How do I create a habit that lasts?
What you will get from this article:
- Discover the 3 Pillars of Progress for building habits that last
- Find out what’s holding you back from creating habits that nurture you
- Understand how to better manage your time and make progress
- Learn about the resources you need to help you reach your goal
Ever wonder why it’s easy to make some things stick and seemingly impossible to achieve other goals? Maybe you always resolve to lose those 20 pounds that are bothering you. You start working out and eating better, only to go back to your usual habits in a few weeks. Or, perhaps you can never keep money under control and your debt continues to climb. Others might feel like they’re always a step behind, or are lacking in organization and not getting enough done because of it. What’s getting between you and building habits that nurture your best life?
Learning how to create a habit is possible when you look within yourself. The answer often lies in our goals. What are your goals? How driven are you to succeed? In order to achieve them, you’ll need a proactive approach. Those pounds aren’t going to disappear on their own, and you’re not going to get a call with an offer for your dream job by just sitting and waiting. Scientists have found that creating habits can take up to 12 weeks – that’s three months. Three months might sound like a long time, but think about it in the scheme of your life. Are you willing to commit at least three months of dedicated practice to achieve your goal? If not, it might be time for a new goal altogether.
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Getting started building habits that last
Learning how to create a habit can be intimidating. Where do you even get started building habits, especially when you’re trying to break a bad habit or two? The key to learning how to build a habit is understanding how habits work – and using that knowledge to your advantage.
What we call “habits” are really just reward-motivation responses in the brain. A habit follows a three-step process where you
- are cued to take action by something in your environment,
- take action in response to the cue and
- reap rewards from the action you took.
You might relate to a common example, where a dieter sees a cookie (the cue), gives into the temptation to eat it (the action) then feels regretful (the “reward”). Destructive habits, like drug use, bring quick, intense neurological rewards by surging brain chemicals that feel euphoric. Healthier habits like exercise also stimulate euphoric neurological responses, but far more subtly.
What is the solution so you can stop giving in to destructive behaviors and start building habits that work? Reward yourself for taking action toward healthier habits. Leverage the behavioral loop at each stage by
- setting up cues in your environment that trigger the healthy habit,
- breaking down barriers to the desired action and
- rewarding yourself for taking the positive action.
As you consciously apply this habit loop, you become masterful at creating habits that nurture you.
Tools for creating habits aligned with your values
To master the art and science of building habits that take you to the top, you need what Tony calls the 3 Pillars of Progress. Think of them as the foundation, or support, that holds up your goals. Using these three pillars will allow you to focus and commit to what you really want. With these pillars you’ll be able to track your progress, hold yourself accountable and experience real, lasting improvement in your personal and professional life. Goodbye repeated failures, hello success and better habits.
Pillar 1: Get focused
This is the necessary first step where you gain clarity. The way to do this is to get laser-focused on what you want. Why? Because lasers are powerful – they can cut through almost anything. But remember, all they are is beams of light – just supremely focused light.
Do you feel uncertain about the best way to get focused? Try this as your first step toward creating habits that work: Think about something you’re really good at now. How did you become so successful? Chances are, there was a time that you were totally focused on that thing with a clear and compelling reason. You weren’t born knowing how to play piano or sail – you learned those skills by practicing them.
The way to achieve any goal starts with this step. The more clarity you have, the easier it will be to move toward. Know exactly what you’re going for and you’ll get there even faster. So get clear about what you really want. Why do you want it? Make the reason so compelling that you are so excited to move forward, because what you focus on is what you move toward. You can even create a Massive Action Plan to help you reach success. If you focus on what you don’t have, you’ll end up moving toward it – and that’s a step further away from what you really want.
Let’s take the example of creating habits to reach your goal of losing weight. Instead of saying “I want to lose weight,” get specific. How much? Why? What will you be able to do when you get to the weight you want? With a weak description, you might say something like, “I need to lose some weight. Why am I not losing weight?” If you keep focus on the fact that you’re not losing weight, you won’t. Sure, you’ll likely lose some weight just by chance, perhaps a pound or two back and forth.
Instead, what if you said something like “I am sick and tired of wearing my baggiest jeans. I’m tired of making excuses to myself. I want to wake up in the morning and feel like I’m 25 years old again. I want to feel strong. I want to feel fit. I want to feel pure energy and vitality. By losing 7 pounds, I know I will feel that way, because I’ve felt it before.” Here we’ve got a vision that’s clear, specific and compelling. It’s exciting. With that kind of clarity, you’ll learn how to create a habit and make what you want happen.
Pillar 2: Go and get the best tools for the job
You’ve defined your target. Now you need the most effective and efficient game plan to reach it. It’s time to focus on building habits, the habits you actually want. You need the best here – the best strategy, the best coach, the best tools, the best map. Think about your example of something you’re a master of already – chances are you had a teacher, a coach or a mentor who helped you along the way.
Our advice for streamlining this step? To master the art of creating habits that work, find a role model. Look for someone who has mastered the area that you are striving to change. That’s someone who’s done it, not someone who talks a big game. They have the insights that others don’t. Then get a plan from them; it can save you years, even decades! Think about it: they know how to get from where you are to where you want to go. You’ve only got to bring the desire. This could be someone you know in real life or a notable figure with well-documented success.
You can find plans in a variety of places: Maybe you work best through books or audio, seminars or someone you know. For our weight loss example, hire a personal trainer or nutrition expert that’s proven to get their clients where they want to be. And if you try an approach and it’s not working, then change it. Get a new coach, try a different plan. Change your approach until you find something that works to get you toward your goal. As Tony Robbins says, “Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” Gain progress and you know that you’re building habits that support your health and happiness.
Pillar 3: Get into action and unleash alignment
Now comes the time to get yourself into action. You’re focused and have clarity, you’ve got your plan and your mentor. So what’s holding you back from creating habits aligned with your goals? For many of us, even when we have the right tools, there’s something inside holding us back. So you need to find what’s blocking you so that you can get into action.
These blocks often show themselves as internal conflicts, the bane of better habits. There are people who want to lose weight, yet are still eating far too much sugar, which then prevents them from doing so. Or others who want to be worth a billion dollars before they’re 40, but they sleep until noon every day. These conflicts create stories that we tell ourselves, stories that keep us repeating the patterns of our past. These limiting beliefs then begin to dominate our lives and prevent us from creating positive habits. But if you recognize the pattern and what’s behind it, you’ll be closer to understanding what you need to do to make lasting change in all areas of your life.
If you aren’t working out, you may be telling yourself that you just don’t have time to hit the gym, that you’re exhausted. You work long days and just want to relax and spend some time with your family when you get home. Instead of excuses, you need a better strategy to get rid of the conflict.
You’re not lacking resources – you’re lacking resourcefulness. Maybe your new strategy is that four days a week, you grab that stroller and go for a run or walk with your kids. Instead of giving up your family time or your workout, now your bonding experience with your kids is all about movement and exercise.
What kind of imprint would that have on them?
Don’t buy into the lie that you don’t have time for something. You just need to re-strategize to understand how to build a habit. Again, in the areas you’ve mastered, you don’t experience inner conflict. That’s one of the signs of true mastery. So, what if you find yourself experiencing that inner conflict in connection to your goal? First, identify it. Then, squash it. Get aligned and you’ll find that there’s nothing more holding you back.
Is it time to create the habits that will make your life better?
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