We can learn about the science behind behavioral change and habit formation to gain better clarity on why we do what we’re doing. However, implement the techniques we learn is another challenge by itself. The most common challenge people are facing in building a new habit is it’s too difficult to start and too hard to make it sticks.
Motivation is never enough because there are always times when it fades. Focus is never enough because there are too many distractions around us. And willpower is never enough because there are times when we’re tired and feeling weak.
The best way to build new habits is not by forcing it to happen, rather, we should implement tips and hacks to make the entire process easier. Below are three strategies you can use to make building new habits easier, and more achievable.
1. Eliminate Excessive Options
The process of implementing a new routine into your day-to-day life is challenging enough, don’t make it even more complicated. Often when we want to change our behavior, we fantasize an immediate, 360 degrees transformation. This causes us to lose focus on the most important thing we wanted to change.
Changing your behaviors—regardless the goal of it is to boost your productivity, level up your emotional state, or improve your physical health—requires a great amount of effort. Doing them all at once is the guaranteed path to achieve nothing at all.
When you just started in practicing a new routine or habit, eliminate as many options and noise as possible. Focus on one habit at a time, and move on only you get a good grip with it.
Besides, focusing on one habit also helps you to get specific. Start working out is general, train with StrongLifts protocol three days a week is much more specific. Start reading is general, read 20 pages of a non-fiction book every morning is much more specific. As it gets specific, it also gets easier to act upon.
2. Build a Behavior Chain
All habit has a routine or behavior (the habit itself), a trigger—the cue that triggers you into the behavior, and a reward—the pleasure you gain or the pain you avoid after the routine. The trigger plays a very important role here.
When we want to wake up earlier, we set the alarm.
To remind ourselves we workout, we set schedule (sometimes we need our friends to nag on us).
When we want to eat healthier food, we make them visible and accessible.
These are some example of us building the entire habit loop up from scratch. And often, it’s not the most effective way to build a new habit. Because setting up the trigger is the challenge itself most of the time—when we forget to set the alarm, when we failed to plan our workout routine in advance, and when we can’t get ourselves to buy healthy food.
The best trigger to link to your new habit is something that already exists in your life. This basically mean using your existing habit and routine as the trigger for your new habit. Some great example would be meditate when you get out from bed (you always get out from bed right?) and read for 20 minutes right after dinner.
For this strategy to work every time, make sure you’re using what I called the hot trigger. Link a new routine or behavior that you can perform immediately when the trigger is being presented.
This explains why motivation doesn’t work sometimes. Motivation can be a good trigger, but often, the timing is wrong. You may feel motivated to start your side hustle when you discuss it with your colleagues in the office, but that usually isn’t the time you can take immediate action. By the time you get home, the motivation fades.
3. Have a Backup Plan
It’s more likely for us to failed in carrying out our new routine or behavior. We first need to acknowledge that this is common when the neural pathways for the behavior are not yet well-developed, for it to go on autopilot. (Some habits never even go full autopilot)
With that, we need to be conscious and aware of how we feel when that happens. I bet you have a friend who wants to lose weight, but once he missed a workout session or give in to junk food he shouldn’t eat (for once), he will abandon the process entirely. The best solution here is to manage your expectation and avoid falling into the trap of “screw it all”.
Having a backup plan is a good way of achieve this. Your backup plan needs to do two things:
To remind you what is at stake when you go off track.
To help you quickly get back on track.
It could be an accountability statement (or partner) you set for yourself or a system you put in place to manage your progress. It certainly still requires you to practice a certain level of willpower, but it’s easier for you to get back on track when you’re clear of what you should do next.
Remember: Making it easier is making it achievable.
Successful behavioral change and habit building are a long journey. The results also vary from person to person depend on one’s genetic and environmental advantages.
One of my goals is to increase my strength in weightlifting. However, I acknowledge that I’m not born with that right kind of genes to gain rapid improvement in this area. By accepting this truth, I get to pivot my approach and embrace slow, steady progress rather risking an injury that possibly ruins my entire lifting journey.
This principle applies to many areas of our life includes building a new habit. It’s impossible to justify what result a new routine will bring to you or how long it will take for you to develop a particular habit. Instead of rushing to the finish line (and risk ruining the entire process), implement these three strategies to make the process easier, in order to achieve lasting behavior change.