It’s the first of February. Err… what? It catches up with me suddenly every year. February really is the ninja of the calendar year.
Like myself, you may have roared into 2015 full of resolutions and promises to live a cleaner, healthier, more fulfilling life. According to Forbes however, just 8% of us ever actually follow through on our often hastily-made, sometimes alcohol-induced vows to change our ways.
But why are bad habits so hard to break, and how can you make good habits stick around? Habits are basically the brain’s way of taking shortcuts to drive productivity. Your brain wants to be as efficient as possible, and so your most common behaviours become hard-wired into your neural pathways. That way, you don’t have to use up your extra processing power each time you make a decision.
There’s a reason for the maxim, “It’s like riding a bike…” It takes a lot of energy and focus to master things like driving, but once your brain figures it out it becomes second nature.
Unfortunately, that’s how bad habits get stuck in your brain too. Common behaviours get programmed in and can lead to cravings, laziness, procrastination or any number of things that you don’t want standing in your way.
So here’s how to become a c-c-c-combo breaker, and keep up those new good habits!
1. Commit To One Month
Four weeks. 28 days. That’s all it takes to break your normal conditioning and re-route your brain. If you can make it through four weeks, you have done the hardest part of implementing new behaviour. After that, it’s just a matter of maintenance. February is really the perfect month to (re)start your new habits. It’s the shortest one, and it’s four weeks exactly!
2. Make It Routine
A month of commitment to a new behaviour only works if you do it every day for that month. If you’re trying to give up Facebook during work hours but only have an offline day every-so-often, your main habit (i.e. endless scrolling through your newsfeed) will stay strong. If you’re trying to eat healthier lunches, you have to make sure to keep it up every day, or you’ll have made lots of effort without actually achieving anything.
3. Start Small And Stack
Don’t try to do everything at once. Start with one small thing that you can definitely do everyday, no matter if you’re travelling, or working weird hours. BJ Fogg gave a great example of this in his November 2012 TEDx talk, by getting the audience to floss a single tooth. You can build on one tiny habit, stacking on top of it until you reach your goal.
His formula is simple: After I [existing habit], I will [new tiny behaviour].
4. Identify Your Triggers
What sets off your bad habit? What stops you setting up your desired behaviours? Does having your phone beside your desk tempt you to stay on Facebook? Keep it in your bag. Does staying up late mean you can’t get up for that job before work? Try to hit the pillow early about three days a week.
5. Accept Blips And Move On!
You’re probably not going to have a perfect score. That happens and that’s fine. Don’t beat yourself up over it or presume that you’re now a failure. Just throw yourself straight back in the saddle and start again.
6. Celebrate Small Successes
Often with our bad habits, the rewards come because we give ourselves what we expect. When that’s satisfied, we get an endorphin boost which further cements the same behaviour.
That’s why you need to create a new reward system to distract you from your old one. If you get an article written in one sitting, get yourself a treat at lunch.
7. Use The Five-Minute Rule
If you’re trying to coax yourself into a new behaviour, like a lunchtime run, or morning meditation and you really, really, really don’t feel like it, make a bargain with yourself : just 5 minutes. Nobody can argue with 5 short minutes. Once you’re five minutes in, you might feel like doing it for longer.
This time next month, your old habits will be weaker and you’ll be less likely to crave them. You’ll have performed your new behaviours enough that it will start to become natural. Bada bing, bada boom!
Image credits: “GDC Online 2011_Monday_Smartphone and Tablet Games Summit” CC Flickr by Official GDC | “Victory Dance” via Funnyjunk.org | “Big Clock – Balboa Park” Public Domain.