There is one method that works very well in both breaking bad habits and developing good habits.
That’s a rarity because usually you need a totally different “toolkit” for those two activities.
This is habits tracking.
In its bare minimum, you should simply check every day if you did your new habit—committed “old sins”—or avoided a bad habit. This is very simple, but amazingly effective technique.
In case of good habits: it provides motivation for you. When your chain of consecutive days with your new habit(s) grow, you don’t want to “lose” this investment. Every day you feel more motivated to continue. And the longer you continue, the bigger is your momentum—and the stronger is your habit.
In case of bad habits: tracking provides necessary awareness. We are SO prone to lie to ourselves, especially when it comes to our vices.
You say to yourself: “Oh yea, I cuss a little, it’s not a big deal.”
But when you jot down every single instance an F-Bomb is coming from your mouth, you cannot lie to yourself any longer. You quickly realize how “dirty” your language is when the next bomb arrives and you suddenly find yourself stopping in the middle (“f… …ricking hell!”).
Tracking = Data
Tracking your bad habits also provides you with the whole load of data that is very handy in redesigning habits.
You see, an old habit cannot be eradicated from your brain (without lobotomy—that is). You need to rebuild it. In order to do that, you need to know what triggers it. You need to know its exact routine and the habit’s endpoint.
The only surefire method of getting rid an old habit is to identify the trigger and replace the routine. For example, when smokers feel and urge to reach for a cigarette—they may reach for a piece of chewing gum instead. Then you repeat—repeat—and repeat your new behavior until it overwrites the old one in your brain.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I recommend you educate yourself first. Here is my first blog post in the series of building new habits that explains what a habit loop is and its elements in detail.
Developing new habits takes a lot of conscious effort and attention in the initial phase. Depending on the habit, the initial phase may be as long as 200 days. Writing 1,000 words a day has totally different scale than drinking 2 glasses of water first thing in the morning.
And I mean daily habits here. If you want to create a non-daily habit—three times a week, weekly or monthly—the effort and time raises exponentially. In my opinion, especially if you are a newbie in this area, this is too much fuss to bother. Daily or none!
Well, there is an even better path: many times a day. If you train yourself to perform a new habit 5 or 10 times a day, you significantly shorten the period of developing your new discipline.
Tracking helps immensely in focusing your attention in the initial phase. Knowing the science and bests practice in habit development (habit loop construction, data measurement, or the importance of streaks) helps as well.
Apart from that, I have a few tips for you:
- 1. Take a Tiny Habits course.
It’s free. In a week, you will learn the basics of habits development. What’s more, you will learn via implementation so you should end your week with three new shiny “half-baked” habits.
This course is very light on theory and quite heavy on practice.
And let me repeat—it’s free!
- 2. Start from habits that provide holistic benefits and are very easy to learn.
Meditation, journaling, exercises or gratitude journaling are very simple activities that you can start literally from a minute a day and they provide multitude of benefits. They are all correlated by scientists to increase creativity, focus and decrease stress levels.
Gratitude makes everything better in your life (no exaggeration!). Meditation and journaling help you to get a grip on your self-talk quickly and effectively.
As I said, you don’t need to do them for hours to reap the fruits. It’s enough to meditate for two minutes a day—to have a 90% chance of developing a lasting meditation habit after 11 days! Jotting down three things you are grateful for is a matter of a minute. In 60 seconds, you can exercise to exhaustion with your bodyweight alone—especially if you are out of shape.
- 3. Develop a keystone habit first.
The common wisdom (and practice!) says that a new entrant of habit development should build one habit at a time.
“(…) too many changes at once. I’ve seen that fail many times. (…) One habit change at a time. Some people can do two (…) and actually stick to it, but that’s much more difficult. Once you get good at that, maybe you can do two at a time.”
I’m not a big fan of this approach, but I will make an exception for keystone habits.
Those habits cause you to spontaneously develop new good habits. They emerge almost on their own without much of your design or conscious effort. If you establish a keystone habit, one day you will wake up and realize that you have more good habits and you barely noticed how they appeared!
Mind you, this path is not a magic nor a silver bullet. It took me several years of doing a series of pushups every morning before my good habits started to spawn like a bunch of rabbits. However, in the long term, it will spare you a lot of struggles.
Good Example of a Keystone Habit: Exercises
One of the very few well-documented keystone habits is regular physical activity (aka exercises).
If you don’t have much time, but you are in a fairly good shape, start from just one minute. 60 seconds of pushups or pullups can knock you like a mile of slow jogging.
If you are out of shape, don’t overdo it. Your activity must be physical and regular. Take a 5-minute walk every evening. With time, you can start to jog—then run—then scale up the intensity.
“You can’t change what you don’t measure.” – Tony Stubblebine
Getting rid of old bad habits or developing new habits definitely introduces a change into your life. Don’t neglect tracking and you can deal with bad and good habits at the same time.
If you need help while developing your habit hire me as your online coach (first three days are free).