11 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Start A Habit That Sticks
By Claire Emerson
Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day. ~ Jim Rohn
Let me guess — you’re not someone who likes to settle.
You’re smart enough to know that there are things in life that you can consciously improve to live better, work smarter, and accomplish great things. And, as you probably know, this means you possess a particular kind of mindset.
The fantastic thing about this is that your mind is blissfully open to opportunity and experimentation.
The not-so-fantastic thing is that having the right mindset doesn’t guarantee you’ll actualize any of the amazing ideas inside your head.
For you, the hurdle isn’t believing it’s possible, it’s making it happen.
- You wish you could exercise daily, but going to the gym every day feels like a lot of work.
- You wish you could eat healthier, but advance planning of your meals seems daunting.
- You wish you could read more, but the time to read a whole book just isn’t on the cards.
And so you do nothing.
Why do we find it so hard to start?
Ever had one of those nights where you lay awake thinking about how you haven’t exercised in months and get this rabid determination that tomorrow, you’ll get up early and smash out a 60-minute gym session?
But when 6 am rolls around, rather than get up early for the gym, you hit that snooze button and keep sleeping like a baby?
And then for rest of the day you feel guilty and unsatisfied for not following through on your brilliant 2am fitness plan.
Where did all that motivation go? Why didn’t you just get up and do it?
It’s not because you’re lazy and it’s not because you don’t want to get fit and healthy. It’s also not from a lack of discipline.
It’s because your excitement got the better of you.
When we desperately want to make something happen, we get wildly excited, and all that eagerness makes us want to go big or go home.
Sadly, going home usually wins.
You effectively shoot yourself in the foot with your own enthusiasm. By thinking big, you inadvertently invite your old friend procrastination to the party, and she loves to make things complicated.
Let’s quickly dissect that 2am fitness plan and uncover how many unintentional obstacles you placed in front of yourself by thinking too big.
- You have to wake up earlier — a new habit in and of itself… Good luck!
- You have to find some gym gear — where is that other gym shoe? Is this t-shirt too dorky?
- You have to eat something beforehand — what can I whip up quickly? I need energy before I hit the weights.
- You have to have a gym membership or at least know which gym to go to — I wonder where my membership card is? Should I go to the branch closer to home or work? I wonder if they have visitor passes?
- You have to decide how to get there — Should I drive? Maybe I should walk?
- You have to figure out what to start training with first — What do I do? How does this machine even work? Maybe I need a trainer?
- You wish you had a gym buddy — this would all be so much easier if I had a friend.
Without wading into the nitty gritty details, we’ve already uncovered seven potential obstacles that stopped you from executing on your plan. Not to mention the never ending string of spontaneous decisions you have to make.
It already feels like too much and you haven’t even set foot in the parking lot. How do you start something when you find yourself procrastinating?
The answer: you simplify.
If you want a habit to stick, start so incredibly simple that you can’t fail. ~ Leo Babauta
To begin something new, make it so easy that you can’t refuse to start.
It’s exactly what I did to develop eleven new habits over the last six months. Through some self-experimentation, I uncovered a series of small, simple and easy-to-do steps to help me begin making the changes I desired.
These little steps lead to sustainable habits I could build upon and increase periodically. The level of increase is up to you, but James Clear has a suggestion of 1%.
11 Simple Ways to Start and Keep a New Habit
1. Goal: Daily exercise to build strength and tone
Start the habit: 1 x push up every day.
This has to be a full push up, so no ‘on your knees’ business and you have to start with one. One will lead to more, but to begin, it needs to be doable in your mind. One is doable.
2. Goal: Eat healthier
Start the habit: 1 x green smoothie per day.
3. Goal: Wake up earlier
Start the habit: Go to bed half an hour earlier. Wake up half an hour earlier.
You’re not losing sleep, you’re simply adjusting your pattern. Consider leaving your alarm in the next room so you have to get up to turn it off.
4. Goal: Create more and consume less
Start the habit: Write 300 words daily about whatever the hell you want.
It’s important to have no rules when you begin but focusing on a core topic helps with ideas; use something you love to talk about with your friends.
5. Goal: Increase focus and worry less
Start the habit: 10 minutes guided meditation using Headspace.
I highly recommend guided meditation over just trying randomly on your own. Perfectionism is a catalyst for procrastination; we are less likely to do something if we think we won’t be good at it. Get the Headspace app and let it guide you so you don’t feel silly and confused.
6. Goal: Boost your energy
Start the habit: 20 reps of any bodyweight exercise during scheduled 5-minute work breaks.
This is technically a piggyback habit as you make time for regular breaks as well as extra exercise. Both of which refresh and revitalise you for focused work. Here are some of the best bodyweight exercises.
7. Goal: Increase confidence and self-belief
Start the habit: Spend 5 minutes a day on mantras/affirmations.
I use these affirmations from Hal Elrod. And the phrase “I am unrushed and focused”. It pays to speak them out loud.
8. Goal: Be more productive
Start the habit: Journal for 5 minutes a day with a focus on your priorities.
9. Goal: Read more books
Start the habit: Schedule 20 minutes of reading a day with a reminder.
Commutes are ideal for reading, and you can use audiobooks if you drive. I found that reading straight after meditation helps flood your brain with new ideas (so after clearing your mind, you fill it with new amazing things). The key is to set a reminder to begin reading.
10. Goal: Lose weight (by consuming less sugar)
Start the habit: Reduce your Coca-Cola intake (or any other carbonated candy water) to once a week.
For a bolder (smarter) first step, swap all candy drinks for soda water. Keep the fizz, lose the sugar.
11. Goal: Kill the overwhelm and bring clarity to your ideas
Start the habit: Capture 10 ideas every day
I got this tip from Chris Brogan who got it from this book. Allow yourself to have as many bad ideas you like and keep them all in one place in order to let the right ideas to bubble up and win. I use an Evernote notebook titled “Idea Machine.”
When it comes to starting new habits or creating a new ritual, dial your excitement back and start as small and as a simple as possible.
The feeling of accomplishment (the one that makes us content and satisfied) can be easily generated from everyday practice. It’s not important how many pushups you do right now, or how long you can meditate for, what’s important is the development (and continuation) of the act itself, however incremental it is.
To dramatically change your life you don’t need to run a 100-mile race, get a PhD, or completely reinvent yourself. It’s the small things done consistently that are big things. ~ Tim Ferriss
Making it stupidly easy is how you’ll find success in starting any new habit or implementing any new idea.
You know you can be healthier and happier with some tweaks to your system and routine. So now is the time to stop thinking so much and simply do.
Pick one goal from the list above to focus on this month and take your first step today; do one push-up, write down ten ideas, take a stab a meditating. Whatever it is, just start.
Then tomorrow, all you need to do is rinse, and repeat — with just a tiny bit more.
Claire Emerson is a productivity-obsessed blogger and recovering perfectionist. Her mission is to help female entrepreneurs skyrocket their productivity and business growth without sabotaging their health and happiness. Grab valuable free resources in her Powerful Productivity Hacks: A Tactical Toolkit To Multiply Your Time and Conquer Your To-Do List