Habits. They either help or hinder you. To succeed at anything, you need more positive habits—the ones that help you achieve your potential, reach your goals, and step into the best version of yourself. But how do you actually develop a habit?
I have often wondered the same thing. In particular, I have wanted to develop a writing habit, exercise habit, and morning habit. I’ve not always succeeded in my efforts… In fact, most of my efforts have failed miserably.
In the last few months, however, I have managed to develop a writing habit. I write about this in the new ebook I just released, The Write Nonfiction NOW! Guide to a Writing Habit. The information I compiled is relevant to anyone and most habits, so I want to share a few of the best strategies I uncovered—those that worked for others and me.
First, start with a small habit. You may want to develop the habit of running two miles every day. That’s an admirable goal, but trying to run that far-right off the bat is not a great strategy. You’ll end up exhausted and sore and unable to continue.
Instead, decide to walk two miles every day for a week or two. Or go smaller—walk a quarter of a mile and build up to two miles over time. Then alternate walking and running two miles per day for two weeks.
By this time, you are on your way to a habit. For most people, it takes about 66 days to develop an automatic behavior—one you don’t even think about but just do (like brushing your teeth every morning). For others, it can take upwards of 200 days.
With a month of consistent exercise under your belt, you can start running those two miles every day. And you will feel physically, mentally, and emotionally great afterward. Your success will give you the impetus to continue running daily.
Connect to Existing Habits
Second, connect your desired habit to an automatic behavior you have already develop—like brushing your teeth at night, making coffee in the morning, or taking the dog for a walk. It’s easier to create a habit when you tack it onto another.
Think about your habits—the things you do automatically, with no thought…almost by rote. Then consider how you can follow that with a new habit you desire.
Maybe right after you make coffee, you sit down to write with the aroma filling your office. Or you go run, knowing that hot steaming pot of java will be waiting for you when you get back.
Take Big-Picture View
Third, put your new habit into the context of a larger goal. If you can see how your new behavior will help you achieve a bigger goal, your commitment to developing the new habit increases.
Maybe you want to run a marathon, and that’s the reason why you decided to start running two miles per day (as in the example above). Every time you put on your running shoes and head out the door, you know you are moving toward the achievement of your goal.
The big-picture view of your goal helps you feel motivated to take action toward achieving it. And you can see how the little habits fit into the bigger plan.
Again, sometimes it’s easier to start small. And knowing the small steps you are taking are getting you where you want to go, make it easier to consistently take them. Eventually, you have a habit—or many habits—that help you achieve your goal.
My Writing Habit
As I said, I have several habits I’d like to develop. I’ve struggled with all of them, but I’ve got writing pretty much down…
I wake up at 6:30 or 6:45, splash cold water on my face, brush my teach, and put on clothes. Then I get some water in the kitchen and climb the stairs to my office. I turn on the light, I type in my computer password, open Scrivener, and start to write by about 7 a.m. Monday through Friday. I stay there until about 9 a.m.
I was already getting up and getting to my desk every ay at about the same time—I had the makings of a sound habit already. So I added in writing—working on a book specifically—instead of tackling other tasks.
There are days when I have early appointments or client meetings that can’t be avoided, but I try to write for at 30 minutes anyway. I’m not always successful, but I’m successful more often.
More weeks than not, I am at my computer every morning for two hours working on a book manuscript. I’ve still got a way to go to make this behavior totally habitual, but I’m on my way.
Then, I’ll have to figure out when to fit in exercise—and how to put additional elements into my morning routine, like meditation and journaling.
Why Do You Want to Develop a New Habit?
Here’s a final tip for developing a habit: know why a habit will have meaning for you. When you know your Big Why for the new behavior, you will feel more committed to that daily action.
If you want to exercise daily, determine the payoff for doing so. Is it so you can comfortably play with your grandchildren, remain healthy longer, enjoy your active-lifestyle hobbies, or feel better about yourself?
When you know your why, you are more likely to follow through with the new behavior long enough to make it a habit. That reason focuses your efforts and increases the likelihood that you will achieve success—create a new habit.
Of course, you can try to muscle through habit formation. You can “make” yourself take action daily, but that’s a much harder path to habit formation—and one less likely to have the long-lasting positive results you want. Instead, apply one or more of the strategies describe in this post and watch your new habit develop faster than you thought possible.
What habit do you want to develop, and which of these tips will you put to use to create that automatic behavior? Tell me in a comment below. And if you know someone who wants to develop a habit, please share this post!
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