There’s a lot of advice out there about creating habits.
Some of it useful… some not.
The problem I have with almost all of it isn’t the tip or lesson itself, but from where it’s coming from. You can tell the lessons are recycled. One writer took from another and just copy+pasted the same old stuff everyone else talks about.
The thing is, most of the advice online isn’t from people who have applied these lessons personally in their own life, so while the headline might look impressive, the substance of the point (what they write about it) isn’t all that helpful.
I can’t fix the nature of the Internet, but I can help contribute some authentic advice that’s helped me become more productive in my years as a busy writer.
For the past eight years, I’ve worked relentlessly on my own process. I’ve set more than a dozen major habits and stuck with the vast majority of them.
1. Make lifestyle changes and long-term commitments, not short-term goals
When seeking to make some big positive change, like losing weight or finding a partner, we tend to adopt a short-term mindset about the effort. Here’s the thing: if you want to never set a new positive habit or accomplish any meaningful goal in your life, keep playing into this.
Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s true. If you want to improve your life and make real progress, you need to shift your mindset to making lifestyle changes and long-term commitments.
You’ll notice that something changes immediately once you start thinking about your goals in this way. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but you become more methodical and more patient. You’re willing to do whatever it takes now because you’ve decided you’re going to make it happen one way or another no matter how long it takes you.
2. Focus on improving your self-control
Self-control is a critical skill to develop because it plays into everything we do each and every day.
Technically, self-control is a collection of skills you can develop individually, from delayed gratification to improving your response to stress. However, no matter what way you work on self-control it all goes towards developing that part of your brain that decides what to do and when to do it. This is critical when it comes to setting habits and sticking with long-term goals.
3. Get super clear about why you’re doing what you’re doing (and make it super compelling)
The importance of this one can’t be understated.
Seriously, knowing your why may be the single most important thing you can do to increase your chance at creating new habits and accomplishing goals of any size. If you do anything I suggest on this list, do this:
- Write down your major goals: Whether that’s one or five.
- Ask yourself, “why do I want this?”
- Then ask yourself, “am I willing to spend my life going after this goal?”: If you’re not, it might not be the right effort to focus on.
- Next, write down your why and whatever it is that you want and describe it using the emotions you feel when you think about or imagine accomplishing said goal(s).
- Lastly, read it daily or make a vision board out of it and put it somewhere prominent like your bedroom or office.
4. Fear works like a ball and chain (remove it to fly)
The likelihood is, there’s something on your to-do list which you’ve been putting off for several weeks.
I know this because I’ve gone through the same thing. We all do. But this subtle procrastination is something far worse: it’s proof of the effect that fear can and often does have over us.
In the same way that by tackling tasks you’ve been procrastinating on gives you serious motivation and energy, stepping into fear and facing it motivates you deeply to go after your dreams and goals like never before.
Start paying attention and notice whenever you hold back. Is there something you want that you’re just not going after? Are you unhappy about something but you still haven’t done anything about it?
These are sometimes signs of fear. Search it out and make it a point to face it down anytime you find it to push yourself to new heights.
5. It usually takes way more than 21 days to create a habit
A few years back when I was writing on this it was still relatively unknown. Now, it’s no longer a secret: it doesn’t (always) take twenty-one days to create a habit.
Sure, it may take twenty-one days or even less. However, the likelihood is much higher that it will take you far longer to establish the average habit (depending on what it is).
This is important because it alters the way we work. If we go into something with the expectation that it will become easier after twenty-one days, and then it doesn’t, we can become discouraged.
But if we remove this expectation and just tell ourselves that the process of establishing this new habit will develop on its own, we release the expectation and increase our likelihood of sticking to the habit.
6. Success is messy
I’ve found that it’s a common misconception to think that your record has to be flawless to set new habits. What I mean by that is, most of us think that if we set the goal to run every day in the morning, we have to run every day in the morning for a certain number of days to set this new habit.
The reality is, that’s just not true. Success is messy and you can easily miss days and still develop this long-term habit of waking up for a morning run.
The important thing is simply that there is a big enough effort, a sense of momentum, in one direction– not perfection. If ninety-percent of the time you’re waking up early and running then you’ll heavily condition this behavior over time to become your default.
Whatever that goal or new prospective habit is for you, give your best effort and don’t beat yourself up when you miss a day, etc. You’ll still condition the behavior over the long-term and set that new habit.
7. Personal accountability is critical
If you don’t yet have a system for personal accountability, you’re going to need it if you hope to consistently set new habits and accomplish your major goals.
By personal accountability system, I’m referring to a system that you use to track your progress and give an overall assessment. This isn’t about being accountable to others. Sure, a mastermind is great but it should be used to bounce ideas off of and act as motivation to help guide you in the right direction. Being accountable to a group often backfires and discourages us, the opposite of what you need.
Accountability should rest with you as you want to develop the discipline to stick to an effort without depending on external motivation. This is extremely important if you’re trying to create new habits.
Start tracking your progress towards a new habit or major goal and grade yourself weekly depending on how you think you performed. Make notes on how you believe you can improve and start comparing those weekly assessments from week to week to gauge whether or not you’re making progress. This really helps you maintain consistency over time and course correct when you’re falling off track.
We’re all trying to set new habits and get things done. It’s a continuous process of effort and the associated results that we either work to our advantage or let defeat us.
It can seem like an uphill climb to create new habits and work towards your major goals at times (it definitely has for me), but if you distill the effort down and apply the lessons you learn along the way, there’s absolutely nothing you can’t do.