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How To Build Good Habits: Effectively & Forever

Updated: Oct 5, 2021

Here we go again with more national lockdowns. Nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no one to meet. Afraid daily life will get stale? It’s hard to stay motivated when it would be easy to hit the snooze button on life. But you’re not alone, so don’t feel defeated.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, setting out a solid set of habits to live by can save us from the monotony of a socially-distanced existence.

In fact, the right routines can even help us thrive. While we can't prevent the shutdown of our social and fiscal world, selecting our personal habits is a way to retain a sense of control and direction over life.

Having fewer options in how to spend those 168 hours each week, now is the perfect time to press reset. Here are the three steps to creating new habits that will stick:

  1. Start Super Small. Getting started is always the hardest part so make starting each new habit easy. An example you might have heard of – a pretty petty sounding one – is committing to flossing just one tooth each day. The idea is you make new habits ridiculously easy. Just floss one tooth. Or read one page. Practice whatever skill for 60 seconds. The point is, make it a minimal task. You might think, why even bother? That’s exactly the point. You remove the pressure. Rather than say you’ll work on that horrendous report for two hours, what about starting with two minutes on it? Just two press-ups in the morning, not 20.

  2. Anchor with a Reward. Next, connect the action to something else that’s already present in your life. Something you already do at the frequency you want (daily, weekly, monthly) and in the place you want it to happen. You tack onto that already established behavior and this stops you from forgetting about it. I’d never remembered to take my vitamins except I anchored it to when I have a coffee in the morning. I never skip the coffee so taking out the vitamins while the machine is whirring away means I can’t forget. And better still, make your anchor point a reward for the habit. The coffee is now my reward for taking the vitamins.

  3. Track Success. It’s crucial to keep tabs on whether you’re sticking to your new habits. Each time you keep to your plan, it’s another little win that builds on the last and takes you a step closer to your goals. Ticking it off on a calendar seems trivial but is oddly satisfying. To fast-track to Jedi-master level in habit creation, make your records public – share what you’re doing with others. Tell family and friends what you’re working on and why. Post it on social media. Once you’ve told the world, you have others who’ll hold you accountable. That peer pressure can work for you. The day you announce you’re running that marathon is the day you realize you’re going to have to really schedule your training and knuckle under.

Taking small steps, rewarding your work, and tracking progress create habits that help you achieve your goals. Illustration by Hilary Kwan (@ifuckinglovedrawing).

Reaching your target weight, performing a piece of music, sitting back in your flourishing garden. We need these successes for self-esteem and sanity.

Those outcomes don’t come from a single effort; it’s the daily application of even just a few minutes of a select behavior.

Taking exercise, practicing an instrument, tending the garden. They’re a decision combined with hundreds of minuscule but continually repeated habits.

Life amid a pandemic is difficult for all of us. But to overcome that default state of apathy, make some conscious choices now: start small, reward yourself, and track progress. Plus, to really make it happen, tell the world what you’re telling yourself.

I’m writing an essay like this one each month. It’s possible because just a few words each day add up surprisingly quickly.

What new habit would be easy to start and might change your life?


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