For the most part, we are creatures of habit. In fact, our brains are wired to form habits. So then why is it so hard to make a new habit stick?
Simply put, while yes, our brains are wired to form habits, our brain is also wired to pay attention to previously pleasing things.
Let’s face it, it’s a whole lot more pleasant to sit on the couch than it is to endure the physical pain of exercise. This is true even though we know that in the end exercise makes us feel better.
The same is true with eating healthy, we ultimately feel better, but… a big bowl of ice cream just plain tastes good and our brains see it as much more pleasing than some carrot sticks.
We have clutter and debt for the same reasons. It takes effort and discipline to organize our home and finances versus the pleasure that comes from shopping and acquiring new things.
So what do you do if you desire to get rid of the bad habits and replace them with the good habits? How do we make a new habit stick when our brain is going against us?
First, remember that anything worth doing is going to take some work. Set your mind to doing something tough and be okay with a little discomfort. Next, follow these 10 simple steps and soon you will actually make that positive new habit stick.
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1. Have a Single Focus
It all starts with having a single focus. Often we fail at establishing new habits because we tend to scatter our efforts over various habits at the same time.
We might decide I want to get up early, declutter my home, start eating a healthier diet and exercise more. These are all great habits! The problem comes when, instead of focusing on one of those habits, we try to do them all at the same time.
To make a new habit stick requires a single focus on one habit at a time.
When you stick to one and only one habit at a time, you are able to focus all your energy on making that new habit stick. The reality is, it’s fairly easy to start a new habit, sticking to that habit is a whole different story. Actually sticking to a new habit requires an incredible amount of focus until it has fully formed.
Steve Jobs famously said, “focus is about saying no”. Warren Buffett described the difference between successful and very successful is that “the very successful says no to almost everything”.
To make a new habit stick requires focusing on that one singular habit and saying no to everything that will interfere with it. Let me give you a couple of examples:
A habit of waking up earlier requires you to say no to staying up late. Forming a habit of eating healthier requires you to say no to that mid-afternoon snack of chips and salsa. That habit you long to have of living clutter free requires you to say no to that trip to the mall.
Focus on one and only one habit and say no to those things that are contrary to the habit you are seeking to set.
2. Set Keystone Habits
Keystone habits are habits that build on each other.
If we’re honest, most of us want to see our habit stick as quickly as possible. We want to switch to a healthy diet overnight, have an organized clutter-free home in a weekend, or be debt free in 30 days.
It would be nice if it worked this way, but it doesn’t, which is why most fail at sticking to positive habits. Our brains desire for pleasure usually wins out.
So what do you do? Well, the solution to this problem is to start small with keystone habits that build upon each other.
If you want to develop the habit of drinking 64 ounces of water each day, start with one glass of water first thing in the morning and build from there.
Instead of changing your entire diet at once, replace one junk food snack with a bag of carrot sticks or almonds. Give up shopping at one store that is the biggest temptation for you to overspend (umm Target anyone). Declutter one item, start in the bathroom or kitchen and only focus there. Go to bed 10 minutes earlier and wake up 10 minutes early, read one Bible verse or pray for one person.
You get the idea, as you form each of these new habits you build on them. For instance, you have stuck to the habit of drinking one glass of water first thing in the morning, now add the habit of taking a water bottle with you whenever you go out.
Focus on establishing the actual habit first then build on it by increasing the effort as each keystone habit becomes a natural part of what you do every day. Soon you will have a positive habit that sticks.
3. Focus on the Progress
A simple truth: people who succeed focus on the progress they’ve made not the challenges they face. Do you look at how hard or difficult it is to form a new habit? Or do you see how much you’ve accomplished?
This simple mindset shift is a key to making a habit stick. Look at what you have accomplished not how far you have to go.
While eating carrots and snacking on almonds does not in and of itself create a healthy diet nor will changing one shopping habit create a clutter-free home or a debt-free life, but it will eventually as long as you continue to focus on that progress toward building the new lifestyle you are dreaming of.
4. Set Safe Guards and Boundaries
Have you heard of the “If This Then That” app? This app allows you to make simple commands, when you do “this” then “that” automatically follows. For example, every time you uploaded a new photo to Instagram, then the app will automatically save the photo to Google Drive or post on Facebook.
