I love habits.
They can simplify your whole life and support you in achieving your most important goals with ease.
However, I often see how people overcomplicate the topic of habit building.
Yes, habits are incredibly powerful, and yes, it needs some time to establish them, but it’s no magic.
It’s about keeping it simple, understanding how our brain works, and the most important part that people often miss out is that you need to do it.
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You can read all the habit-building books that are out there and complete tens of online courses on routines.
Yet, if you are not prepared, and if you don’t take action, nothing will change (surprise, surprise).
However, there are some strategies and facts that I wish everybody would know because they can tremendously simplify your habit-building journey.
Depending on what they are, our habits will either make us or break us.
We become what we repeatedly do.
Why you should care about habits
The short answer, according to Brian Tracy, is:
Successful people are simply those with successful habits.
The longer, more extensive explanation is around the fact that routines facilitate our lives in many ways.
If you analyze the most successful people of the world, no matter if they are in business, sports, art, or whatsoever, you will soon realize that they have one thing in common: habits.
That’s no coincidence.
Success and the achievement of high goals don’t happen by chance.
On the contrary: Success is the result of continuous action over a long period.
What you do every day determines your success and your life.
Thus, steady habits are inevitable if you are striving for progress in the long run.
You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine. ―John C. Maxwell
Irregular actions will hardly cause a significant change in your life.
The rule is simple:
Great results are the outcome of continuous work over the long run.
Daily routines and habits are the safest way to ensure that continuity and reach your goals efficiently.
The more routines you’ve established in your daily life, the easier it will get to make quick decisions and cope with unexpected challenges.
Successful people aren’t born that way. They become successful by establishing the habit of doing things unsuccessful people don’t like to do.
―William Makepeace Thackeray
There are three main types of habits
1. Habitual ways of thinking
Your thinking habits, so to say.
That’s basically your mindset.
Your thinking habits determine whether you are an optimistic or pessimistic person and which thoughts cross your mind all day long.
2. Emotional habits
Your emotional habits are in control of how you feel.
For example, whether you feel insecure quickly or maintain a strong state even when an unexpected situation occurs.
3. Behavioral habits
Last but not least, your behavior.
These are the things you actually do.
Whether you go to the gym or watch Netflix.
Whether you meditate or smoke a cigarette.
That’s all behavior.
And that’s what we are focusing here: Changing the way you do certain things and building new behaviors.
How habits work
In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhiggexplains how every habit consists of three steps.
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, put these three steps into a scheme that is easy to remember: the 3 R’s of habit change:
Source: Sinem Günel
This scheme does work the same way for positive habits as it does for harmful addictions.
Let’s take a simple example: Smoking
Smokers somehow get reminded of the desire to smoke.
They either feel the urge to smoke, or they experience another kind of reminder that tells them it’s time to smoke.
For example, drinking a coffee might be a reminder to light up a cigarette.
Or every break during work might be one.
You get the point: there’s always something that reminds you to practice a habit.
For negative habits, these reminders are already existing.
For new habits, you need to build a reminder yourself.
At least it’s very advisable as it will simplify your habit-building journey.
The two most important reminders for new habits are routines that you already practice or a particular time of day.
Let’s take meditation as an example; an incredibly powerful habit that many people struggle to establish.
If you want to meditate daily, you need to get reminded of it.
The most powerful way is to connect the new habit of meditating to one that is already there.
That’s also called habit stacking.
For example, brushing your teeth is a routine that’s already there.
We don’t ponder if we should brush our teeth or not. We just do it; it’s a strong, established habit.
As you know that you are brushing your teeth anyway, you can decide on meditating right before or after it.
In the beginning, you could even put a sticky note next to your toothbrush so that you certainly remember to meditate.
By building this connection between your new and your old habit, you eliminate the biggest struggle in habit-building: not knowing when to take action.
After the reminder, you practice your actual routine.
You do what needs to be done.
However, you can even simplify this process by preparing ahead.
Let’s stick with the meditation example.
If you, for instance, want to practice guided meditation, you can prepare everything in advance so that getting into action and meditating becomes really easy.
You can make sure that your guided meditation is easy to find (on your phone, laptop, or wherever you store it). If you need some, you can place your headphones in the right place.
You can even create a physical space that you always use for this specific activity so that your brain instantly knows that it’s time for meditation once you put yourself there.
If you pick the right small behavior and sequence it right, then you won’t have to motivate yourself to have it grow. It will just happen naturally, like a good seed planted in a good spot.―BJ Fogg
After the routine, it’s time for the reward.
In the case of smoking, the reward is the satisfaction that smokers sense. The nicotine intake is a reward that they want to experience over and over again.
In the case of meditation, however, feeling great might be the reward.
However, if that’s not enough for you, you can treat yourself differently as well.
For example, you can keep a habit tracker.
Ticking a box on a printed sheet of paper can be great satisfaction.
You can also have a habit tracker on your phone and put your achievements in there.
Anything that makes you feel good after practicing your routine is your reward.
In the case of sport, the great feeling that you sense afterward is your reward.
If you ask people who regularly exercise, they will tell you how bad they feel if they skip their exercise once. For them, feeling amazing is a reward that they want to experience repeatedly.
