Making Habits Stick
The hardest part about improving your life is actually making habits stick. While it’s easy to come up with a plan, it’s far harder to follow through. But in order to live a more fulfilled life and accomplish our goals, we have to ensure that our good habits outweigh the bad ones.
But I know firsthand just how difficult this can be. There was a time in my life when that was quite the contrary. My bad habits used to consume me. In fact, in 2006, my bad habits nearly ruined me. I had let things get bad. Really bad. And I knew it was time for a change.
Over the years, I worked hard to create a set of good habits that would help to support me instead of holding me back. I focused on keystone habits and I started small, building momentum as I went along.
But the process felt painfully slow. The changes didn’t happen overnight, no matter how much I wanted them to. It was frustrating to say the least.
And while change is never a frictionless process, going from one extreme to the other is monumentally hard. We all know that. For me, that was evidenced by the fact that even though I knew I needed to make some major changes, I couldn’t seem to get the good habits to stick.
I felt like I had tried everything. Sometimes, I wanted to kick, scream and cry all at the same time out of sheer frustration. And, I know that, like me, you’ve likely experienced some similar situations. Whether you’re going through a rough patch right now or not, understand that change is possible.
So, I want you to know that I feel you and your pain. I feel you because making habits stick is hard. That’s why I wanted to put this short resource guide together to help walk you through making the changes and ensuring that you make progress towards your goals.
You, me, and everyone else in this world thrives off of our habits. We live off of the routines that are like second nature to us. But, while our routines might be commonplace, they’re not always working in our best interest.
But to pull this off, what you need is a sound action plan, and to work that plan. You need to get organized and focus your efforts while understanding that things aren’t going to be easy along the way. You might hit some stumbling-blocks.
However, as long as you don’t give up, you’ll make it there over time.
Here’s what I’ve put together.
#1 – Focus on Goal-Oriented Keystone Habits
If you want to make your habits stick, you have to set some goals first. What’s the big picture here? Without concrete goals, it’s far easier to give up down the road.
If you haven’t set concrete goals in life, or you only set them in your mind, now’s the time to take action. When goals aren’t written out in detail, they live in the abstract world.
By writing goals we make them real. We make them concrete. Set out writing your goals. Create a detailed account of what you want, when you want it, and why you want it.
Once you know your goals, determine what habits will help you get there. Focus on keystone habits. Those habits will help you reach your goals far quicker. If you can develop a core set of keystone habits, other good habits will form around them and you’ll rid yourself of the bad habits.
For example, the keystone habit of exercising for 30 minutes does a couple of things. First, it helps to build momentum and create a small win in the day. When you can actively follow through with one core habit, you feel far more accomplished.
Second, it helps to enforce other good habits. If you can exercise for 30 minutes a day, you’ll also end up drinking more water and being far more conscious about the food you eat.
And the kicker? Keystone habits are no harder to create than other “generic” habits. They require no extra work but they help you reap far more benefits.
The trick? Identifying the keystone habits that will help to push you towards your goals. Do that and focus on those habits in the beginning. You’ll see far more progress in a shorter time.
#2 – Create a Plan
I never realized the importance of creating a plan towards the attainment of my goals until I actually did one. Before that, I kept the plan in my mind. I knew better, even when people told me differently. Sound familiar?
Creating a plan isn’t that hard. It takes a bit of focused effort. Of course, you need some detailed goals first. Once you have those, then creating a plan should be far easier.
I always liken the plan to an airplane. If an airplane takes off from LAX heading towards JFK, it has a general plan. There’s its speed of travel, direction, and altitude. I say general because the specifics might change.
For example, there could be turbulence at 30,000 feet, forcing the plane up to 37,000 feet. There might be a huge storm brewing in the flight path, forcing the plane to change course slightly to compensate. There could also be air traffic congestion over a busy metropolis, forcing another change in the plan.
That’s why I say there should be a general plan. The plane’s goal doesn’t change. It’s still going to land at JFK. But it’s specific actions might change along the way.
Similarly, you’ll adapt along the way. Your plan to achieve your goals by developing a specific set of keystone habits will remain the same. Focus on the goals by developing your keystone habits. Adjust your actions and the plan along the way if you have to.
#3 – Start Incredibly Small
To make habits stick, sometimes we can’t promise ourselves too much too fast. Why? It’s easy to get frustrated and throw in that proverbial towel. When life throws you one curve ball after another, it’s easy to see why some people can get fed up.
When we get fed up we tend to quit. But quitting isn’t an option. So start small. If your goal is to start a new business and you know that you have to develop a savings habit so that you can afford to quit your job, start small.
So, you might not want to tell yourself you’ll save $1000 per month. Why not start with just $5 per day. You might think that $5 per day is super small, but it adds up over time. What we don’t notice is just how quickly time passes by.
When you start too small to fail, things are far simpler. You follow through. You don’t make excuses. And you don’t give up. This works for any goal to make any habit stick. Literally.
When you work on developing your keystone habits, start small. For example, the 30 minutes of exercise per day can start with just 3 minutes. 3 minutes? Yes. Start super small.
