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How to create habits that actually stick!

Updated: May 16, 2023

We’re already in May and if, like me, you set goals for 2021, I’m wondering how you're doing with them?

Are you still working diligently towards them, or have the wheels blown off the wagon already!!?

I’m doing OK but I realize that desire and good intentions to achieve might not be enough, I might need more than just willpower to succeed, especially whilst we’re on this crazy Coronacoaster!

It’s become all too easy to get distracted today and stray from the habits we need to nurture in order to achieve what we want most in life.

Here are some tips to create habits that will help you get closer to your goals.

What’s a habit?

A habit’s an automatic behavior or ritual that’s been repeated over and over again in the same environment until it becomes a subconscious part of our being.

Habits are so powerful because they’ve often become so engrained in our psyche that we’re no longer aware of them anymore. You’ve done (whatever it is) so many times that your conscious doesn't have to pay much attention to it anymore, so, your mind can be off at the races whilst you subconsciously perform the task you have to do at hand.

Have you ever driven somewhere and wondered how the hell you got there because you were totally lost in your thoughts; OR simply locking your front door – how many times have you had to go back and check because you weren’t quite “there” when you locked it, but when you checked it you had locked it, none-the-less…

These are habits.

The repetition creates a mental association between the situation (a “cue”) and an action (the “behavior”) which means that when the cue faces the behavior, it’s performed automatically. Automation has a number of elements, one of which is lack of thought. Which is great – if the habits still of benefit to you.

How do you form a habit?

It was widely held that it took roughly 21 days to form a new habit or break an old one. The belief stemmed from the plastic surgeon Maxwell Malts 1960’s book, “Psycho Cybernetics”.

He noticed anecdotally that it took about 21 days for patients to get used to their new faces after plastic surgery!

If that’s also your belief, then you’re about to have a revelation because it was disproved by University College London, some years ago. The time it takes to break a new habit isn’t as clear cut as 21 days. The UCL Researchers examined the new habits of 96 people over the space of 12 weeks and found that the average time it took for a new habit to stick was actually 66 days not 21. However, individual times varied from 18 days to 254 days, so, if you want to develop a new behavior, for the most part it seems it would take at least two months!!! Oops. Time to re-set the goals…

This at least offers a degree of explanation as to why many of us fail to accomplish our plans – we simply don’t give it enough time to establish our new habit

To create a new habit, you’re going to need to repeat the behavior in the same situation.

It’s important that something about the setting where you perform the “behavior” is consistent so that it can “cue” the “behavior”. Consistency is key. If you choose a context cue, for your habit (for example doing it after lunch), it doesn’t seem to matter if you eat lunch at different times in the day. As long as you perform your habit after lunch, consistently.

Obstacles that may stand in your way…

Over and above not giving it enough time, there are other reasons why we quit goals or our new resolutions. Culprit number one could be Perfectionism, it’s an adversary that thrives in us thanks to a past critic in our life (that could be you, now.) or, from the many social media platforms that invite comparison in from the perfectly curated posts that have us thinking less of ourselves and will have us heading towards the cookie jar every time –

Perfectionism says, “if I can’t do it perfectly, there’s no point doing it at all” or, if you’ve already undertaken the task and you make a mistake, or a wheel has fallen off your wagon the negative thinking can be “I’ve failed. I can’t do this, so I’ll quit…”

This subconscious self-defeating thinking will hold you back every time until you create a new habit and way of thinking to overcome it.

Control your Environment

After I had spoken about missing home, the same friend who told me about the 60/40 principal also bought me a basket of British confectionary for my Christmas. I was only 15 days into my “no chocolate” in December goal - the Curly Wurlies never made it to the end of the street.

The “cue” was the chocolate, and the “behavior” was to eat it. LOL Oh, well - it was a gift, and I was brought up beautifully!! LOL I should have said “begone”, but I didn't even though I was motivated to my goal!!

Control your environment and remove the triggers than may put you off course until your new habit is set. I know I can’t have anything “sugary” in my home when I’m doing a 30-day health kick – it triggers me too much. The thing is one habit doesn't automatically replace the other, the old habits still exist; the new habits just have to become stronger influences on your behavior and that requires time and effort. In this instance, with chocolate. In order to help with my new habit, I control my environment by not having it in my house.

Give yourself a break

Isn’t life challenging enough without beating up on yourself? Make the decision to be a little bit gentler and consider there might be another way to treat yourself. When the bar is so high, inevitably it’s going to be knocked over – but you don't have to quit.

Before I did the work on myself, I was the “all or nothing” type and firmly believed in the 80-20 rule. I had to be the 20% every day and in everything I did… (that's a recipe for a season ticket to The Priory – I can tell you!!)

What I understand now is that it's better to do something consistently, even if it’s done badly. It’s better to start than not at all and you don’t have to be the best at it when you do.

Throw in consistency and day-by-day you’ll get better and better. You’ll see improvement and your self-esteem will rise. You’ll find that you don't have to start by looking like the Michelangelo’s “David”, you can accept starting as the lump of marble and then simply chipping away each day and the building upon that each “until” will be enough.

It’s OK if you miss a day but if your consistently inconsistent, you’re unlikely to succeed regardless of your abilities.

My friend literally changed my life when she said, “why don't you be the 50-40 rule consistently for a change. Your results could be better, and your anxiety might be a lot less”. They are. So, now, (depending on what I’m learning or focused on achieving) I factor in more time with less demand and pressure on myself to have to be the “A” type all the time and in all areas of my life.

The main thing to remember is, it can take much longer than you think to form a new or break an old habit and so therefore it is important to persevere with your new resolution and stick with it “until”.

In closing. If you want to form a new habit you should specify clearly what you will do, in what situation you’ll do it in and then make the effort to do it consistently over time. As you continue to practice it, it will start to happen more and more easily and what’s more, require less effort. You’ll start seeing changes, achieve more and have better results with your goals, which will ultimately affect your choices and that has to be a good thing.

So, there you have it, habits!


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