We are our habits.
From how we wake up in the morning to what we do right before we go to sleep again, we are a collection of habits all the way through our day.
You already know some habits are good, and some aren’t the best for us, but they are all there because of repetition. We did them once and then for whatever reason, continued to do them over and over again until they just stuck with us.
This can seem a little defeating, thinking that you are bound to your habits, almost like you are predestined to be a certain way, but that’s not really how it is.
Yes, our routines and quirks stick with us pretty easily, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change them as we see fit.
Below I’ll expand more on what habits are, and how best to direct and build the ones you want, with the least amount of stress possible.
Why We all Have Such a Hard Time Changing Our Habits
If you find yourself having a hard time changing habits, you’re not alone. In fact, only 8% of people complete their New Year’s resolutions.
But just as you accumulated your current habits without likely thinking about it, you can build a habit that you want and they’ll become so deeply ingrained, you won’t even have to think about them anymore.
- So why do 92% of people who made New Year’s resolutions fail to keep them?
- If we all have unconscious habits then why can it be so difficult to build new habits that we actually want?
A lot of it has to do with how we acquired them in the first place, as a lot of them were likely formed unconsciously.
The first time we learned to do almost any kind of habit, like brushing teeth, we may have learned it from someone else, but we soon developed our own idiosyncrasies over time, such as starting in a particular area and going through the same pattern and rhythm of brushing every time. This is so because we just happened to do it a certain way and the high volume of repetitions ingrained it deeply.
It’s this sheer repetition that is the true builder of habit.
This leads people to develop lots of different schemes and tricks to acquire the consistent repetitions needed to promote a new habit.
Unfortunately, these plans and strategies often carry an underlying tone that you just have to “do it” and that people who have a hard time with it (hint: that’s most of us…) simply don’t “want it enough”.
That belief is flat out wrong.
There’s no need to shame or punish yourself into changing a bad habit or working on forming a new, good habit.
Healthy habit building does require as much consistent repetition over time as possible, but it turns unhealthy when people take on too much or hold themselves to a ridiculous standard. It doesn’t need to be this way.
The New Year’s Resolution Syndrome
It’s common knowledge that success leads to success – it just makes sense. You get a small win and you’re all the more motivated to get the next one and another all the way to the big win.
When we set unrealistic expectations of ourselves, we make it less likely to get those wins.
Take, for example, those New Year’s resolutions.
Who among us hasn’t taken on a New Year’s resolution at some point that was completely unrealistic? We vowed to “exercise every day for 365 days” or “cut out sugar completely in the new year” – or other such ridiculous objective.
After a couple of trip-ups and resets, most people find themselves giving up entirely and have a bad taste in their mouth for making changes again.
Habits, though, are not about reaching the finish line; they’re about making small changes in your day-to-day, and in that process they lead to permanent big shifts.
In the next section, I’ll show you how to more easily build the habits you want in your life.
A Manageable Way to Make Lasting Changes in Your Life
Earlier I mentioned the accumulation of habits we aren’t even aware of.
A classic example is “driving on autopilot,” where you get to work and can’t recall any part of your drive. The first drive to your new job likely required following directions and being aware of each street to make sure you didn’t miss a turn. But after a few days, you switched on that autopilot and didn’t have to pay much attention at all.
Simple things like the motion of brushing your teeth, or the order in which you wash your body in the shower – these are all things we’ve done so many times that we don’t have to think about how to do them anymore.
So, the key to building new habits is to make them just as much a part of you as your old, lifelong habits.
How do we do that?
Gradually Shift to the “New Normal”
The biggest mistake people make when trying to build a new habit is to take on too much, as highlighted above. Rather than taking on a huge goal meant to transform your life overnight, you’ll have a better experience if you take on one very small change at a time and do it often, until it becomes a regular part of your life.
The more we do something, the more it becomes part of us, and at a certain point, it’s just something that we do.
No thinking, no big effort, no big deal.
Let’s say you find your current level of hip flexibility is limiting your ability to do certain exercises, like the squat. You decide you want to start working on this issue.
You may be tempted to find a routine online that includes 15 or 20 stretches, and decide to spend an hour on those stretches every day. A more manageable way to do things, though, would be to choose one or two hip stretches and spend 5-10 minutes every morning working on those.
After a while – usually not more than a few weeks – the habit of shutting off your alarm in the morning and immediately taking 5 minutes to work on those stretches, will become just as much a part of your morning as looking in the mirror.
Use Positive Motivation
One of the common approaches to habit building is to use “negative association.” The idea is to hold yourself accountable by essentially punishing yourself if you don’t stick to your habit. This method does “work” to some extent, but it’s painful, stressful and really not at all conducive to long-term change.
Instead of punishing yourself for not sticking to your habit, why not reward yourself when you do stick to your habit?
You’re much more likely to view your new habit positively if your association is positive. And when we view things in a positive light, we want to make them a greater part of our lives.
Sticking with the stretching example, one way you could use positive motivation to keep you going is by giving yourself a mini-reward after one week of daily stretching, then again after two weeks of daily stretching, and so on until that habit is part of your new normal.
Reframing Habit Formation for a Better Impact on Your Life
A lot of people talk about habit formation in a goal-oriented way. If you “succeed” at building or changing a habit, you’ve met your goal.
But there’s so much more to habit change than just reaching a goal.
Each small change you make in your daily routine can have a huge impact on your life over time. The process of repetition is what’s most important. Sure, you want to get to the point where you can look back and say, “Oh wow, that’s now just part of my routine!” but thinking too much about that end point can hurt the process.
You don’t have to be the most organized or most disciplined person to make lasting habit changes.
When change is made gradually, and without a focus on the finish line, anyone can make it happen, and the common feeling of frustration is no longer an issue.
We are our habits, it’s just the way it is, so the trick is to find ways to ingrain habits that are good for us and improve our lives with the least stress possible.
Our movement course, Vitamin, was designed to help you build the habit of better movement, through a small, manageable change to your routine.
GMB Vitamin: 28 Days to Better Movement
Build the habit of movement exploration with a new movement every day for 28 days.