that approach, you will achieve expertise over time.
2. Saving money
You read somewhere that saving a thousand dollars a month would make you a millionaire over 30 years, so you jump right in. To become a millionaire, you make a brash decision to save thousands of dollars every month.
If you have a habit of blowing your salary every month, saving 1000$ could need quite a change in your lifestyle to save money. After a week or two, you feel suffocated because you cannot enjoy the luxuries you used to. You go back to your spendthrift habits in no time.
Instead, if you start with a meager sum by cutting down one expense, you can make it a part of your lifestyle.
- You can cut one visit to the restaurant in a month
- Buy a cheaper shirt which serves the purpose than the most expensive one
- Avoid buying the fancy sunglasses in the mall
Such changes do not even feel like a pinch. When saving a 100$ becomes a part of your monthly routine, aim to save another 100 the next month.
3. Reading books
You hear that Warren Buffet used to read 500 pages a day. To become the wealthiest person in the world, you make a vow to follow his advice.
Once you begin, you realize that you struggle to even complete 50. You toss the book on the couch and never pick it up again.
If you read 500 pages a day, you will complete over 700 books a year. That’s an insane goal. Moreover, only a speed reader with years of reading practice can manage to complete and comprehend those many pages.
Instead, if you target 10 pages a day, you will complete 17 books a year. Doesn’t that sound like a neat goal to target?
When you begin, you might need an hour to read 10 pages. After a month or two, you will complete them much faster. Once you can read 10 pages in less than 30 minutes, attempt to read 15 pages. In no time, you will find yourself reading more than 1 page a minute.
4. Waking up early
If you wake up at 9 AM every day, what could happen if you decide to spring out of bed at 5 AM? You might wake up for a day or two and remain zombie-eyed the entire day. In no time, you will stay in bed until 9 AM as usual.
Instead, if you aim to wake up 15 minutes earlier than your usual time for a week, your day doesn’t seem different. After a week, you can set the alarm another 15 minutes sooner. Take longer than a week if you like but make the change a part of your morning routine over time.
5. To-do list
Do you have a long to-do list? If yes, you might have a daily goal of completing most items off the list. But you have not achieved that for quite some time, have you?
Striking off all items of one’s to-do list is every person’s dream. Most people try to go after too many things in a day only to feel overwhelmed and complete nothing.
Most people overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a month.
A better alternative is to approach a few tasks, say 5-6 in a day. Such an approach allows you to complete them one after the other with a new sense of vigor. As a bonus, you might also have spare time to pounce on another 1 or 2 pending ones.
6. Starting a business
“I will start a business soon.” Have you heard a friend or a coworker say that? Or maybe you’re the one uttering those words often.
A lot of employees working for an organization have a dream of starting their own business. But the dream remains a dream forever because people have a huge plan.
They believe such a massive idea requires quitting their job and channeling all their energy towards the new venture. As a result, they put in no effort towards their goal.
When you fail to muster the guts to quit your job, the business never takes off. Instead of setting a monstrous plan of executing the whole set up of the venture in one go, allocate 1 hour a day to your dream business. Do not expect innovation to happen in a day or two.
You might just shortlist a few names for your company on the first day, but that is still progress compared to your visionary future plan which never takes off.
Change never comes easy. As human beings, you and I are wired to hate change. Whoever says, “I am comfortable with change,” only means that he knows the tactics to make a change less painful.
- If you aim for drastic changes in a short period, you will most likely fail.
- If you aim for mastery like the experts in a few months, you will end up disappointed.
- If you aim to complete more than you are capable of, you will give up in no time.
Incorporate changes like sipping on a glass of the finest wine. If you gulp down a whole bottle, not only do you miss relishing the taste, but you also feel terrible after.
Add changes at a steady pace to your lifestyle, give enough time for your body and brain to adapt, and then add increments. That way, you will have cultivated good habits over time without noticing any significant difference. In no time, you will form habits that you keep for life.
Leave a comment below explaining your story of trying a change and giving up. Also, add how would you approach the change after reading this article.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.