“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”Aristotle
Here is what I have discovered is an effective strategy for developing a new habit, no matter what the habit is. You may want to develop habits that will allow you to become slim on purpose, live a healthy life, increase your income, get a college degree, start a thriving business, etc.
1. First, be fully informed
Choose the habit you want to develop and Gain wisdom on the subject. Educate yourself as much as possible on the subject and take action. Know the benefits but also know the challenges you are likely to face in trying to develop that habit and prepare for them in advance. Many people suffer from a lack of knowledge. Others suffer from a lack of understanding and even more suffer from a lack of application.
My high school principal taught me this simple but life-changing message, “Proper preparation prevents poor performance.” In medicine, before we do a procedure on a patient, the patient must give an informed consent. That means the patient must first be educated about the problem, alternatives including doing nothing, as well as the risks and benefits that come from doing the intervention being offered. Only after such knowledge can the patient make an informed decision to consent (give permission) to the doctor to do the procedure or intervention. I think before embarking on anything as important as a new habit, we need to educate ourselves so that we can prepare ourselves for any unforeseen challenges.Otherwise, when we meet challenges in the future, we will be tempted to quit.
2. Set a SMART goal
I recommend writing and signing a goal document. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timebound. Good goals include all five elements. For example, when I coach people to lose weight and learn healthy habits, we usually set a weight loss goal of 1lb per week spread over the first six weeks.
3. Start with very small steps
Succeed at the small things. That builds momentum and allows you to succeed at bigger things. If you try to do big things early and fail, you lose momentum and are at risk of dropping out completely. Related article: Momentum = Mass x Velocity
4. Repeatedly envision a better future
Repeated paint for yourself a mental image of the desirable future you’ll have when the habit is developed. Give yourself reasons that will persuade you why now is the time and not later. Don’t focus on the negative consequences, that doesn’t motivate. Focus on a winning aspiration that is strong enough to move you to act.
5. Savor the habit & be passionate about it
Enjoy the process. Don’t see the habit simply as a means to an end, it’s an end in itself. Enjoy the process of developing the habit. In 2015, when I lost 50 pounds in 5-6 months and reversed my obesity, one of the key things I did that helped me through the process was that I learned to truly enjoy and savor the new lifestyle that was helping me shed pounds every week. That’s how I was able to sustain it long enough for it to make a difference. I wasn’t swallowing some bitter pill so I could get well and then have fun later. No, I was having fun doing it. Don’t see the habit as a sacrifice you make to prepare for a better life. As Leo Babauta says, your new habit is your better life. Enjoy the process. Are you trying to lose weight? Enjoy the process.
6. Redesign your environment to support your habit goal
Remove all temptations and everything that will detract from your goal. Surround yourself with people that inspire you and make the dream baby in you to jump for joy. An accountability partner is also a good idea. Better yet is getting a partner who wants to develop the same habit as well. Life-change happens best within a supportive community. Another key part of redesigning your environment is the replacement principle. Replace every negative thing you remove with something affirming to do. For example, if you were watching TV to relax but have stopped, fill that need for relaxation with something that is more congruent with your goals.
7. Repeat the habit regularly, preferably daily
Repetition is key to building a new habit. A new habit forms when we build new neural pathways in the brain. Here is a good way to think of how neural pathways form. Imagine a patch of green grass between two buildings. If you start walking over the grass as a shortcut to the next building, eventually you will start noticing a beaten pathway that is being created by your feet. If a lot more people start walking on it, very soon the grass dies on that pathway and we can see the bare ground the whole way. The beaten pathway is like a neural pathway that becomes automatic because of repeated use. That’s why regular repetition is key to building a new habit. Through repetition, the habit becomes automatic.
8. Discipline yourself to achieve your goal
Without self-discipline, we cannot succeed at anything. Never allow any exceptions in the formative stages of the habit. Continue without fail until the habit becomes automatic.
9. Be aware of inner dialogue (thoughts) and your words
Monitor your thoughts and your words. You can make or break your own future with your thoughts and your words. Don’t yield to any negative tempting thoughts that try rationalize why it’s okay to make just one exception. If you do, you will start having other negative thoughts that will tell you, “Well, you’ve failed at the endeavor, you might as well give up. It’s no good continuing any more.” It’s easier to continue the momentum you have and resist yielding to that negative thought than to obey it and then have to overcome the inertia and start all over again.
10. If you fail, forgive yourself and start over again
I teach my kids that if they want to do something and they don’t succeed at first, they should try, try, and try again. I learned this lesson growing up, and it’s never failed me once. I think we all need to be reminded that we should never quit pursuing something right. Don’t expect perfection, expect persistence. Every new habit that is worth developing, is worth fighting for. Albert Einstein once said, “You never fail until you stop trying.” That’s so true. A popular Chinese proverb puts it this way, “Failure is not falling down but refusing to get up.” Ancient Jewish wisdom says, “Although a righteous person may fall seven times, he gets up again.” A righteous person is one who is trying to do the right thing with their whole heart. If you are trying to do the right thing for yourself, to develop a good habit to improve your life, then you are a righteous person. Even if you have tried to lose weight before a hundred times, you have to resolutely determine that you are not going to quit until you succeed. The same is true for the job of your dream or anything else you desire. Never ever quit. It’s better to die fighting than to quit.