As long as you commit to those 3 minutes every day without fail, you’ll be shocked at the results of what happens next.
#4 – Build Up Momentum
Momentum is your best friend. As you build momentum, you’ll gain steam and develop confidence in yourself. Even if you start incredibly small, you’ll build off that.
Momentum gives you small wins. As you accomplish your habit-development goals on a daily basis, no matter how small they might be, they help to lay the foundation for a greater cause. We build on that from day to day.
This is where the too-small-to-fail keystone-habit development come into play. By starting small, you can then build momentum and you won’t feel like you want to go a day without putting in the effort. Why? Because it’s just so simple that there’s hardly any effort required at all.
Momentum helps to aid in the carving of neural pathways in our minds. Its those neural pathways that help to form our habits. Every single habit you have now, good or bad, started small. And it slowly built momentum.
The biggest problem is that we try to run before we can walk, so to speak. Things don’t happen overnight, yet we still expect them to. But, even though we live in an instant-gratification society, all things won’t happen instantaneously.
#5 – Create a Mantra
Sound like hocus-pocus to you? Well, you’ll be surprised at what a powerful mantra can do to change your state. Sometimes we just don’t feel like following through with our habits. We put off for tomorrow what should be done today.
With a mantra, you flip the script on your bad habits and enforce the positive ones to be sticky. What does a mantra sound like? Anything that reinforces a particular type of behavior.
For example, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting smarter, faster, and better.” Or, “I am light like a feather, and every day, I only get better.” They might sound “corny,” so to speak, but you’ll be surprised at how far a mantra can take you.
Any behavior that’s repeated enough, can become habitual, but that also applies to any thoughts as well. Repeat a thought enough, and you can reinforce that thought in your mind, making all the subsequent actions to
Think about thoughts you might have from a childhood about a particular topic such as money. Some households might have said, “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” or “Money is the root of all evil,” or “More money, more problems.” These thoughts are etched into our minds.
Thoughts can dictate our behavior far more than we can know. Given that in any particular day we have upwards of 60,000 thoughts (yes that many), with a large part of them being subconscious thoughts, they have a powerful way to sway our actions, emotions, and behaviors.
By reciting a mantra, you’re reprogramming the CPU of your mind. It won’t happen overnight. Remember that habits take time to stick. While studies suggest that habit formation can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days, for habits to truly take hold, you need at least 90 days.
Considering that most of the habits we have have formed over years and even decades, giving something at least 90 days might not sound that difficult, but we all know how hard it can be.
Create a mantra for yourself and stick by it.
#6 – Track Your Progress
There’s no way to make habits stick without tracking your progress. How did you feel today? Did you follow through with your habit development? If not, what sidetracked you?
Staying on top of our progress is necessary no matter what goals we’re pursuing. I don’t think I could have progressed as far as I did with my habits and made them stick if I hadn’t kept track of my progress.
You can track your progress by any number of means. You can use a generic notepad, a smartphone app, or a spreadsheet on your laptop. How organized and detailed you want to be is up to you.
Tracking allows you to look back and see your wins and even your failures. What day did you fail at your habit development? How were you feeling then? How far have you progressed?
This provides perspective to your goals. Find a system to track and stick to it, and eventually you’ll find your habits sticking to you.
#7 – Cancel Negative Self-Talk
One big detractor is that negative self-talk in our minds. We make things up to be so much bigger than they really are and we have these defeatist mentalities. It’s those 60,000 thoughts at work in our minds, running rampant over our hopes and our dreams.
So, if you want to make habits stick and follow through with your goals, you have to cancel the negative self talk. You know the “What if I can’t…” or “How will I ever…” and “I don’t think I can…” and so on.
Whether its money, weight loss, relationships, career, or anything else, we tend to think that we’re not good enough or worthy enough to achieve something. We don’t think, deep down inside, that we deserve something nice for whatever reason.
Simply put, we’re all flawed. But there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s okay to be less than perfect. No one is perfect. The goal is to be happy with who we are and what we’re doing in life.
To cancel the negative self talk, write down the scripts that you repeat in your mind. What are you saying? Then, flip those scripts. Write down all the excuses on why those things aren’t true, then rewrite those scripts.
Anytime you hear yourself going down that negative path, repeat the positive-reinforced sayings instead.
#8 – Seek Out Inspiration
Last but certainly not least to making your habits stick, is to seek out inspiration in others. Who or what inspires you? What drives you? What’s at the source of your desires for your hopes and dreams?
Answer those questions and create a vision board. Place that vision board someplace you can see it every single day. Clip images to your vision board and print out quotes. Whether they’re pictures of things or people, gather a collection of the right visual aids.
Your vision board is a constant reminder of why you’re doing the things that you’re doing. When it’s in a place that you can see it every single day, some remarkable things begin to occur. All those subconscious thoughts begin reorganizing themselves in your benefit.
It’s hard to see the micro when we’re so focused on the macro. But it’s the micro – those small things that sometimes go unnoticed – that make all the difference. When you create a vision board, you reorganize your mind on a micro level.
The constant reminders are a great way to keep you going and not give up. Making habits stick is hard, which is why we need every possible tool and aid at our disposal.