The bad ones are easy, but adding a good habit might not be as hard as you think.
Why does it sometimes feel like it’s effortless to let negative habits creep up, but when we want to change them — or add a new healthy habit—it feels nearly impossible?
A big part of it is how we frame those habits. If we look at the bad habits as something we enjoy and the good habits as some sort of “eat your Brussels sprouts” sort of punishment, it’s hard to embrace the good ones. If you want to exercise more often and you see running as a chore or something you’d only do if forced, it will be difficult to welcome running as a new habit.
A few things to consider:
1. Why do you want to add the habit?
Is this something you want to include in your life, or something you think you should do? Is it something your partner wants you to do? Is it something you read about and think would be good for you? All of those reasons are valid, but you are more likely to stick with things with an internal motivation. If you know why you want to do something, it can help you stay motivated. If you want to start a daily yoga practice because you want to gain strength, flexibility and greater internal calm, you have a better chance of sticking with it than if you just read that Adam Levine does it and thought it might be cool.
2. Build on a current positive behavior.
Sometimes people feel the need to make dramatic sweeping changes in their lifestyle. Unless there has been some big event to precipitate this, it can be tough to sustain. We’ve all read stories of people who were faced with a potential terminal illness and made massive health changes to reverse it. If you aren’t in that situation, a life over-haul might be too much at once. Instead, adding a habit that builds on something you are already doing. For example, if you love to read and you’d like to watch less television, commit to reading a book a week and use the time you would have spent on television to read. If you love taking pictures, take a picture every day pre or post run in the same spot and you will have an amazing photo journal of the seasons changing.
3. Choose a positive way to frame the habit.
Our brains are funny this way. Ask a child to stop jumping on the bed and you’ll probably have to say it several times before she stops. Ask the same child to sit down, and you may get the outcome you’re looking for faster. It’s easier for us to integrate an idea like, “I want be fully present during meals,” instead of “I want to stop multitasking while I eat.” Shifting your focus to the behavior you want is a small but significant difference.
4. Place visual cues where you see them often.
A bedroom or bathroom mirror, bulletin board or the refrigerator are all great places for this. When I first started shifting to a daily yoga practice, keeping my mat and a favorite quote about yoga where I would see them when I first woke up was a huge help. There are also plenty of apps designed for this purpose, especially for fitness-related habits, but using something simple like an alert on Google calendar works well too.
5. Treat it like an experiment.
I am the master of trying something for a day and a half and deciding I hate it. Or at least I used to be. Now, if I want to do something new, I try to approach it with curiosity instead of commitment. What would it be like if I didn’t drink coffee? What would it be like if I started unplugging earlier at night? If you treat these things as experiments instead of something that must be adhered to—or else!—that inner rebel that kicks in and immediately wants to quit takes a break.
And if you can make your experiment last for 30 days, odds are in your favor for adding it for keeps:
Photo Credit: Flickr / lululemon athletica