11 Simple Ways to Build Good Habits, According to Experts
Sometimes it can feel harder to start and stick to good habits than to break bad ones. But establishing good practices and taking the initiative to improve your life, one small daily habit at a time, can lead to profound long-term changes and a deep sense of satisfaction, especially in this day and age, living in such extraordinary times under unpredictable circumstances.
In light of the new year, and all those new year's resolutions on your calendar, Tatler talked to top psychologists, behavioral experts, and life coaches to find out exactly how you can go about cultivating and adhering to good habits. Here's their expert advice.
Set smart goals and tell people about them
"When we set goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely, we are more likely to get rid of bad habits and establish better ones," says Dr Alan Chu, assistant professor and chair of the sport, exercise, and performance psychology program at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay. "For instance, instead of saying 'I will use less social media,' say 'I will use social media on weekdays only between 6 and 8 p.m. for 20 minutes at the most.' These SMART goals should progress gradually, meaning that people should not set goals to do things that are completely opposite to what they do right away, e.g. run three miles every day after having never run in the past five years. Research has shown that writing our goals down, posting them physically, e.g. on a fridge or desk, or telling friends and family about them help increase accountability and the likelihood of sticking with better habits."
Carefully consider the "why"
"Clarify exactly why it's important to you to do this new thing," says time management coach and author Elizabeth Grace Saunders. "Visualize where you will be and how you will feel once you establish your new habits."
Reflect on your deepest aspirations
"Reflect on a compelling vision of the future and your deepest aspirations," says life coach and digital habits expert Jeremy Lipkowitz. "People who are driven by a compelling vision of the future, particularly in how they want to live, are more successful than people who are driven by what they hope to escape or get rid of. It's important to understand what is important to you about how you're living. If you want healthier habits, connect with what kind of beautiful life that will be possible for you if you stick with it. In this way, you'll be pulled towards your goals, rather than slogging through them."
Take it slow
"You're more likely to succeed implementing incremental change than gigantic changes," says psychologist Paul Greene, director of the Manhattan Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. "Be realistic with what change you try to create, and remember you can always build upon your new habit later on."
Introduce healthy triggers
"Set yourself up for success by making your good habits an easy choice," Lipkowitz says. "Try putting your running shoes next to your bed if you want to exercise every morning, or keep your journal and a pen next to your laptop if you want to be a regular journaler. Remember: self-control is a limited resource, stimulus-control goes much farther. Make your good habits the easy choice."
Always be prepared
"It is very helpful to have a new activity prepared in advance," says post-doctoral clinical psychology fellow Dr Rachel Kutner. "Once the urge to engage in a bad habit comes up, it may be too late to start considering what to do instead. It is helpful to have another activity ready to go; maybe have that online exercise class picked out, with just a quick click away. If you want to eat healthier but all you have prepared in the pantry is junk food, of course you’ll grab that, it’s the easiest option. But if you have a yummy salad chopped up ready to go, you will have a much easier time going for that option instead."
Use the strategy of convenience
"Remove as much friction as possible," says time management and productivity coach Alexis Haselberger. "If you are trying to start running in the morning, make sure your running clothes are set out and ready the night before. Or better yet, sleep in them."
Stack your habits
"Attach a new habit to an already deeply held habit," Haselberger suggests. "If you're trying to take vitamins daily, set them out next to your toothbrush, and take them after you brush your teeth (which is, hopefully, an already well established habit.)."
Get support and accountability to strengthen your habits
"In our highly individualized society, it's tempting to think we can do it all on our own," Lipkowitz says. "We think we just need to get a little more motivated, or try harder. What we fail to see is that we are social animals, we thrive in relationships. One of the best things you can do for forming healthy habits is getting someone to hold you accountable. Someone who won't let you give up on yourself the moment things get tough, someone who holds you to a higher standard than you can for yourself, someone who is there to call you out on your bullshit excuses. If you care about your personal development, don't leave it up to just yourself. It's too important to leave in the hands of your own worst enemy (you!). These days, it's easy to find an executive coach, life coach, or fitness trainer to suit your needs."
Track your goals
"Tracking, or monitoring, goals is important in order to know whether we have done what we said we would," Chu says. "It can be as simple as using our phone and apps (e.g. Toggl Track) to track the amount of time we engage in our habits throughout the day, or spending time at the end of the day, week, and month to reflect on what we have accomplished to understand our habits and any necessary adjustments."
Practice mindfulness and journal
"Regular mindfulness practices help people be able to shift their focus to the important things, rather than irrelevant habits, by focusing more on positive emotions such as acceptance and compassion," Chu says. "It also helps people be more aware and accepting of their thoughts and feelings without judgment so that we don’t beat ourselves up when not accomplishing all the good habits at once. These benefits are manifested both physiologically and cognitively.
"While as simple as mindful breathing or body scan could help, mindful journaling may be particularly helpful for habit forming and maintenance by understanding our behaviors, thoughts, and emotions related to our habits. Through journaling, we can find how good habits have helped us be happier and more productive, and then we are more likely to have positive reinforcements to stick to them."