We all have times in our lives when we intentionally want to change our behaviour for the better and create new habits for ourselves.
This could be getting in the habit of eating more fresh vegetables, and drinking more water. Or it could be exercising more and taking the dog for a daily walk. It could be work related, or spiritual, like praying every morning, or fitting more writing or painting time into your day. There are so many areas in our lives that can be improved and made easier if we create new habits.We all have times in our lives when we intentionally want to change our behaviour for the better and create new habits for ourselves.
This could be getting in the habit of eating more fresh vegetables, and drinking more water. Or it could be exercising more and taking the dog for a daily walk. It could be work related, or spiritual, like praying every morning, or fitting more writing or painting time into your day. There are so many areas in our lives that can be improved and made easier if we create new habits.
For some reason, we seem to be able to acquire bad habits without much effort, but getting into a good habit seems a little more challenging. I’m not sure why this is, because good habits make life better in all kinds of ways.
The goal is to make changes easy to follow until we’ve internalized the new behaviour and made it a true habit – something you do automatically without having to think about, like brushing your teeth.
So, how long does it really take to develop a new habit? It depends. It depends on your level of commitment, and on how big a change you want to make from what you are doing now.
When we are trying to make a change, what we really want to know is: how long do we have to tough it out until it gets easier. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel where we don’t have to try so hard to do things differently? In other words, when will this new behaviour of painting daily, or writing a thousand words before work, or eating breakfast become automatic?
While it will be different from one person to the next and even from one habit to the next, here are some ways that will help you get started. Yes, it will take some time to make new habits and replace old ones. But it will be well worth it in the end. Be prepared and determined to stick it out.
1. Decide What You Want To Do
The first step is to decide what you want that new habit to be. Be as specific as possible. Don’t just tell yourself you want to exercise more, or write more, or eat better. Instead say something like “I will write for 30 minutes every single day”. Or, I will eat a salad for lunch three times a week. Deciding what your new habit will be and committing to when and how you’re going to do it is half the battle.
2. Replace an old habit with a new one
It’s easier to make a new habit than get rid of an old one so, try to replace an old habit with a new one. For example if you’re wanting to write every day, try replacing that half hour you spend reading the news over your morning coffee with 30 minutes of writing instead.
3. Make it incremental
If your current habit is to eat a massive bowl of ice cream every evening and you want to start intermittent fasting to lose weight or improve your health, you could start by switching from eating it at 9:00 o’clock, to eating it at 8:00 o’clock instead, then move that time to 7:00 o’clock.
Once that’s a habit, you could switch to eating an apple instead of the bowl of ice cream.
4. Stick to the same time and place each day
Habits will form faster if you stick to the same time and environment each day. Instead of trying to fit in sketching whenever, keep your sketchbook next to the front door or in your handbag, and plan to sketch for an hour after breakfast, or before bed.
Schedule your journalling time right after dinner at the dining room table.
Try to sit in the same chair each time you write a blog post.
5. Remind yourself why you’re doing this
A constant reminder of why you’re trying to change your behavior is also helpful. Remind yourself every day that you’re sticking to your writing schedule so you can finish your novel by the end of the year.
Or put up a picture to remind you that you’re saving a hundred dollars each payday so you can go to Paris at Christmas. Keep the reason why you’re making habit changed in front of your eyes.
Use a vision board, or simply post sticky notes around the house where you’ll see them all the time.
6. Decide to commit
The first few days after you decide to change a habit will probably be smooth sailing. You’re motivated and excited to get this done. At this point, sticking to your new habit isn’t an issue. But a few days in you might notice that you have slipped back into your old habit. You may start to second-guess why you even want to do this new thing.
For example, maybe it’s raining and you don’t feel like going for your walk. Or maybe your day just gets away from you and you decide to skip your journalling time. At times like this, it’s important to remember that you’ve make a commitment to yourself.
7. Schedule It And Put It On a To-Do List
Sometimes I simply forget to do that new thing I’ve been trying to make habitual. Maybe I slip back into reading the news in the morning, and forget that I had decided to write instead. Or I get busy with something and forget all about my plan to go for a walk everyday at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon.
If I schedule my new positive habits in my planner like any appointment, set an alert on my phone, or make them part of my daily to-do list, they will become something I do automatically much sooner.
8. Make It Public and Be Accountable
Let family and friends know what new habits you’re trying to establish. They will call you out if you don’t stick to your plan and can help get you back on track.
You may even go as far as sharing your plans publicly on social media, or write a blog about your new journey. Knowing that others read it and know about it might be just enough motivation to keep you going when you feel like throwing in the towel or slipping back into old routines.
9. Piggyback On A Habit You Already Have
Whenever possible, add the new habit to one you already have. For example, if you fix a cup of tea or coffee at 4:00 pm, and you want to get in the habit writing in your journal every day, make it your new ritual to journal while enjoying your tea.
It’s much easier to amend an existing habit or ritual than create an entirely new one. A routine will help you achieve this. Even before the new behaviour becomes automatic, a routine you already have will help you get it done without having to spend a lot of willpower or relying on daily reminders.
10. Make Slip-ups Costly
Here’s a fun idea. Put a jar on the kitchen counter and each time you slip back into your old habit or forget to stick to the new one you have to put five dollars in the jar. It will quickly help you remember to skip wasting time surfing the Internet instead of working on your project. For extra motivation donate the money to charity at the end of the month or hand it over to your spouse or children to spend.
11. Find A Partner and Help Each Other Along
Find someone with the same or similar goal. This could be a writing partner or fellow artist, a whole foods cook, or someone who shares a fitness goal. Keep tabs on each other and encourage one other to keep going. It’s much harder to skip if you know someone else is depending on you.
12. Make It A Group Challenge
If one accountability partner is good, a whole group is even better. And they don’t even need to be local. Find a supportive group online and challenge each other to stick to your new habit for the next 30 days. Not wanting to be the first one to give up will keep all of you going until you establish that new habit.
Give these simple little tricks a try. Keep using the ones that you find helpful until you have made new creative habits you can stick with without the help of any tools or support.
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