Tricks to Form New Habits
What was the most recent trigger that sent you on a path to form a new habit? Something said at a performance review? A trip to the doctor or dentist? Noticing someone else experiencing the benefits of a coveted healthy habit? Then how long were you able to hold onto that habit? One day? A week? Two? Just as old habits are hard to break, creating new ones can be a challenge.
So how do we form new habits that stick?
Strive for iterative change. Some of us find ourselves motivated to do it all at once: eliminate multitasking, do away with procrastination, communicate stronger, check emails less frequently, maintain a zero inbox, take breaks periodically, etc. But starting too many changes at the same time is a recipe for failure. Pick the most important item. Make that a surefire habit. And then revisit your wish list to tackle the next item.
Start small. If you want to take up running, the first time you lace up the running shoes would probably not be to run a marathon. Likewise, we need to break down our goals into bite-size chunks. To eliminate multitasking, start by setting a timer for 10 minutes and staying on task until it rings. Saying you will not multitask all day on the first try would be painfully tough and hard to maintain, but building up to frequently focusing on one task for larger chunks of time is completely realistic.
Avoid negative triggers. 99U shares some interesting advice:
“…vacations are a prime time to form new habits or break old ones. A new environment means a clean slate of all the cues that trigger ingrained habits, and that means room for you to form new ones. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, explained why in an interview with NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross: “If you want to quit smoking, you should stop smoking while you’re on a vacation — because all your old cues and all your old rewards aren’t there anymore. So you have this ability to form a new pattern and hopefully be able to carry it over into your life.”
Be specific. If you want to communicate more, then spell out specific situations for deploying action and measuring yourself. Decide to send meeting minutes within 24 hours of each meeting, to provide a project update every Friday at noon, or to make at least one remark at every meeting you attend. When you can play the habit out like a movie in your mind’s eye, then you’re on the right track.
Rationally acknowledge losses. Focusing on the things you’ll gain from a new habit happens naturally. Though if you don’t also acknowledge the losses you’ll experience, you might hold yourself back subconsciously. Sending out a project update every Friday at noon, for instance, has drawbacks. It competes with more important work you want to complete to have a restful weekend. It puts you in the office until noon, when the food lines are longer, on days you typically eat out. These reports will also cause you to lose the flexibility in deliverable dates that lack of communication your currently hiding behind delivers. These losses are real.
Deliberately choose wins. Once you’ve recognized and mourned the losses, then you rationally and deliberately choose the wins that got you excited about the habit in the first place (or change the specifics to ensure the wins outweigh the losses).
Give your brain a target. You’re two to three times more likely to succeed if you put your habit into if/then language. It gives the brain a target.
- If I’m in a meeting, then I’m going to make a remark before three quarters of the meeting has lapsed
- If it’s Monday @ 9am, then I am conducting a :60 solo planning session
- The last thing I do before I leave the office is identify the first thing I’m going to work on the next business day
- When my watch beeps to indicate an hour has passed, then I drink or fill my water
- When I wake up Saturday morning, I turn my work phone off
- After I spend :75 on the most important thing for the day, then I reward myself with a cup of coffee while sifting through emails
The efforts of a new habit must be deliberate and obtainable with fun wins and grace for bumps in the road. What trick will you use to create your next new habit?