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When was the last time that you decided to turn your life around? You might’ve seen your recent weight or your outputs at work and frowned. After realizing how bad things have gotten, you decided it was time to make a difference. You set out plans to wake up at 5 in the morning, jog every single day, and eat more veggies than meat per meal!
Like you, many people have set out to turn their life around and change it for the better. However, their plans become as effective as a New Year’s Resolution. Sure, it sounds worthwhile and you think you can get it done. Then, after a few days or weeks of trial, you abandon it altogether. So, you might be asking yourself why this keeps happening.
First, let’s break down and examine what a habit is. According to James Clear, author of the bestselling book Atomic Habits, these are small decisions and actions you do every day. If you look at your daily routine, there are plenty of habits that you do consciously and unconsciously. In fact, studies from Duke University show that habits cover 40% of our daily activities.
For example, how often do you brush your teeth? For some people, it’s always before they step outside of the house. For others, it could simply be a nightly routine. In both cases, brushing your teeth is a habit that makes up your day. It’s also why you might feel bad if you realize you haven’t done your habit. Because it’s an integral part of your routine, missing it will make you feel guilty and unhappy.
So, why is this important to know? The key to building a better person is to build better habits. Being healthy isn’t simply a matter of eating good food. It’s about maintaining a diet and meal plan that fits your everyday life. Crash course diets may sound good, but an effective diet is one you can live with. That’s why it’s more important to plan your day-to-day meals, instead of refusing any snacks and sodas for a week. The latter might help you lose weight, but the daily plan will last longer.
If you want to build better habits, it’s also crucial to know why it can be tough. Committing to a change is never easy. That’s why shifting diets can feel as tough as moving to a new town. It’s going to make a difference in your life, and that can cause you some concern.
To know how you can make the right habits, you need to know how they start. An article at BetterUp once examined the habit loop by Charles Duhigg, who wrote The Power of Habit. According to him, this loop is a four-step cycle that helps develop your habits over time. The steps include:
Now that you know why habits start and grow over time, you can see why it can be difficult to change things. Smokers may know that smoking is bad, but the idea of feeling good or satisfied might matter more. That’s why they don’t stop smoking or they relapse back into it.
If you are trying to change and build better habits, then you might be wondering why it’s not working. Here are three reasons why your attempts to change things aren’t doing well:
Cues and triggers are the first things that your mind will look for in any place. The sight of a good snack might make you feel hungry, for example. While you can learn to avoid triggers, you’ll likely run into one at some point.
The reason why you might struggle to build better habits is the environment you have. It’s not easy to resist the urge to snack or smoke. However, if you live or reside somewhere that has a lot of snacks or cigarettes, then it’ll be tougher. Sometimes, a change of scenery is your best answer to say no. After all, if it’s out of sight, then it’s also out of mind.
Have you ever promised to go on a diet because you wanted to be healthier? Did you think about the end result, whether it’s a slimmer frame or a beautiful six-pack? If that’s all you had your mind on, then it’s no wonder why you couldn’t build better habits. Focusing on the outcome can help, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you think about.
If you want to start building a good habit, you also need to think about the process. Don’t just say that you’ll exercise. Think carefully about how you’ll do it. Are you going to start lifting weights? Will you focus on jogging or biking? Once you have an idea of how to get to the best outcome, that’s when you can start to form those habits.
One piece of advice from James Clear is to focus on doing simple, small tasks first. Many people promise to jog, only to lounge in bed or ignore their promise. For clear, this happens because they didn’t have the right habit to start with. Instead of thinking of running those five miles in the morning, start out with a habit you can do in a minute.
For example, you can focus on waking up and getting your jogging shoes. Then, once you develop that habit, go further and put them on. After a couple of weeks, you’ll automatically be dressed and ready to jog. However, it all starts with the right action. Even the smallest gestures, like picking up shoes, can kickstart your mind to forming good habits.
Lastly, the reason why you can’t seem to build better habits is a lack of awareness. Believe it or not, you might not be aware of what habits need changing. It might sound silly, but a lot of people do not notice a bad habit or lifestyle until it hits them in the face.
Let’s say that you like to drink coffee every single day. By itself, it might feel like a nice and simple gesture. However, ask yourself how many cups of coffee you drink per day. If you drink one or two, that might be alright. If you drink more than five cups, then you have a problem. It might not feel like an issue, but that’s the power of a habit.
Now that you know the different reasons why you can’t form the right habits, now is the time to start making a change. If you want to build better habits, here are five easy steps you can do to make that happen!
