Most of us go into January and our decisions are ahead of our minds. Many of us even go to the moon in beautiful colors, believing that because we have marked the 30-day mark, that we have permanently changed our habits. However, as we cross through February and March, those new habits often fall by the wayside, while the old habits we are trying to change remain entrenched. Is there a way to change the pattern for the better?
As Charles Duhigg explains in his book The Power of Habit, all habits are made up of three basic elements: guidance, process, and reward. So one of the best ways to stick to your habits and build strong, productive ways is to link your habits together with an unbreakable chain. That means that one indicator will be the motivator for all sorts of healthy habits, because the practice and reward of the first practice will be the next indicator, and so on.
Of course, adding a lot of new habits to your daily routine will probably take a lot of focus and dedication, at least when you start, so here are some tips on how to build strong chains of habits that will be second-nature in nature.
- Examine your motives.
Maybe you have a list of New Year’s resolutions, or maybe you are suddenly floating around in your head. What do they look like? Drink plenty of water? Lose weight? It’s time to dump her and move on. Get a clear goal in mind, such as running a race in September, or drinking 64 ounces of water daily. Then break down those goals into practical steps that can be part of the process.
Let’s take the example of water. Maybe put a 16 ounce glass of water next to your bed at night and drink it first thing in the morning. Now you are already a quarter of the way to your daily goal. Do the same at night. In the middle of there. Now drink eight ounces for breakfast and lunch and another large glass with dinner (or maybe during your workout), and your goal will be fully integrated into your schedule.
Related: 4 Tips for Setting Strong Goals
- Connect the chain.
Finding out where you want to add habits to your routine is important, because that will point you to what will show you. For water, you have many indications (unless you want to add half a gallon of water at a time): getting up, sitting down to eat, and sleeping. But what if you have more than one goal of practice? It will take a lot of energy and focus to come up with a lot of causes and fit them all into your daily routine. So instead, take one practice (if it’s a pre-established practice, at best!) And build on it to build a chain of practice.
Think about what you do when you wake up. Maybe you make your bed. Maybe you drink your glass of water. Whatever that first thing, add to it until you have a multi-step process that incorporates some of your new habits.
For example, when I go into the kitchen every morning, the first thing I do is put a pot of water to boil my tea. Since this is a well-established habit, I have used this as my motivation to make a new habit: drinking a glass of water mixed with apple cider vinegar. As I make my own tea, I know I have to get rid of my unhealthy drink before I move on to caffeine. That first tea soup is then my first start making breakfast, then I put my plate in the sink (another established practice) is my motivation to wash the dishes (non-developmental habit) and then dry them and set them down.
- Connect rewards.
It’s important to make good connections in our chains of habits, because we can’t resist our very new habits when connected to something that the brain sees as a reward. As an example of my regular routine, drinking tea (and that first sweet bone of caffeine in the morning) has become my reward for drinking a large glass of water and vinegar.
It says you need to run three miles as part of your first marathon training program. Link that to a rewarding practice you already have, such as listening to your favorite podcast. Make an agreement with you that you will only listen to your favorite podcast when you roll the ropes and run. If that podcast is the same length as your training time, it gets better.
- Be wise in your own strength.
One of the most common reasons we fail when trying to incorporate new habits into our lives is that we have limited energy, and it tends to become very quickly over how many decisions we have to make every day. That’s why you should consider when your energy and stamina are fully operational, and when you tend to fall into the trap when trying to build new habits in your routine.
For most people, energy levels start very early in the morning, because our brains don’t get tired of making decisions right now. Since your determination tends to be very high in the morning, creating strong chains of habits here makes sense. It helps to write down your habits chains at first, especially if they are long, but soon your brain muscle will begin to penetrate and you will intuitively know what’s next. Over time, your habits will become more focused when you will be working on autopilot and you can begin to focus on your strengths for the next big thing that you hope to accomplish.
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