How to build habits that improve your life
By now, you know what habits are and how they are constructed.
Now, it’s about creating your first habit, applying all the strategies you’ve learned.
But before focusing on the how we need to figure out the why.
Which habits do you want to build?
Almost anyone who is into personal growth knows that habits are essential and great.
Yet, the majority fails in establishing them.
That’s on the one hand due to a lack of discipline, but on the other hand, it’s because they don’t know why they are doing what they are doing.
If you are familiar with Simon Sinek and his Golden Circle, you might already know what I am talking about.
It’s important to know why you are doing something.
Yeah, meditation might sound cool, and obviously, many people are doing it and seeing amazing results, but why do you want to do it?
What exactly do you want to change or improve in your life?
What is it that motivates you to spend your energy on building that habit?
There must be a why — a reason for why you do something.
Otherwise, you will hardly persevere.
That’s just the way our brain works: If something doesn’t seem important enough, and if we don’t feel an emotional attachment, we easily find reasons and ways to procrastinate.
Champions can be made when they embrace and commit to life-changing positive habits.―Lewis Howes
Create a vision for your life
To figure out which habits are the right ones for you, you first need to check all the different areas of your life.
You can imagine your life like a wheel that is divided into various sections.
There are hundreds of different types of such graphics, some including more and some including less different areas.
However, what’s important is that you are aware of the fact that your life consists of several different areas.
And the best way to figure out which habits to build is to have a look at all these areas and create a life vision.
This might take some time, but I highly recommend sitting down and doing this kind of reflection if you’ve never done it before.
Think about your future: What’s the ideal version of your life in five, ten, or even fifteen years?
What’s the absolute dream-life you can imagine?
Cover as many areas as possible: How do you feel and look? Where do you live? With whom do you spend your time? What about your finances?
Create an overall vision that excites you.
Once you are clear about your vision, you will realize that you need to make a few changes in your life.
For example, if your ideal future includes the healthiest, fittest version of yourself, you might need to exercise more or take better care of your nutrition.
That’s the moment you should consider forming a habit for that particular area of your life.
Now that you have a good reason to form the habit, it will be easier to grow your discipline.
Give your very best to create a vision of your future that excites you.
Once you know what you are working towards, sticking to your promises will be easier.
“Habits are safer than rules; you don’t have to watch them. And you don’t have to keep them either. They keep you.” ―Frank Hall Crane
Start incredibly small
Now that you are aware of the habits that you want to establish, it’s about getting to work.
Why most people fail in sticking to their habits is because they start with high expectations.
One hour of sports per day might be easily doable for someone who is into it for years, but incredibly tough to establish for somebody who is just starting.
The surest way to succeed in building habits is to start incredibly small.
You want to read every day?
Great, start by reading one page.
Once that works well, increase the number of pages or minutes.
By starting small, you eliminate resistance and create an environment that allows strengthening your habit with ease.
One habit at a time
The second biggest mistake that people make when it comes to new habits is trying to establish several routines at once.
That’s guaranteed to fail.
Our lives are in balance. Once we try to change something, for example, to establish a routine, we are disturbing this balance, and everything has to be rearranged.
While changing one little thing might be no problem, transforming your whole life at once might come with many struggles.
Humans are creatures of habit. We generally love security.
And repeating specific patterns over and over again feels secure.
That’s why it is so hard to make sudden, significant changes.
Changing one little habit after the other, however, is a great way to transform your life slowly but surely.
Be prepared for the worst-case
You should never expect to fail, but you should be prepared for the worst case.
Be aware of anything that might hold you back from practicing your habit.
What are the things that might come along your way and make it challenging to stick to your habits?
Figure out what these things are and come up with a solution.
What can you do if these worst-case scenarios happen?
For example, you could create a mini-version of your habit.
Let’s say you want to meditate for 10 minutes. Your mini habit could be a 60-second breathing exercise.
Or if going to the gym every day is your goal, a 10-minute home workout or stretching exercises might be your “light version”, something that you can fit into any day, no matter how busy you are.
Find an accountability buddy
Life is more comfortable and beautiful if like-minded people surround us.
So is building habits.
An accountability buddy is someone who ideally has similar goals as you and regularly asks for an update about your achievements.
By reporting to each other, you are much likelier to stick to your habits.
Self-disciplinecan be tough sometimes.
So why not push each other to reach goals?
Finding someone who is of one mind and supports you in persevering is a great way to ensure discipline.
Especially if you have similar goals, exchanging ideas and motivating each other can be enjoyable.
Have your long term vision in mind
For me, having my vision in mind is the greatest motivation to stick to my routines.
If I remind myself why I wanted to do something in the first place, I feel the urge to do it.
For that, a vision board that symbolizes my ideal life is an essential part of my morning routine.
If you are struggling to keep your motivation high, create a vision board that genuinely excites you and refer back to it daily.
If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.―Colin Powell
Resources to dive deeper into habit-building
At the beginning of this article, I’ve mentioned that reading books about habit change won’t change habits.
However, I’ve obviously read some of them myself.
If you want to dive deeper into the topic and get some more inspiration, these are the books I recommend:
- The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg
- Atomic Habits, James Clear
- High Performance Habits, Brandon Burchard (you can order this one for free)
Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
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