There are some activities which have the potential to impact our lives positively and we wish we could inculcate them as habits. For example, reading everyday, meditation, getting physical exercise, drinking more water or some other activity which improves our well being, or gives us more control over our life. It could even be something in our professional lives which we find mundane, like filling timesheets and preparing daily reports. In this post, I’ll share some tips you can use to nurture the practice of such activities and convert them into habits.
Starting off a new activity as a resolution is usually sparked by a desire to improve things, which is often a result of taking stock of where you are and where you want to be, and the introspection that follows it. No wonder these resolutions tend to happen more around birthdays and at the beginning of a new year.
However, there is a big gap between doing something as an occasional activity and doing the same thing as a habit. And this gap must be bridged by discipline and persistence. There are some additional support factors that can increase the likelihood of your bridging this gap successfully. This is similar to the support that we give to climber plant when it’s growing. At some stage, the plant’s stem gains strength and the support may not be required (but the support still helps when strong winds threaten it).
Let’s look at some ways you can nurture activities and make them habits.
- Schedule the new activity for a fixed time everyday: Doing this helps get it into your day firmly and plan the other activities around it, rather or relying on yourself to prioritise it every single day and make time for it. You can add the activity as a recurring event on your mobile calendar and enable reminders for it. This also helps make the activity a part of bio-rhythm over time.
- Link the new activity to an existing habit or routine: This is a really effective approach for developing new habits especially if the new and existing activities have the same frequency. For example: if you have a habit of meditating everyday, you could get exercise into your daily routine by deciding you’ll exercise before you meditate everyday. This approach is called “chunking” and helps your brain add an activity to an existing routine and build a new routine out of it. Both this and the previous approach frees you from daily decision making by deciding upfront “when” you’ll perform the new activity.
- Find an activity or accountability partner: Finding an activity partner is a proven technique for making resolutions work as you automatically become accountable to each other and don’t want to let the other person down. If you’re unable to find an activity partner, an alternative could be to find an accountability partner. The Accountability partner concept deserves a post of its own, but briefly, you can find someone to keep a check on how you’re doing on that activity. You report daily progress to them and they can also check with you. You can also be accountability partners for each other, for habits that each of you want to form.
- Decide a fixed place for doing that activity everyday: This generally works only in certain cases where you use a place as a trigger do something. It’s also the least effective of the four approaches and usually works best in combination with one of the other approaches.
The underlying theme that’s common to these is to “tag” the activity with something, to a time, a place, a person or another habit of yours. Combinations of these can be useful as well. These provide support to our discipline and help us in staying persistent while we’re trying to develop a new habit.
I wish you success in forming habits that give you more control on your life.