What’s the problem with habits?
On the face of it you may think that forming a habit to overcome procrastination or to get a series of tasks done is a good thing, and in some ways it is. There are many books written about habits and how they can improve your efficiency and well being, and these books contain great advice. However the problem with habits is that they tend not to stick, and they fade away after a few days. That is unless they’are part of a larger process or ritual, as we shall see later.
What are habits?
So that we are clear about the subject, let’s look at what I mean by habits. Habits tend to develop unconsciously, we form them over time and often don’t realise that we have them until someone points them out. Because these were developed largely unconsciously, some serve us well, others not so well. Our goal should be to be able to intentionally identify habits that we want to develop and use regularly, and include them as part of a process or ritual. By ritual I mean a way of behaving or a series of actions which are regularly carried out in a particular situation, or to complete a specific task.
Why habits fade
Since rituals and processes are made up of a series of habits, let’s first look a little deeper into why is it so difficult to start and maintain a habit. On the face of it you would think that some habits are easy to form and are obvious. Take the following examples:
- We know that regular exercise is good for us. So why aren’t we doing this?
- It’s common knowledge that getting a good night’s sleep and waking up early can help boost your productivity. Why aren’t we doing this?
- Getting important things done first seems obvious, but do we do it?
There are many, many more examples but I’m sure you get the message. Why then don’t we do these things or if we do make a resolution to do them why do they often fade within days? I’ve listed a few reasons below.
- They may be too vague.
- They don’t motivate you to get started.
- They do not address a real or clear “need”
- They don’t fit into your normal daily routine, or they rely on others changing theirs to accommodate in some way.
- They are not “sticky”
For example, I’d like to get fit, and I’ll start by exercising more and eating better. Fine, but what does that actually mean and what do I need to do? Start by going for a run each day. Great idea and also I’ll cut out the snacks that I buy when I refuel the car. All good, but likelihood is that I’ll not do them more than once or twice and then they will fade.
Also, although the overall goal is motivating there’s nothing to get me started. Motivation comes and goes but if I want to develop specific habits then I need a way to get started however I’m feeling. Check out the 5 second rule which I have found is a great way to get started on something and is covered in another post on this site, click here for more.
Make those habits stick
So, how do we make desired habits stick and become rituals? Well, it comes down to a few basic elements.
- You need to have a need, or a desire to do it, ie why are you doing this?
- A simple step by step process that’s easy to follow and repeat.
- A first step that is easy to do (or a system to get you started (see above)
If you have the three elements above then you have all that you need to get started. If you like, it’s the formula that will help you to develop habits that stick. In future articles we will be looking in more detail at how to develop a system that works for you, that gets you out of bed ready for the day and doing the right things without having to struggle to remember what they are, or drifting into doing something that throws you off track. Even when you have it sussed, there will still be times when you go off piste, but that’s ok, because there are simple techniques to get you right back on track.