There’s a famous quote that’s often attributed to Aristotle:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Now, there is some debate about whether Aristotle actually said these words, but the important thing to remember is that habits can make or break your level of success in life.
That said, it’s really hard to build habits.
Most people will start a new habit, but will often give up a few days later.
The secret to building new habits is to follow a process that focuses on small, incremental steps.
What you’re about to read is a simple 9-step process about building positive habits that will become a permanent part of your daily routine.
Step 1: Focus on One New Habit
A concept known as “ego depletion” will be one of your biggest obstacles to habit formation.
Ego depletion is:
“A person’s diminished capacity to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and actions.”
Ego depletion impacts our ability to form new habits because our supply of willpower is spread out among all the areas of our lives.
Because of this, it’s important to work on only one habit at a time. That way, your store of willpower can be channeled into completing that one habit, increasing your odds of success.
So the question is:
“What one new habit do you want to form?”
Identify it now and learn everything you can about how to do it right. Become an expert in this activity and do a deep dive to self-educate yourself about this activity. Then you can move on to the next step.
Step 2: Commit to a Minimum of 30 Days
Some people say it takes 21 days to build a habit, while others claim it takes up to 66 days. The truth is the length of time varies from person to person and habit to habit.
You will find that some habits are easy to build while others require more effort.
My advice is to commit to a specific habit for the next 30 days (or a month to keep it simple).
During this time, focus all your energy around completing this habit.
Step 3: Anchor Your New Habit to an Established Routine
A habit shouldn’t be based upon motivation, fads, or temporary desire. Instead, you should associate this habit with behavior that you already do.
To make this happen, we recommend using a strategy called “implementation intention” which is a statement where you describe the exact habit you will complete at a specific time and location.
To get started, you want to create a statement where you “anchor” a new habit to something you already do on a daily basis.
Here are a few examples:
You get the idea.
Simply find an established routine and then anchor the new habit to it.
Also, before we move on, another strategy we recommend is to create a “frictionless” environment where it’s easy to complete this new habit.
Step 4: Focus on Tiny Habits
The danger of relying on motivation alone is you don’t have a backup plan for those unexpected challenges in life.
So, the secret to lifelong habit formation is to take baby steps that turn a new habit into automatic behavior.
A tiny habit is a small change to your routine where you focus on staying consistent and never missing a day instead of committing to a lengthy, time-consuming change to your behavior.
For instance, here are a few examples of tiny habits you can build:
Sure, these activities might seem overly simplistic. But that’s why this is a powerful concept!
When it’s easy to get started, you will build momentum and will often do more of the habit than you originally intended.
Step 5: Don’t Break the Chain
There’s a popular, habit-related story that supposedly involves the comedian Jerry Seinfeld.
When talking to a budding comedian, Seinfeld gave a simple piece of advice:
“Set aside time every day to create new material. The key here is to never miss a day, even if you’re not in the mood.”
At the start of every year, Seinfeld hangs a one-year calendar on his wall and makes a big red X on the calendar for every day he writes new comedy material.
He doesn’t have to write a lot of material every day. What’s important is to do something every single day, without fail.
His focus is to never break the chain.
Marking X’s on a calendar encourages you to complete your desired task every single day. The more you look at an unbroken string of red X’s, the more compulsion you’ll feel to get over any initial resistance and force yourself to get started.
This step will help eliminate the excuses we all make for skipping a day.
Yes, there will be days when you’re tired, busy, overwhelmed, sick, hungover, or depressed. All of these can be valid reasons to skip a habit. But if you focus on the baby steps that I just mentioned and never break the chain, then it will be easy to create a sticky habit.
Step 6: Plan for Obstacles and Challenges
Every new habit will have obstacles. But, you can plan for these challenges and learn how to effectively adapt to them.
To get started, here are a common obstacles that you might encounter:
- Not enough time
- Experiencing pain or fatigue
- Bad weather conditions
- Not enough room or space for the habit
- The cost of the equipment related to the habit
A simple way to respond to obstacles is to prepare for them ahead of time.
Whenever you encounter a challenge, use this experience to create an “If-Then” statement for how you’ll respond the next time it happens.
Here are a few examples: