How to Start a Good Habit (and Break a Bad One)
Sometimes we get so busy with our daily lives that we forget to make time for what’s important to us mentally, physically, and emotionally. We may know of a good habit we should start but the thought of adding yet another activity to our plate is daunting and time-consuming.
When I decided to become a morning person and wake up at 6:15 am, I made excuses for weeks. If one morning I succeeded, the next morning I failed. I had too much doubt in my mind and I hadn’t figured out how to fully commit myself to my goal.
For me, determination wasn’t enough. Although I was determined, I needed more help and structure to actually follow through. Studies say it takes 21 days to form a habit. Once I decided to figure out how to stick to my habit, I committed to 21 days of working on it.
Regardless of what the habit is you’re aiming to form, here are some helpful ways to make them stick.
Start a Good Habit
Set Small, Realistic Goals
In our society, we want everything instantly. It’s discouraging to us when we don’t see instant results. Forming a habit is not instantaneous, it takes time and dedication. To avoid discouragement and to raise your chances for success set small, realistic goals.
If you want to form a habit of setting aside money every week, don’t set your goal at $100 a week. Instead, set it at an attainable goal that is entirely reachable. If you set a goal that is too challenging and overbearing, you may find it easier to just quit. If you want to save money weekly, set your goal at $10 a week. When your habit has been formed and it becomes a no-brainer for you, then you can raise your goal.
The entire point is to form the habit now so that later on you can adjust it to your needs. Here are a few ideas of some good habits to start now.
Whenever I want to form a habit, nothing helps me more than tracking my progress. This can either be done with a calendar or an app. If you’re using a calendar, simply put a checkmark on the days you succeed. If you’ve made it 21 days in a row, congratulations, your new habit has been formed!
The other option is to use an app. I currently use a great app called Way of Life. I’m able to track my habits with a green box for a success or a red box for a missed day. I currently have 7 habits I’m tracking.
When you visualize your successes it only motivates you to continue.
Don’t leave room for failure
If you want success in forming a habit, you can’t leave room for you to fail. For example, if you want to get up at 6:15 am, don’t go to bed at 2:00 in the morning. If you want to drink more water, don’t keep a stash of soda in your fridge. If you want to brush your teeth (for a second time) at night, don’t wait until you’re too tired to do so.
Don’t tempt yourself to fail. You will be fragile while forming your habit so be good to yourself and make it as easy as possible to attain success.
Tell a (trusted and nonjudgemental) friend your goals
Accountability is vital when forming a habit. If you keep it to yourself, you don’t have anyone to check in on your progress. Tell one or two friends your goals and make sure to set boundaries. If you don’t want them nagging you daily, tell them upfront. If you want them to check on your progress every other day, tell them. Verbalize your goals and have someone who cares about you encouraging and motivating you along the way.
However, it’s important to remember that not everyone wants to see you succeed. Keep this in mind when deciding who you will share your goals with. No negativity allowed!
Did you make it three days in a row? Reward! What about 5 days, 10 days, 15 days? Reward. Reward. Reward! Give yourself something to look forward to. It could be a hot bath, special dinner, midweek movie, or pedicure.
Regardless of what it is, you deserve it. You’re working hard on improving your life, so treat yourself! It also helps to reward yourself with something you don’t do or get often.
Speak positives into your future
“I can’t” should not be in your vocabulary. Whenever you feel like you won’t make it or might fail, speak positively toward your goal. Tell yourself you can. Tell your trusted friend you can. Start journaling and tell your journal you can.
Once doubt creeps in, not only are you struggling to commit to your habit, you’re fighting off inner demons who are too scared or lazy to see you succeed. Don’t let the demons win! They have no business controlling your good habits, so don’t let them.
Make it a routine
If you decided you wanted to do devotionals more often, commit to doing it every day for 21 days. After that, if you only want to do the weekdays, you can. But while you form your habit, you want to get so used to it that it becomes second nature. If you skip one day before your habit is formed, it could mess up all the work you’ve done. This may be hard (trust me, I don’t like getting up at 6:15 am on Saturday’s), but the body will naturally adjust and the habit is more likely to become engraved in your routine.
Break a Bad Habit
Just like forming a good habit, we have to train ourselves to break a bad one. In my experience, breaking a bad habit is tougher that forming a good one. Here’s what I’ve learned to do.
Decide why it’s bad for you. Write that down.
If you embark on the journey of cutting something out of your life, take a few moments to write down why it’s bad for you. You can either write it on a sticky note and put it on your bathroom mirror, or you can write it in your journal and tuck it away. Either way, you have to write it down.
If a few days in you start to change your mind, refer back to what you wrote down. Being able to visualize your bad habit just may give you the push you need to cut it out entirely.
Pay a friend a $10.00 fine for steps backward
Remember that friend you confided in about starting a good habit? Confide in that same friend while breaking your bad habit. If you slip up and engage in your bad habit, give that friend $10. Every single time. $10 may not seem like a lot, but if you slip up 5 times, that’s 50 free dollars right into your friends pocket. If you’re like me, you don’t like wasting money so you’ll get pretty sick of giving your friend money.
The reason you have to give the money to a friend and not put it in a jar is that a jar can’t keep you accountable. And, a jar is easy to take from when you’re low on cash. If you give the money to your friend they will keep and spend that $10. Guaranteed.
If your bad habit starts creeping into your mind (which it most likely will), be prepared with an alternate activity. If you’re cutting out junk food but you can’t stop thinking about chips and cookies, stop what you’re doing and go for a walk, do some jumping jacks, journal about your day, or watch something on Netflix. The point is to distract your mind when it gets caught up in your bad habit.
You’ll need to avoid potential slip-ups at all costs. It helps to have two or three activities prepared when your mind feels overtaken by the thought of participating in your bad habit.
Decrease and eliminate your triggers
Before you can entirely dedicate yourself to quitting your bad habit, you have to cleanse yourself and your surroundings of all triggers. This means getting rid of junk food if you want to eat healthy, deactivating your social media if you want to spend less time on it, canceling your Netflix subscription if you want to watch less TV.
This part can be difficult, but it’s vital to your success. The first 21 days of breaking your habit are very sensitive so you want to remove yourself from tempting situations at all costs.
Visualize your future success when feeling tempted
If you ever start to feel like you can’t succeed or it isn’t worth it, visualize a future where you have successfully broken your habit and freed yourself from the guilt or shame it once brought to you. Don’t get to day 11 and slip up, because then you have to start back at 0. Instead, get to day 11, realize it’s difficult and decide that your future is better off with a success. If you ever start to think you can’t, remember that you absolutely can and it’s all up to your resilience.
Hate your habit
I don’t preach hate, especially towards people. But we need to hate our bad habits! Think of them as King Joffrey, or Cersei Lannister, or Ramsay Bolton, or any other terrible villain from Game of Thrones. It’s okay to absolutely hate it and eagerly wait for its death. We don’t want to be impartial to our bad habits because that gives us room to excuse the very behavior we are trying to stop. We want to know very clearly that our bad habit is hurtful to us and it needs to stop. So, get your Jon Snow on and defeat this bad habit!
21 days may feel like a long time, but at the end of it, you would have succeeded in creating or breaking a habit. If you ever think you can’t, just remember that I woke up at 6:15 am on a Saturday to prove I could do it and it felt great!