Habits are totally natural for us humans. Brushing our teeth, driving, eating and our daily routine are just a few examples of habits that run unconsciously.
In large parts of our lives, habits also make sense. Otherwise, we would have to relearn every day how to brush our teeth or drive a car, which would cost an enormous amount of energy. From an evolutionary-biological point of view, our body always wants to save energy. That’s why it likes habits.
Sometimes, however, habits have crept in that don’t really bring us to our goals or – on the contrary: they even harm us. Maybe you know this. You wake up in the morning, check your mobile phone and suddenly find yourself watching cat videos on YouTube. Or you come home after work and sit down on the couch for a while to “relax.” Just a quick series on Netflix. And suddenly 2 hours have passed.
The fact is: such habits don’t get you anywhere in life and in your craft. Jim Kwik says: “First we create our habits, then our habits create us.”
Now it would be great to overwrite such habits with better ones, wouldn’t it?
Which habits bring you closer to your goals?
First you need to know which habits you want to establish in the future and which ones you want to let go of. If you already know what your lead indicators are, then you can use them to derive the habits that you will bring into your life. If you are not yet clear which habits could be useful for you, answer the following questions in writing.
- What are the actions that keep you away from your goals or are not good for you? Which of them do you want to stop?
- What could you start doing to finally achieve these goals?
- what could you change in order to finally reach these goals?
Write down everything you can think of. This is also about coming up with new ideas. Therefore, write down everything that comes to your mind – even if it is an unusual idea. You must have at least 15 items on your list after this exercise. Push through the resistance. As always, you can edit later.
Done? Great! Now it’s time to prioritize. Go through the list and mark the items which
- … will have the biggest impact.
- … are the easiest to change or implement.
- … you would most like to address first.
Then you can write them in this table in order of priority. You can make this table yourself or download it directly from my website.
Now you know which habits you want to bring into your life. The next step is to learn how to easily establish these new habits.
How to establish habits effortlessly
Habit implementation always consists of six building blocks:
- A trigger – the trigger for your habit.
- The new habit – what you want to do.
- The result – what you expect to get out of doing the action again.
- A small reward
- Planned simplicity and sub-tasking
First, choose a trigger for your new habit. Pick something that you do every day anyway, such as:
- Getting out of bed
- Brushing your teeth
- Eating breakfast, lunch and dinner
It is important that the trigger really happens every day. “Coming home from work” is not a suitable trigger because you also have days off. So take a trigger that really takes place every day. You can attach your new habit to this trigger. This way, over time, you will build a stronger and longer chain of good habits.
2. The habit that you want to establish
You have already written these down in the Start-Stop-Change table. Which habits are in the first row?
3. The result – what you hope to achieve by repeating the action.
Next, you can think about exactly how the new habit will benefit you.
Let’s say it’s this: Whenever you come home in the evening, you want to work on a painting for 30 minutes. And let’s say your goal is to have your own exhibition. Then you can imagine how, by sitting down now and working on your art, you will complete more and more paintings. And how your “body of work” will get bigger and bigger. And how you will be able to put together just the right paintings for a successful exhibition. You can also imagine how the Vernissage will be and how people will compliment you on your work. Make the picture you might see in front of you really colorful and big. I mean that literally. Close your eyes and turn up the colors. And if you hear music or people, you can make it even louder and more intense.
4. A small reward
You can support the process by always treating yourself to something small after you have practiced your new habit. Do this with something that is good for you and easy to access. For example, a glass of a refreshing drink. Preferably sugar-free. For me, it also works really well to thank myself for freeing up time and energy to develop myself in the things that are important to me.
For your new habit to really become second nature, you need about 30 days of doing it every day. So grab a calendar and put a green tick there every day when you’ve done your new ritual. And a red cross if you haven’t done it. At one point you won’t want to see any more red crosses in your calendar.
You can also use this tracking sheet that I created for you:
6. Planned simplicity and underchallenge
It’s totally important to make small changes and stick to them because if the change is too big, your system will resist it and you will quickly stop. This happens every year in January when thousands of people sign up at gyms and go straight to working out 5 times a week. The vast majority of them stop in the first month …
So set yourself something that you can actually do every day. Even if it is a very busy and challenging day. For example, set a new habit of “practicing the piano for 10 minutes every day” rather than “practicing the piano for 3 hours every day.”
A little story about this: I once heard of someone who wanted to install “flossing” as a new habit. At first, she only flossed one tooth every day. After a few days, it was clear to her that she was now someone who flosses and she gradually brushed more and more teeth. After 30 days, the habit was so ingrained that she didn’t stop. Then she gradually increased the number of teeth and thus achieved her “big” goal: flossing all her teeth every day. I think this is a very nice metaphor for establishing new habits and how even small changes add up massively over time.
It’s also hugely important to only establish one new habit at a time. Trying to change too much at once is one of the biggest mistakes that causes many people to fail over and over again in establishing habits. Our system is naturally designed to conserve energy. Change and building new habits requires energy first. If you change too much at once, your system resists – and once your willpower is low, you fall off the horse.
But it’s good to know that you can easily get back on the horse. Because building habits is also an iterative process. It is part of it that we fail on a few days and do not implement the new habit as planned – for example, because something unplanned comes up. Then you can take some time to reflect on it and find a solution so that next time it will go smoothly. Again, you can grow and learn through “failure.”