5 Tips to Help Make New Habits Stick

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Have you found that when you want to start a new habit, you struggle to keep up with it and eventually give up entirely? This could be anything from your new year’s resolution to go to the gym, a goal you set for yourself to read more often, eating healthier, or any other change you thought would benefit you.

It can be a challenge to change a behaviour that you have been doing for a long time. Here we have collected 5 tips to help you with the journey of establishing good habits:

1. Start Small

A common mistake people make is trying to do too much too soon. They want to go from never going to the gym to going fives times a week. They want to suddenly get up hours earlier than they usually do. They want to read a new book each week.

For the majority of people, this is setting themselves up for failure. It takes time to create a new habit that will stick, and by taking on too much too soon they are likely to be disappointed with their results, and this disappointment will discourage them from continuing.

But by starting small and building up over time they are giving themselves time to adjust to these new habits and establish them as part of their routine. Instead of aiming to go to the gym five days a week, they start by going two days a week, and after a few weeks increase it to three days. Instead of trying to get up two hours earlier than normal they get up a half-hour earlier each week to give their body time to adjust to this new schedule. Instead of a new book each week they start with one each month, and then increase to two a month.

The important part is to focus on establishing the habit first, and only increase the effort when it has become a natural part of what you do.

2. Set SMART Goals for Yourself

What is a SMART goal? SMART is an acronym that stands for: 

Specific - Well defined. An example of a general goal would be “I want to get in shape” but a specific goal would be “I want to join the gym and work out five days a week”

Measurable - To ensure success have criteria for measuring your progress. How do you know if you have reached your goal? How do you know if you are on track to meet it?

Achievable - If a goal is not attainable you will quickly become discouraged and lose interest. You want to make sure the goal is challenging so that you push yourself, but not so challenging you have no chance of accomplishing it.  

Relevant - Is the goal something that matters to you? Does it seem worthwhile? Is now the right time to pursue it? If the answer to any of these questions is no then making the goal a priority will be a challenge.

Timely - You need a target date for when you want to achieve your goal by to create a sense of urgency. Without a set target date it is too easy to fall into the trap of “I can just do it later”.

Often times people set themselves up for failure by setting goals for themselves that are too general or unrealistic, gut goals that are made considering these criteria help you to focus your efforts and increase your chances of success.

3. Schedule your habits

It is important to make time to work on achieving your goals. You can do this by scheduling blocks of time where you will be working towards your goal. 

You want to get in shape? Put in your schedule when you will be going to the gym. You want to read more? Set aside time a few days a week to read your book. You want to eat healthier? Schedule a night for cooking dinner or for meal prep. 

For each of these it is important to remember to start small and let those develop into a habit. Once you find yourself being able to do them without having to force yourself to follow a schedule, then it is a good time to start increasing the amount of time you are scheduling for.

4. Track your progress

The best way to hold yourself accountable is to track your progress. Tracking allows you to look back and see your wins and failures. You can use this to assess what caused a win or failure on a certain day and use it to improve your results going forward. Seeing your wins will also help to motivate you to keep moving forward.

There are many ways you can track your progress: you can keep a journal, create a spreadsheet on your computer, or download an app on your phone designed to help you track your progress. Find the method that works best for you.

By holding yourself accountable you are more likely to rebound after a miss, helping you to stay on the path to success.

5. Celebrate your successes 

Don’t wait until you have accomplished your overall goal to celebrate. Celebrate the small milestones along with way. 

By celebrating the small milestones you make it easier to see your progress. Instead of being faced with a daunting end goal that seems so far away, you are faced with an achievable step that you can see just ahead.

Each time you reward yourself you activate the reward circuitry of your brain which creates feelings of pride and accomplishment. These emotions help to motivate you to continue on your path to achieve even bigger successes in the future.

Creating new habits are challenging, and take patience and time. The most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to be perfect - if you slip up don’t beat yourself up. Assess what you can learn from it, forgive yourself, and keep working at your goals.

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