Good habits can be hard to make
Habits are funny things. I've always been told they're hard to break, but no one ever told me they were hard to start as well. We all have bad habits that we'd like to get rid of - biting your nails, gossiping at the office, overdoing it on the chips as soon as you buy the bag. But what about acquiring a good habit? How do I do that? Whether you're trying to start a new exercise regimen, keep the house clean, or just frakking floss on a regular basis, here are some scientifically proven techniques for starting (and keeping!) a good habit.
Answer the Why? But Don't Focus on it Excessively
It happens to the best of us - you tell yourself why you want to start it, but then become completely focused on the results rather than the actual work it will take to achieve them. You get three days into your new, awesome, life-changing habit and give up. Don't get me wrong, having a clear goal in mind is great, but there is a strong body of research that suggests that overly fantasizing about the results you want to achieve might actually be detrimental to actually developing the habit necessary to reach them. Instead, try focusing your visualizations on the steps necessary to achieve that goal. For example, if I wanted to learn how to play the piano, rather than imagine myself perfectly playing M̶o̶z̶a̶r̶t̶'̶s̶ ̶S̶o̶n̶a̶t̶a̶ ̶N̶o̶.̶ ̶5̶ Don't Stop Believin', a better approach would be to visualize myself sitting at the piano and practicing for at least 30 minutes a day. And don't just take my word for it, take UCLA's.
Don't Try to Form a New Habit When Your Life is in Chaos
We all have times in our lives where things get a little crazy and hectic - your family is in town for the holidays, you're working your way through school, you just moved to a new city for a job. This is not a time for you to try and form your new, life-altering habit. Times like these can sap our already limited willpower and set you up for failure. When you begin a new habit, it's often very fragile, and any sort of resistance might cause you to drop it completely. There's a term for this phenomenon - the What the Hell Effect - and it's even been observed in controlled experiments. If you aren't in a daily routine, wait until you are before you try forming a new habit. It will much easier to keep it. Trust me.
Strengthen Your Habit Muscle by Starting Small
Sure, we all like the notion of just diving right in and going for that gold star, but more often than not, that ends up being harder that we thought and just leads to us quitting completely. We all want that life-changing transformation as fast as possible. Well, cool your jets. Trying to take on too much at one time makes it that much easier to let something slip, then that whole transformative plan you've laid out for yourself comes crashing down, ultimately leaving you shame-eating a whole box of Oreos and burning through season 5 of Game of Thrones for the fifth time. Instead, try creating a behavior chain. Set a goal for yourself each week, and rather than try to go from being completely sedentary to working out every, say to yourself, "I will work out three times this week." After you've successfully worked out three times for that week, set next week's goal a little higher. Pretty soon, you'll find that working out every day is pretty easy! When you start seeing your goals not as big, monumental tasks that can only be completed when the time is just perfect, but as a series of small behavioral changes that you make over time, success is that much more likely.
Get a Buddy
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Having someone else to help keep you accountable makes it much easier to keep to your commitment. If you wake up early in the morning knowing that someone is expecting you to show up at the gym, you'll be more likely to drag yourself out of bed and into those running shoes.
Go Easy on Yourself
Trying to form a great new habit is hard enough without the voice inside your head browbeating you every time you have a little misstep. Take it easy on yourself! When trying to change a behavior for the better, you're going to have setbacks here and there. Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going. Over time, you'll find that things will start to get easier, and pretty soon your new habit will become routine.