“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
We’ve all tried to form a new habit at some point in our lives only to fail miserably. Sticking to new habits is not easy by any means, but it doesn’t have to be insanely hard either!
The thing about habits is that they’re absolutely key to self-improvement. Anytime you decide you want to make a positive change in your life, the change is tied to either one, or a combination of multiple habits. That’s why self-improvement can seemingly require an endless pool of self-discipline to make any progress. However, by using a few special techniques, you can automate this whole process to require less willpower and to make it so much easier to stick to!
The following tricks and tips are ones that I personally use to stay on track with my habits and I hope they help you too!
Tip 1: Start Simple & Small
It’s easy to get temporarily motivated and decide you’re going to wake up as a superhero and magically be able to stick to a million new habits and be the best possible version of yourself. It’s like when you decide to get fit and you’re super motivated so you decide that starting tomorrow, you’re going to eat healthy, track your macros, exercise every day, drink more water, etc. But when you wake up in the morning, you don’t feel quite as motivated as the previous day and slowly over the course of the next few days, your motivation completely fizzles out and you end up back in the arms of your old comfortable habits.
Why does this happen?
Because when we’re motivated, we tend to fill our new-habit plates to the brim, ultimately resulting in us dropping the plate because it’s simply way too heavy!
The solution is to start simple and small. Don’t expect yourself to be a changed person in the course of one day! Set smaller goals for yourself. For example, start off with just a few simple tweaks to your current habits.
If you want to start eating healthier, start off by replacing just one unhealthy meal during the day with a healthier one, such as packing your lunch for work or school instead of eating out.
If you want to start meditating, set a goal of meditating for just 10 minutes a day.
Start with something small and simple and work your way up to the bigger goals. It’s like climbing a set of stairs, you can’t just hop from the bottom step all the way to the top – you have to climb up step by step and then before you know it, you’re at the top!
The next tip goes hand in hand with this one and though it might seem like something small, it has a huge impact and shouldn’t be ignored!
Tip #2: Don’t Put So Much Pressure On Yourself
We are almost always our own worst critic (unless you’re unlucky enough to have someone who’s even worse to you than yourself, in which case, what are you waiting for? Kick their toxic ass to the curb!).
We’re often nicer to friends and family than we are to ourselves when it comes to cultivating new habits. We can be super hard on ourselves when we slip up and fail or have a hard time sticking to new changes. A large part of it can be attributed to social media where you see the very best of others and rarely see the moments when those you look up to make mistakes. But what you see around you is not always reality. Everybody is imperfect! Everybody makes mistakes, everybody slips up. The only factor that separates the people that continually fail from the ones that succeed is the approach.
So, don’t beat yourself up every time you slip up and don’t hit a goal. Don’t put constant pressure on yourself to succeed. Don’t have sky-high expectations for yourself. Strive for the moon but with a positive, kind, and forgiving attitude. Don’t punish yourself when you fail. Tell yourself it’s okay, get back up on your feet, and continue with the system you have set in place, and you will make it to the finish line!
Tip #3: The System
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin
In the last tip, I mentioned sticking to the system. What system? The system is simply your own personal toolbox of tips and techniques and a way to organize it all neatly so that you have a clear method of tracking your progress. For me, this means using a habit tracker!
You can click here to download my free printable habit tracker to save yourself some time!
By using a simple sheet of paper, I keep daily track of all my habits and I can visually see the progress that I’m making. Instead of focusing on just one day at a time, it forces me to look at the bigger picture and track my progress on a monthly basis, which is far more forgiving of the smaller slip-ups. I don’t lose motivation when I miss 1 or 2 habits a day, because I can focus on the positive and see how well I stuck to another habit during the whole week or month. Or, I can see which habits I AM succeeding at most of the time. Also, by having all my habits that I’m working on, written out on one sheet of paper, I can see which habits are easier for me than others which can help me tweak my strategies for mastering the harder ones.
This motivates me in so many different ways, it’s absolutely a game-changer!
You may think you need some fancy way of motivating yourself and staying on track, but believe me, a simple sheet of paper is all you need. Seeing each box filled in/checked off and seeing how many boxes I can fill each month keeps me motivated on a long-term basis and is also a great daily reminder to complete the tasks that I need to in order to make progress.
By using this method, I actually make the process fun! If I don’t feel like meditating, all I have to do is take a quick glance at my habit tracker sheet and suddenly I want to meditate just so I can fill in that box for the day. By using pretty colors, or symbols, or even stickers, I bring out the inner-child in me by making the whole thing fun and colorful!
You can download my free printable habit tracker here! I’ve found this simple system of habit tracking to work exceptionally well for me and others that I’ve suggested it to.
Tip #4: Journal When The Going Gets Rough
What if you do all of these things, trust the system, stick to it, but still have a hard time developing a specific habit? Then it’s time to get to the root of the problem! It’s time to pull out the Notes app on your phone or a physical sheet of paper, or even a voice recording app and get to work! Whether you think out loud, or write it on paper, the important thing is to get to the root of the problem and really think about your feelings, the triggers, and the obstacles you’re facing.
For example, if you’re trying to read for 30 minutes every single day, but day after day you find yourself skipping filling in that box at the end of the day, you need to analyze why this keeps happening.
Maybe you’re not making time for it, and by the time you have 30 minutes to spare, it’s already time for you to go to sleep. Maybe you just hate the book you’re trying to read but you’re forcing yourself to finish it anyway because of sunk-cost fallacy instead of abandoning the book for one that you’ll really enjoy. Maybe you just haven’t explored enough genres and found something that you truly enjoy yet. Or maybe you’re just reading all wrong and haven’t found the best reading strategy for yourself.
I used to think that I hated non-fiction and was just a fiction-books person. I absolutely love reading, but I just couldn’t get through a single non-fiction book. I blamed it on the books for years. The actual problem was that I just didn’t know how to read non-fiction books properly. While I could devour a fiction book within a few hours in one sitting, completely riveted in the story, I found myself falling asleep if I tried to do the same when I read a non-fiction book.
Once I sat down and brainstormed why this occurred, the problem became apparent to me! What was the solution? I needed to read a non-fiction book slower than I read fiction books. Once I realized that all I needed to do was read non-fiction books over the course of a few weeks instead of trying to force myself to read each book all the way through in one sitting, I fell in love with non-fiction too!
By writing out your feelings and thoughts, you can get to the bottom of why a specific habit is hard for you and by doing so, you can sometimes completely remove the obstacle that’s stopping you from reaching your goals.
So, if you find yourself constantly slipping-up on a habit or two, pull out your Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass to take a closer look to solve the mystery of why you’re having such a hard time.
My final tip to you is to remember that all of these techniques only work if they’re put into action together! Each tip is a part of the complete system that will help you stay on track and make those new habits stick around long-term. Keep it simple, fun, and stick to the plan. Over time you WILL see results. Rome wasn’t built in one day, so take your time building the newer version of yourself.
Remember, don’t give up when you feel like you’re failing: Just Keep Calm and Habit Track On!
PS. If this topic interests you, I strongly recommend giving The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg a read. He gets into the science and research behind how habits are formed and how we can use that information to our advantage. This book is one of my absolute faves!