Strategies For Building Habits

Strategies For Building Habits by Sunil JaganiAchieving your goals often means sticking to a long-term commitment.  Whether you want to exercise more or wake up earlier, it involves adopting a new routine, or at least modifying your pre-existing one, and then sticking to it.  That can be tough, and prospective habits often die out before they can really take hold.  If you want to develop habits that last, there are some ways to make it happen.  I recently read an article that shares some of these, which I’ve listed below:

Figure out what triggers you: MIT researchers once analyzed that a neurological “loop” was at the core of every habit, based on “cure”, “routine” and “reward”.  The first step in this is a reliable reminder (cue), maybe an alarm or a consistent location.  Places you already frequent often trigger existing habits, so can other people.  Performing on cue over and over gradually turns into a routine.

Look at it as an obligation: According to one psychology professor at Columbia, you’ll be more motivated to complete a goal you’re afraid of not achieving than one you simply hope to achieve.  Think of something bad that could happen if you don’t reach your goal; that’s going to motivate you more than if you think of what good could happen if you do reach the goal.  

Tackle one habit at a time: Doing a complete overhaul isn’t going to work, and will most likely just make you feel overwhelmed.  Studies have shown you’re less likely to adopt multiple habits at a time than just one.  

Stack habits on top of each other: Your existing habits could serve as a basis for future habits.  Certain actions you take become second nature.

Don’t confuse your habit with your goal: Don’t dwell on what you’re working toward; simply consider your new habit a win.  This is the “routine” part of the neurological habit loop described by MIT.  Focusing on the ritual rather than the result makes the process second nature.  

Put a minimum on decision-making: “Decision fatigue” is actually a thing.  A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that making multiple decisions actually reduces self-control, physical stamina and persistence in the face of failure.  Streamlining your routine and narrowing your choices saves mental energy for other tasks.  

Reward yourself: Every time you check off a task on your to-do list, your brain secretes dopamine, which corresponds with pleasure and motivation.  A pursuit of dopamine drives you to perform that same task again and again.  And from there, little successes build up bigger ones.

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