At the start of every year people make New Year’s resolutions and goals with the best of intentions.
They want to give up smoking, start a regular exercise program, lose 10kg, spend more time with their children, and save up for holidays.
But research consistently shows that within six months 50% of people have already given up on their promises.
The hardest part, when it comes to building new habits, is sticking to them long enough for them to become ingrained. We now know that the old 21-day rule for forming habits is a myth.
It actually takes around two months for new habits to become automatic.
The good news is that there are several strategies you can use to make even the toughest habits stick.
1) Reconnect with your why
This is the most important ingredient in being able to stick to new habits, reconnecting with your initial why.
Why was it so important for you to adopt this new habit?
This helps you stay committed during the challenging times. Also, being able to enjoy the intrinsic benefits of a habit, such as the feeling of running, has been found to provide longer-lasting motivation benefits than running for the sole purpose of losing weight.
2) Focus on your resources
Remind yourself of your personal resources that will help you maintain the habit such as other habits you have successfully adopted, personality strengths such as discipline and creativity, or family support.
When we experience setbacks it is tempting to lose sight of our past successes and instead look for evidence why we won’t succeed. Instead, stay focused on your history of successes.
3) Get into the habit of using the habit
You want to set yourself up for success, not failure, so be patient and set and achieve small tasks that get you into the habit of simply using the new habit.
If you’re returning to the gym after a year-long layoff, only do a workout every third day for the first few weeks. Gradually, over several weeks, increase the number of workouts, exercises, sets, and repetitions.
4) Link new and established habits
One of the most effective ways of making habits stick is by making use of our current daily routines.
Established habits are used to remind us that it’s time to act on our new habits.
For instance, instead of the vague “I will get fitter,” you could say, “When I come home and change my clothes (established habits) I’ll go for a 15 minute walk (new habit).”
5) Modify your environment
When we are demotivated or stressed we default to our previous unwanted habits so anticipate this by restructuring your environment during the important two-month habit forming period.
After removing items associated with your old habits create an environment that encourages you to use your new habits.
Replace unwanted chocolate in the cupboard with wanted dried fruit. Cancel your cable subscription and place books on the coffee table instead.
6) Change it up
One of the most difficult times for people trying to adopt a new habit comes once the initial ‘honeymoon’ period ends, usually after 6 weeks.
The new habit, perhaps working out at a gym, becomes monotonous and our enthusiasm plummets. The trick is to change it up.
Change the sequence of exercises, try new routines, bump up some of your weights, talk to different people, and add in the occasional spinning or Pilates class for variety.
7) Plan for relapses
Faltering is a normal part of the process when starting a new habit. Brainstorm obstacles you might face, perhaps a lack of family support, insufficient time, a lack of discipline, or forgetfulness.
Then devise a response strategy for each that you can instantly execute to stay on track.
For example, if you get home too late for your usual 40-minute run maintain the habit by settling for a 5-minute walk.
8) Accept full responsibility
When you accept full responsibility for all your results – both good and bad – you ramp up your staying power dramatically.
To maximise your accountability try keeping a visual record of your new habit on a calendar stuck to your fridge or on your iPad, inform friends of your goal, or use social media to track your progress.
Do you have any other tips to add to the list? Please share in the comments below.