How to Create Great Habits

We’re exactly half way through the year!

I bet you’re thinking, “wow, it’s flown by!”. This also took me a little by surprise when I noticed writing on my agenda this week and realised I had been neglecting a few of my favourite personal (and nerdy) activities — goal setting and life tracking.

I am a fan of setting goals: creating a long list of resolutions every New Year’s, trying out 30 day experiments with diet/exercise/sleep/supplements, trying to learn or develop a skill with a monthly sprint and practising it every day (this is really difficult for me, I get excited about something new every 5 minutes). When I realised we’re half way through the year, I got a little sad that I have been ignoring something I normally enjoy.

So I thought it would be a good time to pause for a little and take stock of the 6 months behind and the next 6, and how to get back on track with some goals and personal objectives. I want to make sure when the next 26 weeks are over I don’t think feel frustrated that I could and should have been more diligent with myself. I also want to use this little spark of awareness and motivation to get back on track working on developing some habits I wish I had, that I think might make me a little more productive, less anxious/stressed and just generally happier.

Normally, people do this once a year and then come mid-jan, they’ve forgotten all about it

The Problem of Losing Track

It’s really easy to start a year strong and get excited about your endless list of resolutions. The problem is that come end of January, you’ve forgotten all about your lofty goals and grand plans. How often do we simply drop resolutions because we lose a bit of motivation, lose track and stop thinking about these goals altogether?

It’s normal to try and develop new habits, but if you’re not super diligent about it, they tend not to stick.

Seems that the most common reasons why we drop our attempts to build new habits are:

  • Going at it alone, with little or no accountability
  • Unrealistic habits. If you don’t exercise, saying you want to work-out 5 days a week might be too much.
  • Giving up easily
  • Poor time management
  • Poor planning

I agree with the view that a habit becomes part of routine and ‘sticks’ once you pass a magic marker in time.

Supposedly, it takes about 60 days to form a new habit, so if we look at why people normally fail when trying to create a new one, I see a pattern that emerges and the reasons can be condensed into one thing: a lack of regular review.

How do you create a solid habit?

First step, set goals.

Second step, check-in regularly to see if you’re working towards your goals.

Why Set Goals?

There are a number of studies that say that setting personal goals can lead to improvements in well-being, satisfaction and happiness. For goals to really work, they need to be personal and you need to really care about them. If you’re committed to a goal for external reasons such as pleasing your boss or your parents, or impressing other people, you won’t see the same improvements when you make progress and you are more likely to get discouraged and drop them altogether.

Obviously, by setting clear goals and objectives, you have a concrete target and it becomes easier to break down into achievable steps.

Your goals can be a number of things, like:

  • Learning a new language in 6 months
  • Getting in shape to run a half marathon this year
  • Read 2 books per month
  • etc

Once you set your list of objectives, it’s important to break them down into small building blocks so you can try to incorporate them into your daily life and form a habit.

Note that the examples above all are clear, measurable and tangible. They all have an end goal. Saying ‘getting in shape’ can’t be measured. But if you say getting in shape to run a half marathon this year, you know how much exercise you’ll need to get in to mark your objective as completed.

Make sure you don’t set yourself for failure, either. Saying you want to get healthier, not eat sugar and drink 4 litres of water every day is a really hard challenge. Start from a reasonabily difficult starting point, but one that you can achieve! And if you miss a day at the gym, or have a really unhealthy day, know that it will happen. Prepare for small failures, these are meant to keep you motivated and reenergised; they’re not meant to undo all your progress and kill your growth.

Now that you’ve distilled your objectives and goals into habits, you can start measuring your progress.

How to Measure Progress

Measuring progress needs to be regular, easy and can’t be something you dislike to do. By making it as simple and enjoyable as possible, you’re more likely to stick with it for longer and really take strides towards all your objectives.

Use a tracking app

There are great (and free) apps out there that will nudge you to track your habits, helping you stay on track, like HabitBull, Nomie, or any other habit builder.

Use the Seinfeld method

This is probably the easiest way to track progress. It’s a really simple method to build up a consistent habit that works towards a bigger goal. Seinfeld said he wanted to get better at writing to develop his craft, so he used to write every day, no matter what.

You just need a calendar (ideally, printed). Keep your calendar where you can mark with a big X on each day that you complete your daily goal. Keep doing this every day, and soon you’ll have a chain of days you’ve checked off.

You just need to make sure that you don’t break the chain. No matter what!

Review and Accountability

Probably the most important thing you can do to keep a habit going and move towards accomplish any goal is the review process. You need to doa regular review as this helps stay on course and to avoid losing momentum.

Weekly Review

I do a weekly review, normally on Sunday evenings as I start to wind down, or Monday first thing in the morning. Add a recurrent reminder or a calendar appointment and make sure you don’t miss it.

Reviews need to be really personal and brutally honest, and they need time to grow into something you find beneficial for helping you track your progress.

I also suggest reading back previous weeks so you can see if there are any recurring patterns or challenges that you might be ignoring. This is the template I use every week — feel free to adapt it and improve it: template

Add an Accountability Buddy

This step is a little more optional than the rest, but I highly recommend it. You can ask your partner, a close friend, or your favourite co-worker — essentially, it can be anyone that has regular time for you and is willing to help. Also remember that this can and should be a two-way relationship. You can do the same for them!

The idea is that you two constantly and regularly (twice a month? once a week?) check in with each other, talk about your progress and help keep each other in line and motivated. It works best when you discuss challenges, the goals you set for the previous week and what you’d like to achieve in the following week.

Think of it as a gym buddy for the other areas of your life.

Next Steps

So, what will you do differently for the rest of the year? You have enough time to develop a bunch of new habits. How will you rock every week from now on?


This post originally appeared on my personal blog. Follow me there for more adventures into self-improvement

Photo credits: Daniela Cuveas