1. One thing at a time, make it easy, and be specific. No matter how many things you want to change, you can only change one thing at a time. Period. One thing. I’ll say it again. One thing. No matter how special you think you are, how smart you are, how mentally tough you are, your success rate will be zero percent if you try to do two things at a time. Momentum is a big factor in this, so your first habit must be easy, so easy you can’t fail. Whatever you think is easy, make it twice as easy. If you want to run more, tell yourself that you’ll run for 5 minutes a day. Sounds painfully easy, but you have to start small for this to work. The alternative to adopting a small, simple habit is no habit at all.
2. Identify a trigger action. This is something you already do everyday. It’s the tripwire for your new habit. When you carry out your trigger action, you then perform your new habit. Example: I wanted to write more. I know that every day, when I get back from work, I walk into my room and set my bag on my desk chair in my room, get a glass of water and generally do very little work for the rest of the day. I’ll surf or to the gym, and when I get back from, I eat dinner, read, and go to bed. So my trigger was pouring a glass of water. I told myself, “When I come home from work and pour myself a glass of water, I’ll write at least 200 words in a WordPress draft.” All it was was 200 words of whatever came out. Very little was special, but at least I was sitting down and writing. Identify your trigger action that will guide you into the new habit you want to form.
3. Buy a big calendar. I got this part from Jerry Seinfeld. When you complete your habit, make a big X over the that day’s date. The motto is “don’t break the chain.” After a few days, those Xs will feel as good as reaching the top of mountain or finishing a book. My calendar is above.
4. Every three weeks, choose a new habit Since I put this this calendar in my room in August, this system has worked better than anything I have ever tried. It keeps you honest and you can clearly track your results as you progress. Instead of moping about the things I haven’t changed, I now wake up with no snooze every weekday, write at least 200 words everyday, smile more, and regularly go to the gym.
If you slip up and miss a day, just keep going. Finish the three weeks and start a new habit. If one habit was too hard, be honest with yourself about it. Don’t make excuses about why you didn’t do it. You failed and that’s fine. Just pick an easier habit the following session and keep your momentum up. After you’ve adopted a few habits, you’ll become confident in the process.
The hardest thing here is not starting a new habit, it’s making it normal, easy part of your life. It’s common to watch some TED talk or a youtube video and get inspired and excited to change your lifestyle. The idea of changing habits is awesome, but it’s psychologically draining when you make lots of changes at once. You will stall and relapse into old habits and not even know why. Take this smart, slow approach, and start building real habits, one at a time.