How to make a concrete plan for Successful New Habit formation
Habits don’t generally just appear in your life, good habits especially so. They need to be cultivated. Sometimes this happens gradually without you really noticing, like an afternoon snack at the office (why are the ‘bad’ habits always the easiest to adopt? Not fair!).
Most of the time it can be very difficult to transform a good intention into a habit. The beauty of a habit is that you do not need to use so much willpower to get it done – you just do it because it’s what you do. It makes it so much easier to actually do these things every day, whether it be exercising, eating a salad, checking email and social media only at prescribed times, or even flossing.
We are over a week into 2017 and I’m sure many folks are struggling to keep up with their New Year’s resolutions (or maybe you’ve already abandoned them). One of the best ways to ensure success is to make a concrete ‘habit plan’. I did this for my 2017 goals and so far I’ve been doing great (Usually I am that person that has abandoned all hope by day 3).
It’s still not too late to work through these 6 steps and get back on track or ensure continued success into the next weeks and months when your excitement and drive fades and it all starts to seem like a lot of hard work.
How will you approach your habit?
Take some time to think deeply about what way starting a habit works best for you. When have you been successful and when have you not? What was different, especially in how you approached them?
I like to throw myself off – start on a Tuesday, sneak it into my life, not make it a big deal. I do still have a plan but I don’t make myself wait for Monday, or the first of the month, or even tomorrow.
Maybe you need to get lots of things ready for your goal, like buying healthy food, throwing out junk food, and researching healthy recipes. Don’t start these on day one. Everything should be ready to go when your habit is supposed to start. Don’t give yourself easy ‘outs’ to decide to push starting off for another day.
Write it down!
Having a written plan for what to do next is very helpful when you get stuck. Also, having your “what ifs” available for easy reference will help you get over a moment of weakness (see Plan with “if,then” Statements below)
An accountability something or someone is a very important component of sticking with a new habit. I admit this can be difficult for me because I do not want other people to see me fail. It took me a long time to come around to the idea that it would not be others seeing me fail, but helping to keep me on track. Some folks need this kind of outer accountability more than others, but even if you find it relatively easy to be internally motivated it’s a good idea to set up a habit tracker or some other method to mark your progress.
There are many options for finding accountability. You can use apps, spreadsheets for tracking, or an old-fashioned actual person. It seems a new productivity app comes on the market every 5 minutes so take some time to do a Google search and see which one would work best for you and is targeted for your specific habit.
If you are using an actual human for accountability make sure this person will be supportive of you in the manner you need. Do you need a drill sergeant or a cheerleader? Someone to quickly text with or talk through problems with? Also, be careful about using a spouse/partner or other family member. For some folks this works but for many others it can complicate their close relationships.
Plan with “if, then” statements
These are HUGELY important to keep you going when the going gets tough. Take some time to think of different ways you can be derailed throughout the day and what you can do to prevent it.
Write down your statements on a big whiteboard, a note card to keep in your pocket, or on your phone so you have something to reference when you need it. This is your contingency plan.
A couple examples are: “If there are cookies in the break room I’ll eat an apple and go for a walk around the courtyard,” or “If Mary invites me out for dinner I’ll suggest we go have coffee.”
Another quick tip for if you fall off the wagon is to think of yourself as the person you are trying to become. If you mess up there is no need to wait for another perfect beginning because you have already become whatever your goal is (an exerciser, healthy eater, a nonsmoker, etc.). You just had a small setback, which doesn’t change the fact that you are a healthy eater and will not eat a bowl of ice cream tomorrow. This has saved me several times from throwing in the towel when I slip up and feeling like I have to start all over again.
Add it to your schedule
Sometimes I am amazed at how much time can get away from me each day. So much so that it can be difficult to be sure I fit a new habit in like exercising. The key to avoiding pushing your new habit until there is simply no time left in the day to complete it is to add it into your schedule.
Designate a slot of time to get your habit done by keeping a detailed but flexible schedule of your day, and not just a running to-do list. If this is too restrictive for you then at least write down on your list when you are going to do it. Ie: “After I drop Sarah off at swim practice I will run for 30 minutes.”
Its best to get a once daily habit like exercising done first thing in the morning. This is when your willpower is highest. Getting it accomplished not only reinforces the habit but can set a productive tone for the rest of your day. If I do not do my workout early in the morning there is no guarantee I will be able to muster up the energy to do it later.
Measure your results
When planning goals related to your habit it is helpful to have a way to measure your success. This is similar to the accountability point above, but goes a little deeper. Instead of saying “I want to get in shape” say “I want to lose 10 pounds and be able to run for 30 minutes without stopping.” Or take a before picture for comparison.
If your habit involves reducing your spending don’t just say “get my finances in order.” Actually sit down, review where you’re at financially, create a budget, and give yourself specific goals to get there. “I will put $200 into savings each month and only spend $100 on entertainment” is a much better goal.
Have a reward ready
Yay! You’ve done it! You turned your resolution into a habit and now it’s time to reward yourself. Why? Because you deserve it and it is such a great motivator in those moments when you may be contemplating quitting.
Don’t pick a reward that sabotages your new habit, like eating cake when you lose 10 pounds. A better reward would be new running shoes when you are able to run 30 minutes without stopping.
Figure out what your reward will be during the planning phase and use this as a motivator when needed. Some folks find it helpful to create a vision board or use a reward-themed mantra when they are feeling weak.
These 6 things will set you up for success in starting a new habit. I cannot stress enough that it is worth it to take the time to think these things through, write your plan down, and get everything in place. Preparation can make the difference between making it through the rough patches (and there will be rough patches!) and giving up at the first hurdle. We can do it!