As you enter the new year, you are likely thinking about forming new habits. We all have times when we want to make intentional changes to our behavior. You could want to eat healthier and drink more water or move more. You could want to create a mindfulness practice or connect more with others. Or, it could be work related, or spiritual. For me, at the top of my mind is getting a consistent exercise routine going. Over the past year, I have gotten off track and I can see and feel it.
Replacing old habits or no habit with something new is easier said than done though. “Bad” habits we seem to pick up effortlessly. Creating “good” habits, on the other hand, can be a little more challenging.
Here is a five-step process that makes it easy to follow until your set in the new behavior and it becomes a true habit – something you do automatically, like brushing your teeth.
Decide What You Want to Do
The first step is to decide what you want that new habit to be. Be specific. Don’t just tell yourself you want to meditate or exercise more. Instead say something like “I will meditate for 10 minutes four days a week” or “I will walk or bike 30 minutes a day five days a week and strength train two days of the week”. Deciding with a level of specificity what your new habit will be, is an important part of the battle.
Understand Why You Want to Do It
You are more likely to stay motivated if you know why you want to create a new habit. You have read that studies indicate that mindfulness meditation can help you manage your stress and increase your concentration. You have noticed that you have become impatient with your children or are having difficulty staying focused when your spouse is talking to you. Or, you have problems concentrating at work or have a stressful job. When you don’t feel like engaging in your new habit, remembering why you want to do it can serve as an important motivator to stay or get back on track.
You are also more likely to stick with a new routine if you get specific about its details. Decide when and where you are going to do it. Let’s say you have a habit of checking the news on your mobile phone when you first wake up and you decide to replace that habit with the new habit of meditating before you get out of bed instead. Lay out when you will get started and the specific days and times you will work the new habit into your routine. Make adjustments as you learn what works (and does not work) for you along the way.
Remind Yourself to Get It Done
The first few days may be the easiest. You’re at your most motivated. After a week or two, you might notice that you are slipping back into those old habits.
Maybe you’re super busy and you don’t think you have time to meditate before getting on with your day. Or maybe it’s raining and you don’t really want to go out and walk. Or maybe your day just got away from you. Create a daily reminder system whether it’s an alert on your phone or a daily to-do list until it becomes an ingrained part of your routine. Have a buddy system with a friend. Get a coach to hold you accountable. Sign up for a class or personal trainer.
Be Persistent. Make It Part of Your Routine Until It Becomes A Habit
Now, the final step. Until it becomes a true habit, a routine will work to your best advantage. It will help you get it done without having to spend a lot of willpower. As mentioned above, get some support from others.
Make that meditation a part of your morning routine, or a daily walk part of your after-dinner routine. Replace grabbing an unhealthy snack at the vending machine at work in the morning to packing a healthy snack.
Keep at it until it’s second nature and you’ll be well on your way to forming a new good habit. And no need to get discouraged. When you get off track, just start again. Life works like that. It’s all part of the journey.