This same principle applies to making a new habit stick. Let’s say you want to develop the habit of getting up earlier so you can have a quiet time. Your first habit is to get to bed earlier. But, you’re having a hard time falling asleep. You can set up a system of “If I am not feeling tired by 9:00 pm I will drink chamomile tea or I will set up my diffuser with a relaxing essential oil.
Another great way to you set boundaries is to schedule your habit. Write it down as an appointment. Schedule in your planner, 9:00 pm start bedtime routine or schedule a day and time to work on decluttering. You can even schedule a day and time to chop and prepare your veggies for the week. One thing I have done is to set a timer every hour to remind me to drink water.
The point is to have some system in place that prevents other things from getting in the way of sticking to your habit.
5. Ditch Plan B
If you have a Plan B what does that say about your Plan A? When we create a Plan B what we are doing is creating doubt as to our ability to achieve Plan A.
Here is the harsh reality, if you don’t believe in yourself enough to believe that you can successfully create a new positive habit you won’t. Making a new habit stick starts and ends with you having enough confidence to stick to your Plan A.
Did you know that Sharks don’t swim backward? It’s true. They are always moving forward. Sharks are bold and fearless creatures. They have a single focus in going after what it is they want. Not only that, but they rule the ocean, sharks have no real predators.
So what does this have to do with making your habit stick, well much like the shark, you must keep moving forward? When it comes to creating positive habits that stick our mindset has everything to do with our ability to stick to a habit.
Develop a mindset that says nothing can stop you from succeeding and accomplishing your new habit. As long as you keep moving forward and believe in yourself, you will succeed in making a positive new habit stick.
6. Don’t Give Up
I know this is kind of a duh statement but it is important to have this mindset. Remember our brain is wired to seek pleasure.
Starting new habits is painful. Even if they eventually make us feel better, there is some pain in getting there. Because of this, we all have setbacks from time to time. Have the mindset that giving up is not an option.
If you do find yourself avoiding the habit, feeling discouraged, or feel like quitting, go back to your why. Why do you want to form this new habit in the first place? What benefit will you gain from it? What will you lose by not sticking to the habit?
Often your why will be a legitimate reason to keep going and prevent you from rationalizing quitting.
Also, be careful that you are not giving into negative self-talk. Remind yourself that you can do this. Those doubts and limiting thoughts are nothing more than your brains attempt to avoid the initial discomfort that comes with developing a new habit.
Related: How to Regain Your Motivation
7. Look For Small Wins
Small wins give us momentum. As you work on making your new habit stick, focus on those little wins, rather than the larger habit.
Did you pass up that bag of chips at the grocery store or get to bed a little earlier? Let’s say your larger goal is to get in shape. You go to the gym and hang on the pull-up bar, win. At the end of the week, you are able to pull yourself half way up and your arms no longer hurt, this is another win.
Those little wins will snowball into success in reaching the habit you are ultimately trying to form.
You will stay motivated to stick to your habit by focusing on little wins.
8. Find Encouragement
Surrounding yourself with people who believe in you will have a giant impact on making your new habit stick.
Often times when seeking to form new habits the people in our lives may actively discourage us from changing. This then allows those negative thoughts about your ability to change to creep in.
It’s really important that you receive some positive encouragement as you are seeking to form the habit. If there is no one in your life that is going to encourage you right away, read blogs, or listen to Youtube videos that will motivate you. You can also search for Facebook groups with others working on developing the same habit.
Getting some immediate encouragement is necessary if you are going to stick to the habit.
9. Seek Out Accountability
Tell at least one other person about the habit are working on developing and ask them to keep you accountable. When someone is regularly asking you about your progress, you will more likely do something regularly to make that new habit stick.
Accountability has the added benefit of helping you maintain focus. When you have others asking you how you are doing, you are going to keep your focus.
10. Reward Yourself
Finally, forming a new habit is a big deal! It takes work and effort. When you are able to form a new habit, you deserve to be praised and rewarded.
Decide on some reward you can give to yourself as you form your new habit. Knowing this reward is coming is going to help you stick to the habit.
Yes, forming positive habits that stick is not always easy but they are truly rewarding in the end. Developing positive habits has the possibility of changing your life. Following these 10 simple steps will have you well on your way to make your new habit stick and get moving in the right direction.
As always, sweet friend, live simply, live intentionally and make each day your Favorite day!