We’re all creatures of habit. And since the habits we acquire—whether consciously or not—shape the course of our life, it’s in our best interest to be intentional about which ones we choose to keep, which ones we replace, and which ones we add.
But the process of adding or replacing habits can be a challenge. Establishing new habits takes time, and old habits don’t die easily. Sometimes the biggest thing is just keeping with something long enough for it to begin to stick.
So how do you do that? How do you stick with a new habit when you’re first starting out? Here are a couple things I’ve personally found helpful.
One piece of advice is to start small. If you aim too high too soon, you can find yourself experiencing resistance to just getting started. For instance, you told yourself you were going to workout for an hour a day, but today you’re tired, and the thought of a full hour is so overwhelming that you don’t even start.
In the beginning, establishing a habit is all about consistency. And if what you’re trying to do is so overwhelming that you don’t always do it, you won’t establish the consistency you need to make it stick. The solution is to make sure you commit to something that’s so doable that you don’t talk yourself out of even getting started.
Instead of aiming to workout for an hour a day, perhaps the initial commitment is simply of taking a daily 5 minute walk. Now, this may not seem like much, but the goal at the beginning is to just get moving in the right direction. And if you set up something that is imminently doable, you’re be more likely to get started (if it’s small enough, you’ll have no excuse not to do it).
And, as you’ve probably experienced, once you get started, often you’ll end up going longer anyway. Committing to 5 minutes doesn’t mean stopping at 5 minutes. But even if you don’t go longer, you’re still creating that groove of daily repetition that is so important, especially early on.
Track your progress
Another tactic that can help establish a habit is to track your progress. For me, Seinfeld’s “don’t break the chain” approach has been helpful. Essentially, you have a visible place where you track your consistency with the habit you’re trying to establish. After each day that you hit your goal, you cross off that day on the calendar, creating a visual indicator of your success. Soon you’ll have a string of ‘X’s on that sheet, and once you have a few in a row, the desire to keep the streak alive can help you stay on track on those days where you may not “feel” like it.
I do something like this, although the chart I use is much smaller than the wall calendar he describes. Nevertheless, I can attest to the motivation that comes from trying to keep a streak alive.
Now, neither of these tactics—starting small and tracking your progress—guarantee success in establishing new habits. But they can go a long way in helping you establish consistency in whatever you put your mind to. And when it comes to habit formation, consistency is what it’s all about.