How to stick to positive habits
It took me years to understand the benefit of having a strong routine. Routines seem boring; the antithesis to what we’re told a 'good life' is made of.
Paulo Coelho has summed it all up:
"If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal."
But that’s a misconception that shrinks our performance. Why? I'm glad you asked.
What are the benefits of habits?
Here are three benefits you stand to gain through developing strong habits.
1. Calm and creativity
It’s counterintuitive but research shows habits, these repetitive actions that occur mostly on a subconscious level, tend to calm the mind and leave space for... daydreaming and creativity! Think of it like those Tibetan monks who meditate on the lofty impermanence of things as they sweep leaves on the ground.
Habits, thanks to repetitive motions and expected outcomes, give us both, a calm and peaceful mind, and more tolerance to risk and change.
Happiness, we infer, comes from the perpetual seeking of 'more', regardless of what it’s 'more' of.
Yet, what we don’t realise is that having a routine doesn’t mean a 9 to 5 job at the same desk every day. Having a routine is completely compatible with novelty and fun. It’s exactly what keeps us going through intense, exciting times. We can be like athletes who rely on their routine to push them through.
My son still needs a little reminder sometimes to brush his teeth. I don’t. Habits come with repetition. Some people say it takes on average 21 days to build a new behaviour, others say 66. Research shows that it depends on the individual and the task, and the number of repetitions matters more than time.
Habits reduce the need for willpower because unconscious tasks are effortless. And that’s the magic of habits, they compensate for willpower that is a finite resource and corrodes as the day goes on.
Great! Now, how do we do it?
How to develop positive habits
There is a lot of literature on developing positive habits and here are just a few tips to get you started.
1. Identify the good, the bad and the ugly
Auditing everything you do and how you do it is a great place to start. This isn’t the sexiest advice but it makes the difference as habits are mostly unconscious. They already drive your behaviour, but you can get to choose whether that’s in a positive or negative way.
I guarantee if you audit your routine thoroughly, it will give you clarity and motivation to trigger a change.
2. Go one at a time
When it comes to habits, failure often comes from wanting to change it all at once.
It's a paradox: habits make our action effortless but, at the same time, it requires effort to get that habit going, and rewire the brain for a new behavioural pattern. The key is to induce changes in succession and preferably in the morning when we’re more driven.
3. Try the sandwich formula
Habits are constructed in four phases:
- the cue - my phone pings me
- the craving - I want to read the text
- the response - I read the text
- the reward - I’m happy I read it!
Use this pattern to build habits: "Before I do X, I do Y."
For example, when my phone pings me, I drink a glass of water, then I read the text. Or, if you already put your phone on silent mode, when it’s time for lunch: "I take a 20-minute walk, then I get my food."
It works because anticipating something you like releases dopamine. And when dopamine rises, so does your motivation to act.
I like to focus my efforts on just a few targeted points, three here, to create compound results. I hope you found this article helpful.