It can be challenging to set new habits. It takes time and often a lot more time than the usual “21 days” you hear about to set a habit. In fact, the harder the habit is for you, the longer it is likely to be before you have it fully established as a habit.
Each month as I review my goal progress, I am actually reviewing my progress with my habit formation. I choose habits each year that will support and help me achieve my goal. My goal is my guiding star for the year and it helps me prioritise where I spend my time and make decisions on what I do. But my habits are what I focus on daily.
I have worked on setting many habits over the years so thought I would share some tips to help make establishing positive habits a little easier. Note that I did not say easy and creating good habits is rarely that, but you can do somethings that will make it easier.
3 tips for establishing positive habits
There are many ways you can help make establishing positive habits easier, but these are the tips that I think have the biggest impact.
1. Start small
When we want to make a behaviour change, we often want to go from 0 to 100. There is a small percentage of the population that will be able to sustain that but for most, this approach sees them stick to it for a very short period of time, find it too hard and unsustainable and then they give up.
It is much better to go from 0 to 25, work on establishing this, then move from 25 to 50, establish that and so on. For example, if you are wanting to start an exercise habit instead of committing to 7 x 30 min sessions a week, start with 3 x 30 min sessions a week and build from there.
This may seem like taking an easy option but it is not about making it easy, it is about making it sustainable. If you aim for 3 sessions a week and achieve it, you start thinking of yourself differently. You start thinking of yourself as someone who sets a plan and sticks to it and most importantly you start thinking of yourself as a regular exerciser.
If you aim for 7 and then you miss one day, then another, it is easy to become disheartened and view yourself as someone who cannot stick to a plan and someone who doesn’t exercise regularly.
2. Set yourself up for success
If you are trying to add a positive habit in your life, look at what you can do in your environment to give yourself the greatest chance of success. If for example you want to have a habit of reading daily then you could do some of the following to make sure it happens:
- Carry a book in your daily bag.
- Set downtime on your phone in the evening or lunchtime, so you cannot use it then and it will prompt you to pick up your book.
- Tell the family about your habit and tell them the time you have set aside for reading. Give them permission to ask you about your reading if you are doing something else during this time.
- Join a book club to help keep you accountable.
If you read my monthly review below you will see I am using this strategy to help me with my meditation habit – I am getting my yoga mat out well before the time when I will meditate to prompt me to do it.
3. Stack your habits
When trying to introduce a new habit, you can make it easier on yourself if you stack it on top of an already existing habit. This works because you then don’t have to think about when to do the new habit, you know that it happens after you do something else. Because you do the existing habit regularly already, you have a much greater chance of doing the new habit regularly too.
For example, if you are trying to start a new habit of practicing gratitude, stack it on top of your nightly tooth brushing habit. Have your journal or notebook and pencil in a draw in the bathroom so it is easy to access and take five minutes to write down what you are grateful after you have brushed your teeth.
If you are interested in reading more about habits, you might like to check out these posts on the blog:
- How to change a habit
- Why tracking your habits works
- When to keep or discard habits
- My habits and changes over the last 9 years
February monthly review
|Connection to goal - Do the inner work to be able to give more to those around me.
|Quote - “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” - Carl Jung
|Meditate in the morning for at least 20 minutes
|I have been meditating for a number of years now, but lately it is often left to the end of the day and I listen to a guided meditation before I go to sleep.
To reap the real benefits of meditation I want to practice in the first half of the day, non guided and for a minimum of 20 minutes. In this time emotions, feelings and issues will come up and I will need to learn to not react to it, simply observe it and focus on the meditation session.
|“The more regularly and the more deeply you meditate, the sooner you will find yourself acting always from a center of peace.” - J. Donald Walters
|When coaching women through setting habits in myPlanned + Present e-course I encourage them to set themselves up for success as much as they can. So in February I took my own advice and worked out some small things I could do to set up myself up for success.
I meditate sitting on my yoga mat, so in the morning as I am chatting with the kids before they go to school, I get the yoga mat out and turn on the oil diffuser. These help remind me of my upcoming meditation activity. This has really helped significantly because even if I can't meditate straight after the kids have left around 7.30am, I find I do get to it because I walk past the yoga mat a number of times and it reminds me to do it.
It wasn't a perfect month, but I meditated for 20 minutes in the morning for 85% of the month.
|Participate in a weekly faith based activity
|I have a strong personal faith but feel that it needs a recharge and refresh. Immersing myself in more faith based activities will help me achieve this and to examine my spirituality at a deeper level.
|“Faith is an oasis in the heart which will never be reached by the caravan of thinking.” - Khalil Gibran
|I am trying to stack this habit so it becomes part of my nightly routine. I am doing a daily activity that takes less then 15 minutes so most nights I am heading off to the bedroom a little bit earlier to incorporate it into the nightly activities I do.
So far it is working well but there are nights when I have been out or have had activities that keep me up later and it gets missed, but I am still hitting my overall habit on spending time on my faith each week.
|Write in a gratitude journal daily
|For some reason I stopped my gratitude journal process in the latter half of 2020 and I have noticed its absence. Part of my journal entry in the evening is to note down how I could have made the day even better. Reflecting each day on how I can improve is an important part of doing the inner work.
|“Journal writing is a voyage to the interior.” - Christina Baldwin
|I have used habit stacking also with this habit so I don't have to think about when to do it, it is following on from another regular activity that I do.
I used to use the 5 Minute Journal App for practising gratitude. It is a great app and I loved using it, but I am avoiding being on my phone at least 30 minutes before I go to bed, so I am using pencil and a notebook now.
|Learn and speak Phil's love language well and daily
|I read The 5 Love Languages® by Dr. Gary Chapman a few years ago and loved the concept. For some reason I never got Phil to do the quiz and work out his love language. I will re-read the book and get us both to do the quiz .
I will then focus on making sure I am speaking Phil's love language on a daily basis.
|“Love is a choice you make everyday.” - Gary Chapman
|As I noted last month, I can happily tick off the first part of this - learn Phil's love language, but I need to work on this in terms of speaking it daily. Our primary love languages are different and I have realised that I have often been speaking my love language not his, so this is going to take some time to retrain myself from these habits.
I have found for habits that require a significant change in behaviour, I have better success when I have that habit as a core focus for a month or two. I will keep trying with this habit next month, but intend to make it a core focus in April.