Is there a habit you’ve been meaning to develop, but for some reason, it just doesn’t stick? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many people go through the difficult process of building new habits and sometimes they don’t quite stick.
However, there are a few simple yet effective strategies that we can adopt to build new habits for the long-run. Whether it’s reading more, exercising more frequently, meal planning, or waking up earlier, having the right strategies in place can make all the difference between success and failure when it comes to habit building.
Here are 7 strategies to build new habits effectively:
1. Start small
The phrase ‘go big or go home’ is not applicable for building new habits as we’ll almost always go home. If you want to start reading more books, setting your sights on reading one book a week right from the get-go may not be the best approach. When you set yourself such a challenging target, you end up getting discouraged if you fail to achieve it.
Instead, consider starting small; perhaps read a book for 15 minutes a day. Your reading speed and the number of pages covered are secondary. Those are things that will increase over time with practice.
What’s most important is consistently setting 15 minutes aside every day to read without distractions. When you become comfortable with 15 minutes, increase it to 30…45…60 minutes or however long your schedule permits.
2. Stack your new habit on top of an existing one
In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear explains that one of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify an existing habit you do daily and stack your new habit on top of the existing one. This is known as habit stacking.
The rationale here is that your existing habits, especially ones that you have practised for years, are strongly ingrained in your brain. By ‘piggy-backing’ on existing habits (some of which are so habitual that you perform them on auto-pilot), your new habits are more likely to stick.
Let’s go back to our reading 15 minutes a day example. If you are a coffee lover like me and you start off each day with a cup of joe, then one way to implement habit stacking is to read for 15 minutes while/after you have your coffee.
3. Plan ahead
We make countless decisions every day from what to wear, what to eat, what to say, and how to say it. Making all these decisions can be tiring. In fact, making too many decisions can cause what is known as decision fatigue.
After a day of making choices at work, you come home tired and you’re less likely to make optimal decisions. If you want to start off reading for 15 minutes a day before bed, but you haven’t decided what to read that week, odds are you may peruse your bookshelf looking for a suitable title and instead get distracted by your phone or something else.
So plan ahead; decide what titles you will read this month and in what order. If you plan to read at bedtime, keep the first title on your nightstand for easy access. Make the process as easy and seamless as possible for your tired brain at the end of a long day.
4. Track your progress
Track your habits daily using a habit tracker app, or pen and paper. This provides a way for you to track your progress and gives you valuable data points.
It allows you to answer important questions such as:
Have I practised my new habit every day this week?
If not, which days did I fall off the wagon?
Is there a pattern? Am I falling off the wagon on the same days every week repeatedly?
If yes, why?
Answering these questions can help you identify any underlying problems and restrategize accordingly (this is discussed further below).
5. Assess your progress and restrategize if needed
At the end of the week or fortnight, review your progress. If you’ve missed your habit for a couple of days, analyse why that might be. Perhaps you’ve set aside 15 minutes to read before bed but you’re tired and you often fall asleep before you can do your reading.
In such case, it’s best to restrategize. Instead of reading before bed, schedule your 15 minutes in the morning with your coffee. Put your new strategies into practice and check your progress once again after a week or two.
6. Reward yourself
Set up a reward system to motivate yourself to achieve your weekly goals. It can be something as simple as, “If I read 15 minutes a day from Monday to Friday this week, I’ll treat myself to some pastries after work on Friday!”
I know reading is good and should be a reward in itself, but there are days when we’re busy and tired, and on those days, reading may not be so enjoyable. Rewarding yourself for achieving your goals provides that extra motivation to persist even on difficult days.
Plus, some habits like daily exercise may not be enjoyable right away. It may feel like a chore to do it every day at first before you start to see and feel results. End results such as improved health only materialise over the long-run, so having something else to motivate you in the short-run can help.
7. Find an accountability partner
Sometimes new habits can be difficult to build on our own. If you have a friend or family member who wishes to adopt a new habit as well, consider asking them to be your accountability partner.
Report your progress to one another and keep each other motivated. You could even consider a joint reward system. Both of you enjoy the rewards together, say a night out at your favourite restaurant, only if both of you stick to your habits diligently.
This can help to give added motivation to follow through on your habits especially since your actions now affect not only you but your partner as well.
If you’re planning to build a new habit, do give these strategies a try. Remember, there are no failed habits, only failed strategies! So when a habit doesn’t seem to stick, restrategize!