If you’re reading this post, I imagine that you’re like me. You have lofty goals, hopes, and dreams of making a difference in your world. Our world exists within our mind, therefore can only be changed by changing our mind. An overwhelming percentage of the things we do on a day-to-day basis are almost entirely automatic. These “habitual” traits aren’t always good things, they’re just what we’ve adapted ourselves to. That’s why new habits are so difficult to form. They demand conscious effort and commitment to stick, and that makes our brain just want to run to the farthest dark corner, far far away from the evil new thing you’re trying to make it do. When it comes to habits, our brain will resist change like crazy. Tricking our brains into not resisting this change is a lot easier than just “powering through the resistance.” To do that, I used a method coined “Mini Habits” by Steven Guise. With this paradigm, I built my “write blog content consistently” habit by writing a measly minimum of 5 words a day. This tactic is a huge part in my overall habit-forming strategy but, it is just a piece of the puzzle. This post will go over the other facets of what I do to make forming habits easier.
Track Your Progress
This matters. Building a habit is a game of investing both motivation and willpower. Most rewards from good habits come from delayed gratification, and that’s not easy to draw motivation or willpower from. Tracking your progress will validate that you are making progress. This transfers some of that delayed gratification to you early-on, when you need it most. The validity provided by seeing how many days you’ve hit your goal is gratifying, even when you aren’t seeing any results otherwise. Additionally, you can use checking off your goal off of your checklist as a miniature reward. The relief of pressure, and satisfaction of seeing all of your goals hit for the day can be rewarding if it is clearly visible in front of you. There are a number of ways you can track your progress. My wife uses (and decorates) a fauxdori-style notebook and keeps track of her progress in it. Myself? I use an app called the Coach.me habit tracker, and put my daily habit goals in there. It’s handy because it reminds me to complete my goals throughout the day (you can dictate when it reminds you), and it keeps track of how many days in a row you completed your goal with fanfare. Word of caution – if you’re using the mini-habits strategy like I do, don’t use the goals they recommend. Use your minified versions instead.
A few times a day I dedicate some time to taking in educational information about the habits I’m trying to form. This helps me learn more about my habit, and helps keep it on my mind. By staying curious about a topic, I am able to continue to grow with it. This growth amplifies the progress I make with the long-term results I want to obtain with my habit. I juggle 2-3 mini habits at a time, so if I get tired of reading about one habit, I move onto the next one. I don’t make a lot of time for reading. Instead, I listen to audiobooks while doing mundane tasks, like taking showers, driving, or mowing. Make time to invest in yourself, and you’ll find that your habits will come more natural to you, faster.
Write Things Down
Your brain constantly processes new information when you build a new habit. People can hear and generally understand language well, but it takes more time to process what that information means. You’ll forget things that filter through if you don’t take the time to take in the important things. This can come in any format, really. Studies have shown that writing things down by hand helps with learning, because you write slower. This slower pace forces your brain to concentrate on the words, and choose what matters most to write down. Additionally, the slower pace puts more emphasis on the words you write, so they stick. I, however, still prefer to write blog posts on the topics I’m reading about. I think that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else, and I love to help people. Teaching people will force you to understand the topic enough to explain it, and the amount of time you invested in thinking about the topic will help the information stick.
Get a Consistent Sleep Cycle
There are two times of day that you will be able to get the most uninterrupted work done; early in the morning, and late at night. Use one of these time slots wisely to stay in line with your habits, and you will find that maintaining them gets easier. If you have the luxury of choosing one or the other, commit to that option every day and maintain a sleep cycle that accommodates it. It doesn’t really matter if you choose to be an early bird, or a night owl so long as you leverage the time to get through your habits. Consistency is what matters. Don’t let yourself stay up extra late if you’re an early bird, and don’t force yourself to get up early if you’re a night owl. No matter how hard you try, outside influence will occasionally knock you off of this cycle, so try to minimize the damage to your sleep cycle by only allowing that which cannot be avoided to do so. The odds of completing your goals are stacked against you when you’re tired. Forming habits can be fickle, and if you let opportunities to give yourself an excuse like "I’m tired" squeak in, you could get derailed. Protect your habits. Protect your sleep cycle.
Reward Yourself Afterward
I’m an ENFP. My interests are varied and numerous. Sometimes, I like to play guitar. Sometimes, I just want to play some video games. Other times, I get buried deep in a pen on CodePen, making some kind of neat little snippet of code. Often, I want play instead of work. I motivate myself to hit my goal (which, I’ll remind you, is insanely small) by telling myself that I can play after my goal is hit. I know this sounds elementary, but take a second to really think about how work before play impacts your day-to-day routine. If you get your work done early, you can jump into your hobbies for the remainder of the evening guilt-free. Since there should be little that needs done before you go to bed, you’re more likely to go to bed when you need to. As a result, you wake up the next morning without a hitch, energized and ready to tackle your goals the next day. Conversely, in a scenario where you play before you work, you lose track of time. Time passes, and bam, it’s time for bed. You remember that you hadn’t done your goal yet. As a result, you stay up 1 hour longer than you normally would have to hit that goal. The next day, you wake up behind schedule, and have to rush to get caught up. You’re tired and lack motivation to complete your goal. You mess around with your hobbies again, because that’s a lot easier (and more fun) to do. And the wheel goes ‘round and ‘round, full of fatigue, last-minute rushing, and near-misses on your goals. Eventually, that will catch up to you. It’s a slippery slope, so don’t fall down it! Reward yourself after you do your goal. It is the easiest way to stay on-schedule, and it puts what matters to the forefront.
With the start of the New Year, I know many are looking to set some goals. In my eyes, goals are nothing more than results of good habits. Form great habits now, and you’ll hit your goals later. I hope these tips will help you out, and get you in the mindset needed to create good habits for yourself. Commit to them, and you’ll be better off in the future.