How to make habits stick for good

Wonder Is Near from the At Wild Woman series by Amanda Sandlin
Wonder Is Near from the At Wild Woman series by Amanda Sandlin

Habits are the key to automating your goals. When I set goals with coaching clients, we turn each of them into 1–3 tiny habits. Habits are the HOW that will get us to the end result the client wants.

The beauty of habits is that once they’re established, they require little effort and willpower on our part. That’s why they are such effective tools when we’re working towards a goal.

Now we’ve all had plenty of failed attempts in building habits. How do you make a habit stick for good?

There are three important steps.

#1 Find a habit that you trust will get you results.

If a client wants to work on her illustration projects more regularly, we need to choose a habit that she believes will help her do that.

Maybe there’s a course that she feels she should be taking. In reality, she’s not that into it though — focusing on getting daily drawing practice time in might feel much more straight forward and simple. Learning is fun and helpful, but what will really make you a great illustrator is the hours you spend, well, illustrating.

If you don’t trust your habit, you won’t stick with it. So choose one that you’re excited about. A habit you wish you had started a year ago because it could have changed everything. Choose a habit you can rely on.

#2 Now make your habit smaller.

We’re unrealistic when we set new habits. We think we have more time and energy than we do. We want to set a sexy, big enough habit to inspire us to move forward.

By default, we set habits that are too big for us. So make your habits smaller.

It sounds simple enough, but we usually set ourselves up for failure here. A few habits that won’t work:

  • Work on my illustrations an hour a day
  • Finish one painting a week
  • Spend three hours drawing every Wednesday and Friday

These habits won’t work in the beginning, they are too big. If your track record in the past week included only two hours of painting amid days of angsty procrastination, then starting small is the answer.

Set yourself up for an easy daily win and you’ll be much more satisfied with your results.

#2 Make the habit enjoyable so that you’ll actually do it

Humans won’t do things that they don’t like to do. Stop wasting willpower on habits that you feel you should choose because they “make sense”.

Instead, choose a habit that you feel drawn to. Say you want to lose weight. You could stop eating sweets, bring lunch to work or go to the gym more. But maybe what you really want to do is experiment with daily smoothies as a breakfast replacement.

What matters is that you choose an activity that you like and can look forward to doing, at least most days.

Also, don’t take the joy out of it by trying to do the purest, best form of your habit. For example, if you want to make daily smoothies a habit, don’t force yourself to drink smoothies that taste bad. Put some fruit in there. It’s easier to drink something that doesn’t taste like pure kale.

#3 Focus on not quitting

You’ve chosen a tiny habit that you trust will get you results. It’s something you like doing. So stopping is the only thing that could keep you from getting results.

It’s easy to think that once you’ve stuck with a habit for 30 days, you’ve crossed a magical milestone of no return. In reality, it’s easy to lose a habit again if you let missed days add up.

So keep an eye out for thoughts that tell you that “this habit isn’t going anywhere” or that you can skip it “just today”. You can skip a day or two or three, but you need to put a plan in place to get back into things as soon as you notice yourself slipping up.

Summary

You can automate your goals using habits. When choosing your habits, make sure find ones you trust will get you results. Your habits should be doable aka tiny, or else you’ll quit. They should be enjoyable, or else you’ll quit. And when you notice yourself slipping, take that seriously and come up with a plan to recommit.


Originally published at Iris Barzen.