It’s easy to develop bad habits, but when it comes to the good ones, it can get a little bit trickier.
Most of us have been through a similar scenario, such as this one. Each year we set a new year’s resolution for ourselves, yet, try as we might, we often fall prey to laziness, procrastination, negative self-talk, or disorganization.
You get the idea.
But with a little bit of help (and a few tips and tricks along the way), ingraining new behavior can become just as easy. Check out ZenHabits’ 29 ways on successfully creating new habits below, so you too can start implementing them right away!
The Habit Change Cheatsheet: 29 Ways to Successfully Ingrain a New Behavior
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle
Our daily lives are often a series of habits played out throughout the day, a trammeled existence fettered by the slow accretion of our previous actions.
But habits can be changed, as difficult as that may seem sometimes, it’s always possible.
To help you get things going so you can start making small but significant changes in your life, we’ve put together a list of the best tips on how to create a habit, all in one cheat sheet.
Keep it simple
Creating new habits and changing our old ones doesn’t have to be that complicated. While the tips below will seem overwhelming at first, there’s only a few things you need to know. Everything else is just there to help these few key steps become a reality.
The simple steps of habit change:
- Write down your plan.
- Identify your triggers and replacement habits.
- Focus on doing the replacement habits every single time the triggers happen, for about 30 days.
That’s it. We’ll talk more about each of these steps, and much more, in the cheatsheet below.
The Habit Change Cheatsheet
If you’re wondering how to make a habit stick and change the bad habits that are keeping you in the process, the following compilation of tips will be able to help you with that. Always remember the simple steps above so as not to get overwhelmed. This list is simply composed of different ways to help you become more successful in your habit change.
1. Do just one habit at a time
This is extremely important. Habit change is difficult, even with just one habit. If you do more than one habit at a time, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Keep it simple, allow yourself to focus, and in that way, you’ll give yourself the best chance for success. This is why most New Year’s resolutions often fail — people try to tackle more than one change at a time and fail at most, if not all of them.
2. Start small
The smaller, the better. Habit change is difficult, and trying to take on too much is a recipe for disaster. Want to exercise? Start with just 5-10 minutes. Want to wake up earlier? Try waking up just 10 minutes earlier for now.
3. Do a 30-day Challenge
In our experience, it takes about 30 days to change a habit, provided that you’re focused and consistent. This is just an estimate number and will vary from person to person and habit to habit. A more recent study shows that it may take 66 days to form a new habit, but 30 days is a good number to get you started for now. Your challenge: stick with a habit every day for 30 days and post your daily progress updates to a forum or write them down in your journal.
4. Write it down
Just saying you’re going to change your habit is not enough of a commitment. You need actually to write it down, on paper. Write what habit you’re going to change.
5. Make a plan
While you’re writing, also write down a plan. This will ensure you’re really prepared. The plan should include your reasons (motivations) for changing, obstacles, triggers, support buddies, and other ways you’re going to make this a success. More on each of these below.
6. Know your motivations, and be sure they’re strong
Write down your motivations in your plan. You have be very clear on why you’re doing this. If you’re just doing it for vanity, while that can be a good motivator, it’s usually not enough. You’ll need something stronger.
7. Don’t start right away
In your plan, write down a start date. Maybe a week or two from the date you start preparing your plan. When you start right away (like today), you are not giving the plan the seriousness it deserves. When you have a “Quit Date” or “Start Date,” it gives that date an air of significance. Tell everyone about your quit date (or start date). Put it up on your wall or computer desktop. Make this a Big Day. This builds up anticipation and excitement and helps you prepare for it.
8. Write down all your obstacles
If you’ve tried this habit change before (odds are you have), you’ve likely failed. Reflect on those failures, and figure out what stopped you from succeeding. Write down every obstacle that you’ve faced along the way, and others that are likely to happen this time around. Then write down how you plan to overcome them.
That’s the key: write down your solution before the obstacles arrive, so you’re prepared.
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9. Identify your triggers
What situations trigger your current habit? If we take smoking as an example, it’s most commonly triggered by having coffee, drinking alcohol, stressful meetings, going out with friends, etc. Most habits have multiple triggers. Identify all of them and write them down in your plan.
10. For every single trigger, identify a positive habit you’re going to do instead
When you first wake up in the morning, instead of smoking, what will you do? What about when you get stressed? When you go out with friends? Some positive habits could include exercise, meditation, deep breathing, organizing, de-cluttering, and more.
“Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.” – Mark Twain
11. Plan a support system
Who will you turn to when you have a strong urge? Write these people down into your plan. Support forums online are a great tool, as well. Don’t underestimate the power of support — it’s really important.
12. Ask for help
Get your family, friends, and co-workers to support you. Ask them for their help, and let them know how important this is for you. Find a support group in your area. Join online forums where people are trying to overcome the same bad habit as you are. When you have powerful urges, or you’re going through a tough time, ask your support network for help.
