I am an academic through and through. Thus, when I decide to do something new I devour the (usually free) information that I can find. In the current case, it was how to build new habits. You may have heard the saying that it takes 21 days to build a habit, and I am here to tell you that yes doing something repeatedly for 21 days will help you generate a habit of it. I am also here to tell you that doing something repeatedly for 21 days is not sufficient for maintaining a habit. The most helpful advice I got while scouring the web was: build new habits on top of existing ones.
How? Easy, figure out what you do every single day. Make a list of the activities that you do every day. Then, narrow your list to things that you do at the same time every day. For example,
- Wake up
- Make the bed
- Eat breakfast
- Drink coffee
- Go to work
- Check emails
- Eat lunch
- Go home
- Cook dinner
- Eat dinner
- Dance around in your underwear
- Take a shower
Your list probably looks pretty similar to this. So, let’s say that I want to learn a new language in 2018 (or improve upon my language skills). I have Duolingo downloaded, but now I need to pick a time every day to work on it. Because I like getting things done in the morning, I’m going to say that I will do it while preparing/assembling breakfast. To begin with, I am only going to commit myself to doing one module a day, but as time goes on and this truly becomes a habit, I will increase it to two modules a day and so on and so forth. Doing two modules on Monday and zero modules on Tuesday is not acceptable. This isn’t meant to average out, this is meant to be a repeated activity that happens without thinking.
Another goal for 2018 is to take my vitamins and supplements. The reasons that this isn’t an average should be obvious. If I take all of my supplements for the week on Sunday, my body isn’t going to use them all the rest of the week. The first thing I did was move them to the bathroom, right in front of my lotion. Now, every morning before I brush my teeth, I take my supplements. So far, this is going incredibly well (better than the previous example). Understanding what triggers are necessary for a habit to form is also an important component to developing a habit.
You may also notice that this takes planning and you may be wondering where the follow-through (accountability) is. There are so many apps that you can download for tracking your habits that reward you, even if it is only gold stars. The other option is to make a tracker for yourself, and pick a reward for when you reach a certain target. This target can be consecutive days, or an overall number of times. The reason I like overall better than consecutive days is because life happens. When you are just starting out it is so much easier to get sucked into life’s traps, and therefore a consecutive days tracker can be demoralizing. On the other hand, remember that this is not cumulative. You must build a daily habit first.
In a time when everybody is making New Year’s Resolutions and trying to do new things, remember that you only have to compare yourself to you. You are trying to be better than you were last year. Just remember to be smart about any new habits you wish to build this year!