At the beginning of this month, I announced I was going to create a new habit in my life:
Read for half an hour daily
I am happy to say that not only did I carry out my new habit every single day, I am also confident that reading daily is something I want to continue doing from now on. In fact, I even got myself a library card.
I would like to use my happy habits feature to share some advice on how to successfully introduce new habits into your life. Hopefully I can share new tips and tricks as I try out different habits and develop my skills in this area. This month, I will limit my tips to 3 lessons I learned on how to successfully create a new, creative, happy habit.
Tip #1: Replace an old habit with a new one
Replacing an old behaviour with a new behaviour is a relatively simple way to form a new habit. Here is what my old habit looked like. The alarm clock would go off. I would get out of bed, make my breakfast, take my laptop, and crawl back into bed. There I would check my email, read blogs, view the news, and browse the Internet until I realized how late it was and get dressed and start working. I wanted to replace this habit for two reasons.
First of all, using a laptop in bed is a terrible thing to do for your posture. I wanted to only use my laptop at my desk from now on. Secondly, I didn’t like the idea of starting my day passively responding to whatever external (usually unimportant) things came my way. So I simply decided to replace my laptop with a book.
If you want to break a habit, but don’t replace it with a new habit, you’ll be very likely to fall back into your old patterns. If I had just told myself to stop using my laptop in bed, I would have been awfully confronted with the feeling that ‘something was missing’.
If you want to form a time-consuming new habit, but don’t cut back on time elsewhere, you’ll simply not have enough time for our new habit. If I had told myself to magically create another 30 minutes in my day, next to all my daily habits, I wouldn’t read often. That’s because I would always feel like I didn’t have the time.
So pick a habit you’re not happy about, and replace it with a happier habit.
Tip #2: Use something you do every single day as a trigger
It’s much easier to form a habit when you have a reoccurring cue that you can use to start the desired behaviour. Look for things that you do every day, like eating breakfast, brushing your teeth, getting dressed, doing the dishes, drinking coffee or reading the newspaper. Per person these triggers might vary. But we all have consistent behaviours we perform (almost) every single day.
I consciously planned my reading habit while eating my breakfast, because I know I need to make time for eating anyway. Breakfast is my most consistent meal of the day, compared to for example irregular dinners together with Joran, roommates or others. It’s easy to combine an activity like eating with an activity like reading. So now, whenever I take my breakfast out of the kitchen, I automatically take out my book and start reading.
Look for everyday habits you already have. Use them as a cue and connect your new habit to one of them.
Top #3: Add an element that makes you feel excited.
Once you’ve gotten used to your new habit, you can start to tweak it. Look for ways to actively enforce your new habit, by making it into something you start looking forward to.
For example, I moved my reading habit from my bed to my golden chair. Actually one of the reasons I bought my golden chair, besides the fact that it is utterly awesome, was the thought of slowly waking up in it. I had this vision of sitting in it with a cup of coffee in the morning, near the window with lots of daylight. I also picked up a beautiful crochet blanket while I was in Bali, which I wrap around me while I read. It makes me feel less chilly in my pajamas during the early morning and less likely to want to crawl back into bed.
Silly as it may sound, my golden chair and crochet blanket have become my armor in defending my new habit. These days, I feel perfectly happy when I crawl into my golden chair under my colourful blanket. The first rays of daylight wake me up and I start reading about inspiring new ideas first thing in the morning. I could still read a book on my couch, but it wouldn’t give me the same special sensation. The complete experience makes me so happy that these days it’s harder to stop reading than to start reading. I would call that a successful introduction of a new habit. (Also, I promise to show you my golden chair in its natural habitat soon, just like the rest of my room. I have a room tour coming up next week.)
Look for special elements that make you feel excited about your new habit. Introduce them into your routine and shift your feelings to happy, positive vibes.
Do you ever actively try to establish a new habit? What helps you to do this?