13. Become aware of self-talk
We talk to ourselves, in your head, all the time — but we’re not always aware of these thoughts. These thoughts can derail any habit change, any goal. They can often be very negative: “I can’t do this. This is too difficult. Why am I putting myself through this? How bad is this for me, anyway? I’m not strong enough. I don’t have enough discipline.”
It’s important to acknowledge these thoughts and decide to keep going forward.
14. Stay positive
You will most likely have a lot of negative thoughts — the important thing is to realize when you’re having them, and when it’s time to push them out of your head. Squash them like a bug! Then replace them with a positive thought. “I can do this! If other people can do it, so can I!” :)
15. Have strategies to defeat the urge
Urges are going to come — they’re inevitable, and they’re strong. But they’re also temporary, and beatable. Urges usually last about a minute or two, and they come in waves of varying strength. You just need to ride out the wave, and the urge will go away. Some strategies for making it through the urge include deep breathing, self-massage, taking a walk, exercising, drinking a glass of water, calling in a support buddy, posting on a support forum, and so on.
16. Prepare for the sabotagers
There will always be people who are negative and who try to get you to go back to your old habit. Be ready for them. Confront them and be direct: you don’t need them to try and sabotage you, you need their support, and if they can’t support you, then you shouldn’t be around them.
17. Talk to yourself
Be your cheerleader, give yourself pep talks, repeat your mantra (below), and don’t be afraid to seem crazy to others. They’ll see who’s crazy when you’ve changed your habit while they’re still pretty stuck in their old ways.
18. Have a mantra
Having a mantra will help you keep going even during the hardest of times. For quitting smoking, some use “Not One Puff Ever” (more on this below). For quitting a job you hate, you can use “Liberate Yourself.” This is just a way to remind yourself of what you’re trying to do.
19. Use visualization
This is a potent tool that will help you either break a bad habit or start up a new, healthy one. Vividly picture, in your head, successfully changing your habit. Visualize forming your new habit, surviving each trigger, overcoming urges, and what it will all look like when you’re done. This might seem new-agey to you at first, but it really works.
20. Have rewards
You might see these as bribes, but they’re just positive feedback. Put these into your plan, along with the milestones at which you’ll receive them.
21. Take it one urge at a time
We’re often told to take it one day at a time — which is good advice — but really, it’s more like take it one urge at a time. Just make it through this urge, and you’ll be further along you ever were before.
22. Not One Puff Ever (in other words, no exceptions)
This seems harsh, but it’s a necessity. When you’re trying to break the bonds between an old habit and a trigger and form a new bond between the trigger and a new habit, you need to be consistent. You can’t just decide to do it sometimes only, or there will be no new bond, or at least it will take a really long time to form. So, at least for the first 30 days (and preferably 60), you need to have no exceptions. Each time a trigger happens, you need to lean back on your new habit and not the old one. No exceptions. If you do mess up, regroup, learn from your mistakes, plan for your success, and try again (see the last item on this list).
23. Get rest
Being tired leaves us vulnerable to relapse. Get a lot of rest so you can have the energy to overcome the urges.
24. Drink lots of water
Similar to the item above, being dehydrated leaves us open to failure. Stay hydrated!
25. Renew your commitment often
Remind yourself of your commitment hourly, and at the beginning and end of each day. Read your plan. Celebrate your success. Prepare yourself for obstacles and urges.
26. Set up public accountability
Blog about it, post on forums, email your commitment and daily progress to a friend or family member, post a chart up at your office, or even write a column for your local newspaper. Do whatever it takes to stay on track. When we make our commitment and progress public — we work harder not to fail.
27. Engineer it so it’s hard to fail
Create a groove that’s harder to get out of than to stay in: increase positive feedback for sticking with the habit and increase negative feedback for not doing the habit.
28. Avoid situations where you’d normally fall back to your old habit
At least for a while, try to make it a bit easier on yourself by avoiding situations that would trigger you to fall back to your old habits. If you normally drink when you go out with friends, consider not going out for a little while. If you normally go outside your office with co-workers to smoke, avoid going out with them. This applies to any bad habit — whether it’s eating junk food or smoking cigarettes, and so on. By going back to those situations, you will risk getting your old urges back, and when that happens, you might not always be prepared.
29. If you fail, figure out what went wrong, plan for it, and try again
Don’t let failure and guilt stop you. They’re just obstacles, but they can be overcome. In fact, if you learn from each failure, they simply become stepping stones to your success. Regroup. Let go of guilt. Learn. Plan. And get back on that horse.
Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones. – Benjamin Franklin
This article was originally published on ZenHabits.Net, and was fully reproduced here for your convenience.