A few years back when I was struggling to stay afloat due to the pressures at work, I decided to read up on how I could reinforce good and nourishing habits to sustain myself. Below I share some of the principles and tips that actually worked.
Much of our life is made up of habits that we’ve shaped throughout our lifetime, both conscious and unconscious. These repetitive, automatic behaviours play a crucial role in determining our wellbeing and our overall life trajectory, so it pays off to take control of them and ensure they are supportive of who we want to be and where we want to go in life.
But behaviour change is hard because we so easily default to old patterns… But there are some helpful principles to support creating and sticking to good habits – by making them the easy, attractive and obvious choice.
Essential Tips for Creating Good Habits:
1. Make Your Habit Part of Who You Are (or who you want to be)
I’ve always found that if I’m not clear about why I’m doing something, I definitely won’t stick to it. Spend some time clarifying your motivation and belief behind a new habit, and check it aligns with the type of person you want to be. If your habit reinforces your identity / or desired identity, it becomes a more valuable action to take.
Example: My goal is not to meditate, my goal is to become a person that is more mindful, balanced and at ease throughout the day.
2. WOOP it!
WOOP is a well-researched and proven mental strategy for shaping new habits. I found it helpful to familiarise myself with the obstacles that might stand in my way and have a plan if they show up. Visualizing or imaging each step is key.
W = Think about your WISH = meditate for 20mins each morning
O = The best OUTCOME = feeling balanced and at ease throughout the day
O = Potential OBSTACLES = procrastination, not doing it straight away when I wake up
P = Your if / then PLAN = If I don’t do the morning meditation, then I will call in to the online meditation at 7pm.
Watch a tutorial here.
3. Apply a 3 Minute Rule
It’s easy to get too ambitious and set the bar too high, then being discouraged when we can’t keep it up. In the beginning, make the habit as easy as possible to start and just get yourself to show up. See if it helps to start with a 3-minute version of your habit.
Example: “A daily meditation routine for 20 minutes” becomes “meditating for 3 minutes” or “just starting a guided meditation practice and doing as long as I can get through”.
4. Decide the Time & Place to Insert Your Habit (Have a plan!)
Get specific to increase the chances of making something happen. Consider when and where is the optimal place for your new habit to live. Generally, people have more willpower in the morning, which can make it a good time to insert a new habit, but perhaps not if you have young kids…! Consider your individual circumstances. Then the formula is simple: I will [BEHAVIOUR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
Example: I will meditate at 7:00am everyday in my new meditation spot. (It really changed things when I decided to do my meditation in the same spot everyday).
5. Use the Power of Habit Stacking
Another way of getting specific about your when and where to do your habit is using habit stacking – linking it to a task you already do, like brushing your teeth. Making the existing task/habit a trigger. Where in your daily routine can you tag on your new habit?
Example: I will meditate straight after I get out of bed.
6. Reduce Friction: Promote Helpful Environments
Don’t rely on your willpower. Create an environment filled with cues that prompt your good habits as clearly as possible. Make it the easiest next step.
If you want to read more books, place books you’ve wanted to read around the house where you tend to sit down. If you want to practice gratitude before bed, place a gratitude journal on your bedside table. If you want to start running in the morning, put your running clothes out next to your bed the night before.
Example: To make my meditation welcoming, I created a comfy meditation corner in my room where I can light a candle and have a cup of tea at the same time. I now automatically go and sit there when I wake up.
7. Add Friction: Fix Bad Environments
Create windows of opportunity to form a new behaviour by adding barriers to existing habits that aren’t helpful. We automatically go for anything with the least effort, so adding even the slightest friction can be very effective.
Example: My phone was a major blackhole for my attention and time, so I now leave my phone outside of reach when I need to get something done (like my meditation) and log myself out of Instagram to make it harder to mindlessly reach for that junkie dopamine hit. if you’re meditating using an app or your phone then try moving key apps to your home screen, and burying the junk in subfolders.
8. ! Reminders !
Don’t forget the basics. Once you’ve completed your goal setting, give yourself clear reminders. I like using a calendar alert and Post-It Noting my house in strategic places…Maybe update your phone lockscreen with positive encouragement. Make it impossible to ignore or forget.
9. Socially Commit
Our social environment and deep-rooted drive to belong are one of the greatest drivers of behaviour change. An easy way to leverage your social environment is to talk about your new habit / what you hope to achieve with friends and family, which will boost your accountability. Another option is to consider how you could engage with a group of like-minded people where your habit is the ‘norm’, where your mission becomes a shared goal instead of something you just do on your own. This part becomes pretty essential to support maintaining your habit in the long run and embedding it as part of who you are.
Example: I found an online meditation group that I committed to joining that made it harder to postpone the practice throughout the day, which previously had been a major pitfall for me, and it also increased my meditation time. I just needed to show up to the Zoom call and then the rest was easy.
10. Keep motivated: Use a Task Tracker
Visually ticking off the days you completed your habit and getting a sense of progress is the greatest motivation booster. Use tracking to hold yourself accountable for the plan you have made, and reflect on any potential pitfalls. After all, repetition is what will allow this new behaviour to become more automatic and require less self-discipline.
11. “Never miss twice”
I took this simple rule from James Clear who wrote Atomic Habits. It’s easy to slip up, and if you do, just remind yourself “never miss twice”, ensuring you get back on track as quickly as possible. Breaking your habit once is a mistake. Breaking your habit twice is a slippery slope and the start of a new habit. If you want to be healthy but you had a burger, then follow up with a healthy meal. With that said, don’t beat yourself up for messing up, because also “every breath is an opportunity to start again”.