Habits are hard to make or break.
It takes time and effort to install new systems in your life. But once installed, they become effortless as they become part of your life.
You must understand the principle of sacrifice. To gain something, you must let go of something. You can’t have everything in life all at once. You must choose your focus and priorities.
With that said, let’s get to the best tactics for building or breaking habits:
1. If X Then Y
Pair a situation with a habit or pair two habits together. For example, If you feel hungry in between meals, grab fruits and nuts instead of unhealthy snacks.
2. Every X
Create rituals. For example, every Sunday, do a weekly review of your habits.
3. Link A Good Habit With A Reward
First, identify the cue of a bad behavior, then replace the behavior with a good one and reward yourself. But be careful to not make your rewards unhealthy.
Keep a list of all the rewards you can think of and use them to reward good behavior.
You can also use a point system. For example, if you do a good habit, you get X points. Using those points, you can buy different levels of rewards for yourself.
4. Break Bad Habits By Identifying The Cue And Routine
Either cut out the cue from your life or replace the routine with a healthy one. Then, reward yourself for NOT doing a bad behavior.
5. Keystone Habit
Identify one habit that will set you up for success for the full day.
When you start your day poorly, you feel less motivated to do other things the way you intended to do. But if you start your day with good habits, it builds momentum so you’re more likely to stay driven to continue good behaviors throughout the day.
Your keystone habit could be — doing a morning ritual, working out, eating a healthy breakfast, meditating, etc.
6. Micro Habits
Make it extremely easy for you to start a good habit. Instead of setting big goals for the day, start small to remove the friction of doing a good habit.
7. Beware Of The Licensing Effect
In a study, one group walked around a campus as exercise and the other walked as a fun activity.
Then, they were offered chocolate pudding to eat. The group that was told that the purpose of the walk was to get some exercise ended up eating 35% more chocolate pudding than the other group because those people thought they had the license to eat it.
Allowing yourself to do something bad because you did something good is called as licensing effect which is a wrong way to reward a good behavior.
8. Beware Of The Present Bias
In the famous marshmallow study, children were offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately or two small rewards (i.e., a larger later reward) if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room and then returned. (The reward was sometimes a marshmallow, but often a cookie or a pretzel.)
In a follow-up study, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards had better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures.
We often sacrifice our future for the present. Present bias is thinking about the present self and ignoring the future self. Think long-term and make the life easier for your future-self.
9. Beware Of The Ostrich Effect
Ostriches are known to bury their heads in the ground to avoid danger (even though it’s a myth). The metaphor is used when we avoid the obvious problems in life. If you avoid your goals, you will never get what you want. Recognize when you ignore and keep working on your goals.
10. Focus On Meaning
If you ever feel like giving up or you lose motivation, go back to the reason you started the journey.
11. Take Ownership
Create your own systems and habits. Don’t just copy-paste the advice of other people in your life. Become the creator and take charge of your destiny.
12. Prepare For The Worst In Advance
Sh*t happens. Things will come in your life or you may lose motivation. In such cases, just do the key habits that will maintain the momentum. And once you’re over the difficulties in life, level up and build greater momentum.
13. Choose Pause And Plan Response
Instead of reacting to life in the fight-or-flight response, choose the pause-and-plan response. Before making decisions, check if it aligns with your intentions. Make conscious decisions and be kind to yourself no matter what you choose.
14. Lose The Battle But Win The War
If something is taking a lot of willpower for you to resist it, indulge in it so you can save your willpower for more decisions to come.
Side note: Use the dosage principle.
15. Take It Slow
Write down all the habits and then slowly introduce new habits into your lifestyle.
Don’t do them all at once or you’ll lose focus and willpower. Remember, some habits take more time than others so be patient and think long term.
Prioritize the ones which will make the most impact on your life or which will have a spillover effect on other good habits. Select one to three habits that will be your key focus for the next few weeks.
Set up reminders and triggers and once you’re confident about them, move on to other habits in the list.
16. Don’t Prepare For A Special Occasion
We often set goals for special events like — wedding, parties, summer, etc. Instead, prepare yourself for a lifetime.
17. Keep A Journal
Have a positive self-talk with yourself. Keep a journal and keep visualizing your future self.
No matter how you feel, write in your journal every single day about whatever you feel or think about your progress or lack thereof.
The purpose of your journal is not just to write what’s on your mind. It’s also to track your habits.
Learn from the mistakes and write the lessons down in your journal. How did you fail? What were the circumstances? What can you do better next time? Or take the time to celebrate progress.
But remember to reflect especially when you fail; don’t just track habits when you want to feel good about yourself. Along with daily reflection, keep a weekly and monthly reflection habit to track your behaviors and outcomes. Then, adjust your plan by making small changes or adding new behaviors.
18. Be Specific
Instead of saying “I will eat more healthy foods” or “I will cook recipes at home”, say “I will prepare X recipe and for that, I will need these ingredients. I will put these ingredients on my shopping list”.
19. Ask Yourself This
What are your priorities? Is the new change one of the top priority in your life? If it is, there’s nothing that can stop you.
20. Use The Power Of Loss Aversion
When you start your journey from zero, you’ve got nothing to lose. But once you gain some progress, you will no longer want to lose that progress. So push through the beginning because it may be the most difficult time.
21. Write Yourself A Letter
Write down a note to yourself for the times when it will be hard.
Plan ahead of failure. Have a game plan for the obstacles you can predict. Write how you will tackle the difficulties in the future.
At first, all new habits seem hard. You may get doubts if you’ll be able to continue in the long term. But don’t worry, these thoughts are normal. It’s a good sign that you’re making efforts and facing challenges to get what you want in life.
People easily start a new habit with sparkling motivation. But once the task is repeated, we lose motivation and focus. This is also normal because we are conditioned to resist change and we quickly seek excuses to not continue the new habit or break an old habit. Thousands of excuses will come to your mind. For example:
- “It’s too hard.”
- “I’ve got one life, why bother?”
- “I will do this habit after…”
- “Right now I can’t do this because…”
It does not mean you’re a bad person if you make such excuses — it’s just human nature. Your job is to beat these excuses with the tactics you’ve just learned.
Sometimes, you do have a genuine reason to not do something. But if you truly want something, you can do your best even in the worst situations.
When you get off track or face adversity, get back up again and demand what you want from life.
Because you deserve it.