So, you want to start a healthy new habit? That’s admirable. There are areas of your life that need improving, so you’ve decided to do things differently from here on out. And you’re determined to make it stick this time. Not like last the last attempt, when you ran out of steam or came up against an impassable obstacle that seemed to take all the wind out of your sails. This time, you’re bound to succeed, no matter what. Here’s how you’re going to do it.
Why Start Small?
Creating new habits is not going to happen overnight. You’re trying to create a lifestyle change. That means putting forth sustained effort, which can be intimidating. Making a life change, even a small one, takes time and energy. The problem is most of us feel like we don’t have the time or energy to spare, as busy as our lives are. Of course, you do, but you have to spend it wisely. The key to achieving any goal is momentum, and the key to building momentum is to do it gradually and to start small.
What Does That Look Like?
The first step is to clearly define your goal. What, specifically, do you want to be in the habit of doing? How often do you see yourself doing it? What do you hope to achieve by introducing this new habit into your life?
As an example, here’s a somewhat ambitious habit. Say you want to be the type of person that gets up and runs every morning. Imagine the healthiest and most disciplined version of yourself. That picture in your head is a great motivator. It’s motivating you to make a change in the first place, anyway. Unfortunately, it won’t carry you across the finish line. Why?
Simply put, you secretly hate change. Even if the results of that change are purely positive, your brain will resist it because change is painful. It’s uncomfortable and a little scary. Rewards, on the other hand, are very compelling. We’re not talking about the kind of reward where you buy yourself a latte for every pound of weight you lose. It’s deeper and more subtle than that, like the little bit of satisfaction you have after taking a brushing your teeth or saying no to dessert. Few rewards are more satisfying than seeing the result of positive action in your life. So here’s the plan: You’re going to work around the discomfort of change by striving for a high reward-to-change ratio.
It’s easy. Set one small goal that you are sure you can accomplish. Want to run every day? Start by running or walking just once a week. Just one mile. That sounds doable, doesn’t it? It’s a simple, yet powerful strategy. The emotional reward from this small, comfortable victory will give you your first little push. Now you have some momentum under your belt. Harness it.
What Comes Next?
After the first step, it’s all “rinse and repeat.” You’re feeling good about what you’ve accomplished, now set the bar a little higher. Just a little. You still need a goal you’re sure you can accomplish. You might feel very confident about your abilities at this point, but don’t fall into the trap of believing the hard part is over. It isn’t. You’re building momentum one step at a time, which takes patience. But it’s worth it because momentum will carry you when willpower won’t.
Learn to think of willpower as a bonus. You will have days when you feel super motivated and enthusiastic. Appreciate those days, but recognize that they’re fleeting. You can’t rely on willpower alone. Instead, rely on the momentum you’ve built, step by step, one day at a time. You might be surprised at how easily it comes.
Life doesn’t always go according to plan, though. You are probably going to miss the mark at least once on your journey toward better habits. It happens to the best of us, so expect it to happen to you, too. Remember all the things you’ve done right so far, and get back to doing them as soon as possible. The only thing you can do is forgive yourself. This is hard work you’re doing. Starting small is the best chance you have of success. Work daily to create good habits and build the life you’ve always wanted. Start today.