Writing down your habits, either through a notebook or a digital pad, is a good way to keep track of your plans. Sometimes, writing down your goals can be the jumpstart you need. It’s a visual, mental, and psychological way of reminding yourself what you promise to do.
According to Dr. Gail Matthews of the Dominican University in California, writing down your goals can improve your chances of achieving them by 42%. One reason why could be the act of writing itself. By sitting down and listing what you plan to do, your mind focuses on what the idea is. Writing it also makes you clarify how and why you need a goal.
Change can never be done without a healthy dose of reflection. After all, why would you try to change yourself if you think nothing is wrong? However, it’s not enough to know that you need to do better. The best way to pinpoint your goals is to do a self-assessment.
Take some time to write down and consider your positive and negative traits. What do you possess or consistently do that feels right? Once you see those, what do you possess or consistently do that feels wrong? The latter can be a bigger challenge to discover, but it’ll be more rewarding. Once you know what you need to change, that’s when you can start to build better habits.
For example, you can look into specific issues in your life. If you notice that you always seem to be low on money, trace your actions. Do you spend on impulse purchases? Do you like to go snacking often? Once you notice which habits are holding you back, that’s the time you can start to make changes. Remember that changes take time to develop. Practice self-restraint and build on what you can do. For instance, if you smoke five times a day, start decreasing by one cigarette a day. Soon enough, you’ll find it easier to resist the temptation.
Many people like to go with to-do lists or task trackers, but those aren’t always in sync with your schedule. Sure, you can have four tasks to do in an eight-hour shift. However, that doesn’t mean you can devote your time evenly, or that each task will be done in two hours. In fact, research from Timewatch showed that only one out of eight people have a dedicated time management system. It’s no wonder that many of us feel stressed with our daily lives!
The best way to build better habits is to know and control your schedule. When you control the time you have, you can control what you do and how you use it. If you want a good method to start with, consider time blocking. By dividing your day into blocks or chunks of time, you can put an objective on each and every period. That way, you can commit yourself to that task for the time you have, whether half an hour or three hours.
For example, anyone can say they’ll wake up and exercise. However, if you time-block your schedule to wake up and exercise from 5 AM to 6 AM, it makes a big difference for two reasons. Firstly, you put a time limit on a task you set out for your day. Secondly, you also give yourself a period where you can focus solely on that task. This way, you can feel comfortable in refusing or ignoring distractions throughout the day.
A habit is a useful tool for accomplishing goals. That’s why it’s important that you know what goals you want to achieve. You can have the best plan in the world, and it could still fall apart. However, if you build better habits, you can use those to progress towards the very goals you set out. It’s why I always find myself amazed when I see my old journals and find goals I’ve set out. It’s surprising because there are goals that I’ve accomplished and I didn’t realize it until now!
When it comes to goal-setting, there are two types that you’ll need to consider: short-term and long-term. Short-term goals are basically urgent and doable tasks you have to do. They can be something you do on a daily basis. They can also be something due next week or next month. For example, it can be a short-term goal to write a page or chapter of a book every day.
Long-term goals, however, are more important and sustainable plans. These are goals that will help you carry a lifestyle that makes you feel better and happier. As such, these goals require more time and attention. For instance, you might be planning on publishing a book. Drafts for a novel or novella can take months, even years, to be ready for publishing. In that sense, it’s part of your long-term goal to publish that book at some point. The beautiful thing is that you can use your short-term goals to achieve long-term ones.
The American Psychological Association once did a study on habit-building methods and techniques. Their findings showed that your chances of building a habit are more successful if you record your progress. So, if you want to make your habit a part of your life, take time to review and assess yourself.
Progress tracking is all about seeing what you’ve done and how you’ve performed. Sometimes, it’s as simple as tracking the steps you take or the pages you’ve written. Other times, it can be more subjective, like monitoring the progress of your health regime or your writing ability. Regardless of how you want to track it, it’s always good to measure how you’ve done.
One thing to remember about progress tracking is that it should motivate you to do better. If you’re doing well, stay consistent and see if you can push your limits even further. If your progress stalls or falls back, see where you’re slipping up and do better next time. Plus, by knowing what’s working and what isn’t, you can start to adapt your plans. It’s better to make a mistake and improve on that, instead of sticking with a tactic that doesn’t work.
In other words, one of the best ways to build better habits is to adapt and improve your strategy over time. Eventually, you’ll find yourself living a life that feels more satisfying and worthwhile than you could’ve ever imagined.
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