Making Habits Stick
We can all be inspired to make a change in our lives, and then see that motivation disappear the very next morning. Living well is about consistency and good habits.
Having goals like ‘getting fitter’ or ‘eating better’ are important but hard to sustain and measure. If you’re like me then they slowly slip by the wayside.
Several great books, including ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear, aim at making habit forming easier. I hope to summarise this in a condensable format.
1. Be specific.
Goals like ‘getting fitter’ are good and well but to increase your chances of success be more specific. We need to answer the questions like how we are going to get fitter or eat better, and when we are going to do it. Make you goal in the following format:
I will do [BEHAVIOUR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION]
I will do a 5 minute walk at 0730hrs every morning in the Birks
2. Make it achievable
Make the habit easy and achievable at every stage. If it’s almost impossible to fail then you’re less likely too. And when the habit is formed you can build on it. And furthermore you’ll get a buzz from the success.
In the example above, we deliberately chosen 5 minutes. Start small and build.
3. Hijack your Habits
We all have pre-existing habits. I snack when I get home from work. Instead of trying to supress that habit it’s easier to change it. Here’s some examples:
'at 1715hrs when I get back from work I will walk the dog (instead of snacking)'
'I will have some carrot sticks when I get home'
4. Combine habits
Make our new habit a natural extension of an existing one. Choose a habit you do every day, and always do the new habit after it. For example
After I brush my teeth I will do 5 minutes of meditation
5. Create the environment
Essential to all habit formation is the environment. Motivation is often short lived, but if our environment is set up to facilitate our new habit it’ll be harder to break. For example it’s much easier to not eat biscuits if there’s none in the house, but on the flip side incredibly hard if they’re sat out on the kitchen table. Think about what you are trying to do, and make it as easy as possible. Our minds will always want to take the easy option, it’s what we’ve evolved to do. Here’s some ideas
Lay your walking kit out the night before (this removes barriers and acts as a reminder)
When you finish watching television unplug the TV at the wall (then every time you want to watch TV you have to get off the sofa)
If there’s always cake in the coffee room at work, maybe suggest to your colleagues to go for a 10 minute walk instead of a tea break (removing temptation is easier than resisting it)
6. Join others
If people around you are trying to do the same thing (walk more, eat healthier etc.) then it’ll be much easier. You can motivate each other and hold each other accountable. And what you are trying to do becomes the normal.
7. Tell someone, and keep track
Tell someone your goal (i.e. point one). Then they can keep an eye on you and ask after you. Success if much more likely if you have a supportive team around you. It doesn’t matter who it is, as long as they care. It could be family, friends, colleagues, supportive networks (e.g. weight watchers) or health professionals.
Similarly, journals make you accountable to yourself and help you to lay out your ideas etc as well as making it possible to look back and see how far you've come.
8. The rule of two
We will all slip up. It’s best to acknowledge that now.
However try and adopt the rule of two, which is:
If you forget to do a habit try not to let it happen more than once.
Clear, James, Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. New York: Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2018.