Six Steps (and 66 Days) to a New Habit

Source: Photo by  Spencer Dahl  on  Unsplash

Source: Photo by Spencer Dahl on Unsplash

Habits are funny things. We were just, at some point, performing some behaviour so regularly that it became part of our unconscious functioning. This means that to proactively create lasting habits, we must find a way to perform some new behaviour with the same regularity.

Take a look at your current habits. Some are super obvious: your tendency to drink coffee, alcohol or sugary drinks, for example.

Now look more closely.

Do you . . . Consume social media every time you have downtime, or do you use quiet moments to be alone with your thoughts? Exercise at the same time each day, or squeeze it in occasionally? Procrastinate on assignments, projects and laundry, or start everything — even the lame tasks — promptly? Do you meal plan, or do you wing it and end up grabbing take-out half the time? Do you put your shoes in the closet or leave them wherever you kicked them off? What precedes your bedtime — TV and scrolling Facebook or a warm shower and a book?

And how about those habits of inaction? Is there an avoidance of first steps that’s leaving long-term goals unmet (the sitting room remains unpainted, the book remains unwritten, the promotion at work remains unattained, that relationship remains unfulfilling)?

With rare exception, our habits are within our control — but controlling them takes effort. Here are six steps to help you create the lasting habits you want to see in your day-to-day life.

1. Choose an area you want to improve.

For example, don’t decide you want to “be healthier”; analyse where you you’re missing healthy habits — diet, exercise, stress management, inadequate sleep, relationships. Or, don’t decide simply to “be more productive”; choose a niche — creativity, travel, cooking, career. Where will your focus be?

2. Be realistic.

If you want to eat better, resist an unsustainable highly-restrictive diet. If you want to write a novel, don’t decide you’re going to finish it in a week if you already have a full-time job that barely leaves enough time to breathe. And recognise that 5am jogs aren’t your thing if you’ve never woken before sunrise.

3. Get specific.

Specificity is key to successful goal setting. You will eat nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day. You will write for 45 minutes every morning. You will exercise daily for 30 minutes. You will listen silently when your partner is expressing his/her feelings, and you will respond in a calm voice.

4. Commit to a timeline.

Embarking on a challenge with no finish line can be disheartening from the start, so choose a landmark date. There are many opinions about how long it takes for a decision to become a habit, but 66 days has real scientific backing. Oh, but that’s a long time, right? So, plan to pause and celebrate at 30 days; this will help you push through those rough patches. Then, at Day 30, the benefits of your new behaviour will motivate you to continue for another month — by which point, you’ll be the proud owner of a new habit.

5. Prepare for obstacles and fill the holes.

You already know where you’re likely to trip up. That 3pm sugar craving. The bad weather forecast for Saturday. A pantry filled with junk and a fridge empty of fresh produce. Your crazy Wednesdays that might not allow time for writing. The way your partner raises contentious topics when you’re still on your first cup of coffee. Before you begin, identify and address such obstacles.

6. Celebrate — without breaking your new habit!

Plan how you’re going to celebrate making it to Day 30 and Day 66 with your new habit, with a reward that doesn’t undo your progress. Don’t celebrate healthy eating with an all-you-can eat dessert buffet — go buy a new top that fits you better than ever! Celebrate your writing goal by attending a workshop. Celebrate improved communication by planning a romantic getaway with your partner! Then spend another 36 days of deliberate behaviour to cement that awesome new habit.  

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