Habits. We all know the word, but we often associate it with bad behavior. Smoking, biting our nails, too much diet coke, or something else we feel we do too often. But not all habits are bad. And building successful habits can be the difference between failure and success.
Studies estimate that 40% of the actions we take each day are actually habits. We may think we are making a conscious decision, but in reality we’re acting on autopilot. We’re performing a habit, a predefined routine. So building good habits can have a massive impact.
Good habits can help us be more productive, healthier, happier, and in the end more successful in reaching our goals. So don’t think of habits as only the bad things you do. Focus on how you can add more good habits into your daily routine. Here are three tips to building successful habits.
1. Start Small
First, when building new habits, you want to start small. Your habits do not need to be large actions or tasks. A small change in habit will cascade to bigger changes. Focus on a single, small change and stick to it. You don’t need to change everything overnight.
Consistency is the most important factor. So start small, really small. If you want to become more organized, focus on building the habit of each evening writing down one important task for the next day. If you want to increase your productivity, focus on building the habit of simply making your bed each morning.
These small actions will have bigger cascading impacts, but you have to establish them as true habits first. Initially these new actions will take effort. They will take some willpower. The key is to keep doing them until they become unconscious routines and that will only happen over time with consistency. That’s why starting very small greatly increases your chances for success.
2. Find an Existing Trigger
All habits follow the same pattern. It’s called the “habit loop”. The first step of that pattern is the “trigger”. It’s what tells your brain to perform your habit. For example, the trigger for brushing your teeth each day is most likely waking up. When you wake up (trigger), you brush your teeth (habit). Another could be, when you get to the office (trigger), you drink a cup of coffee (habit).
You can use this understanding of triggers to build new successful habits. If you want to do a new action daily, pick an existing trigger you know will happen everyday day and anchor your new habit to that existing action.
Triggers are why morning and evening routines are so powerful. Waking up and going to sleep are consistent existing actions that happen every day. These are great triggers to use for new habits.
So think through your new habit. How often do you want to do it, and what would be the ideal time of day to do it? Then pick an existing action you do consistently around that same time and frequency. Set that as the trigger for your new habit. For example, “When I get into bed each night, I will write down two priorities for the next day”.
3. Be Specific and Write It Down
Don’t set a goal to “go for more walks”. Be specific. A better goal would be “Each Thursday when I get home from work, I will walk to the end of the block and back before going into my house”. By being very specific you remove decisions as a roadblock.
If your goal was just “take more walks”, you’re leaving yourself open to too many future decisions. Is today a good day for a walk? Do I have time right now? Each of these decisions become a roadblock to success. Each of them leaves you open to failure. In contrast, a very specific and detailed plan has all of its decisions made. Is today Thursday? Yep. Did I just get home from work? Yep. Ok, then I’m going to walk to the end of the block and back.
Jim Ryun, the first high school athlete to run a mile in under four minutes, said “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” Habits are a powerful tool. They allow us to do incredible things. Our brains simply run on autopilot. A small shift in habit can be life changing. So pick a small action related to your larger goals. Anchor this action to an existing trigger, and write it down as a very specific plan. If you follow these tips you will be well on your way to building new successful habits!