People are creatures of habit. As Canadian novelist, Gilbert Parker said, “There is no influence like the influence of habit.” If you desire success in your life, then you have to take a good hard look at the habits you have formed, and which are likely to lead to success, and which ones will pull you down.
Developing good habits for life is a long process, however, despite the claim of many self-help gurus that it only takes 21 days. This myth was propagated based on the experience of one plastic surgeon, who published his observations in a book called “Psycho-Cybernetics: A New Way to Get More Living out of Life” in 1960. While his experiences may have been true, it is a stretch to say that all new habits are formed in 21 days. This claim is not actually borne out by subsequent studies, one of which indicates the development of even simple habits that stick can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days.
That said, good habits are essential for success, so what should you do? Here are 7 suggestions based on proven techniques for developing them for life.
7 Useful Tips On How To Develop Good Habits
Don’t put it off
The first suggestion you need to develop good habits is to actually start making a change. Most people fail because they keep putting it off. They tell themselves “I’ll start tomorrow” or “Next week is better.” Don’t kid yourself. If you are serious about developing good habits, you have to start it immediately. Charles Dickens said, “My advice is to never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time.”
Dream big, aim small
“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”
– Jim Ryun
To get started on your road to success, you need to establish goals that will motivate you to form certain habits. In most cases, your goals are going to be rather grand, and that’s okay as long as you partner it with smaller, more reachable targets. Think of each micro-target as steps in a staircase.
One study shows that dreaming big can actually help you become more disciplined in achieving your daily quotas and mini-targets. As you achieve each mini-target on a daily basis, you get a feeling of accomplishment, even if it isn’t actually your end goal.
As long are your mini-targets are geared towards achieving the main goal, you will eventually get there, and without getting overwhelmed. The little habits you form stick, and each one is like a rung on the ladder to your ultimate goal.
For example, if you are a professional writer, and you have a problem meeting deadlines, your end goal should be to improve organization skills. Your mini-targets could include planning your work for the next day before going to sleep, waking up at 6 am every morning, and keeping the time you spend on social networks to an hour a day. Commit to these daily targets and meet them consistently until they become automatic, and you will find that you have become more organized and meeting deadlines.
Make a plan
“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
– Alan Lakein
Planning plays a big part in your good habit-forming endeavors because it forces you to think about the why. Planning will help you figure out what goals are worth pursuing in a process called visualization. One study shows that you can stick to a goal if instead of focusing on the outcome (goal), you focus on the process through visualization (planning).
If you don’t have a good reason for a goal, you just lose steam. On the other hand, when you know why you are targeting a certain goal, i.e. improve organization skills, then you have a rock solid foundation for plugging away at each step towards that goal.
Make if-then statements
A successful strategy for getting people to progress in good habit forming is to form chains using if-then statements. An of-then statement goes something like this: “If I wake up at 6 am, then I will go jogging before going to work.” It’s a more achievable target than saying, “I will lead a more organized and healthy life.” This is a good way to use stimulus-response to form habits that stick, especially if you don’t particularly like the new habit.
Have a little wiggle room
Habits form over time, and with so many little steps you need to take to reach your goal, you are bound to slip up now and again. When you set your micro-targets, give yourself a little wiggle room. For example, you can allow yourself one day a week when you don’t have to wake up at 6 am.
If you wake up late on Monday, you can still make up for it by waking up on time for the rest of the week. When you give yourself permission to slip up once in a while, it helps you avoid frustration, and spiraling into what some researchers call the “What-the-hell” effect. This is when you have a minor setback, throw up your hands, and go back to your old bad habits.
Focus on success
The most effective way to avoid frustration when you slip up is to focus on the number of days you have actually achieved your micro-targets. For example, if you missed planning the next day before going to bed because you were so tired and fell asleep, don’t beat yourself up over it. Instead, think about how much work you got done so far because you’ve been consistently planning your day the whole week.
Make a conscious choice
An important part of habits you have right now is your lifestyle. You need to think about what part of your lifestyle you will have to give up. For example, if you like to party all night, you aren’t likely to wake up at 6 am with any consistency. If your nightlife is not something you are willing to give up, then setting a 6 am wake-up call will not help you become more organized.
You need to make a choice between what you like to do and what you have to do. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”
It will not be easy to break bad habits, but if it stands in the way of forming good habits, then they have to go. You have to decide which is more important to you. No one else can make you do that.
Developing good habits for life is not an easy task, and it will take time and commitment to pull it off. If you are finding yourself struggling, perhaps you will find inspiration in what Aristotle had to say:
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”