Two Principles That Will Help You Form Any Habit You Want
I started a challenge last Friday.
Write 50 articles by March 11th, 2017 (my birthday).
That equals roughly one article every three days.
Why does that matter for you? Good question.
Well, today on 11th of October was the third day of my third article, and I haven’t finished my article. I wrote another one, but this one I postponed.
But the thing is, the topic of this article is habit formation.
So postponing it for one day would mean that I have failed by default.
Let me tell you how I’ve managed to preserve my habit, and how can you do the same for yours.
The daily battle between good and bad habits is something each one of us does daily.
Sometimes we feel motivated, and we managed to do something, but in most cases, bad habits take over, and we don’t move towards our positive habits.
Same thing with this article.
I know that it will help me keep my streak, and on the other hand, it will provide value to your, my dear reader.
Over the years, I’ve done numerous experiments on how to form various habits.
Ranging from coding, learning how to write, learning a language, getting up at 4:30 AM, eating healthy, dieting and so on.
I’ve gone through every possible book and research on this topic, that I came to the point when I was just exhausted with the amount of information I had in my head, and I needed to simplify it.
You’ve probably heard that it takes up to 21 days to form a new habit?
That’s nothing more than a myth, passed on by self-help gurus that wanted something easier to sell.
According to research done by Phillippa Lally (health psychology researcher at University College London) and her research team, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, to form a new habit, it takes on average more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact.
Now, that’s a lot of time.
But, here’s what can be done about it.
For every habit there are two sides of the coin:
1. Establishing a new positive behavior
2. Eliminating the old negative behavior
And as I said, two principles will help you establish a habit.
1. Main Principle – establishing a new positive behavior: Think only in the frame of 24 hours.
Even though the research says 66 days, don’t think about it.
In our human nature is to overburden ourselves, and this will demotivate us.
So even if your goal is to lose weight in 2 months, your job is to think about just one day.
For the next 24 hours, your job is to do your best to eat as healthy as you can. That’s it.
Just one thing, and one small action towards it.
No significant changes, no big leaps.
Once you do it in one day, your job is to repeat it again tomorrow.
Learn, improve and act.
Now let’s see what can be done about the behavior we are trying to eliminate.
2. Main Principle – eliminating the old negative behavior: Postpone the negative behavior for tomorrow.
In the book 1984 (Nineteen Eighty-four) by George Orwell, there is a part where the members of the Outer Party are torturing Winston (the main protagonist), trying to break his spirit, and as they are beating him, there was one particular sentence he kept repeating to himself:
“I will confess, but not yet. I must hold out till the pain becomes unbearable. Three more kicks, two more kicks, and then I will tell them what they want.”
This got me thinking. Usually, when we want to establish a good habit, we tend to procrastinate. We postpone the positive behavior.
But what if we use that for the negative behavior?
So, I decided to do an experiment.
Just one habit, and to focus on it in the span of 24hours.
If I feel the urge to break it, I will postpone it. For tomorrow.
It was eating healthy. I went to buy groceries, and I had a sweet tooth.
When I saw the ice cream, I told myself:
You can have it tomorrow, but today get some veggies and meat.
And I did. It was hard, but the idea that tomorrow ice cream was waiting for me was enough to let it go today.
When I got up in the morning, I followed the rule for the establishing the habit.
I focused on the eating healthy part, in just one day, and that was it. When I thought about ice cream, I told myself the same thing. You can have it tomorrow.
When you repeat this for 3-4 days, it gets easier. Your body cleanses from the sugar, and you don’t feel the need that much.
And from then on, this is what I have been doing.
Procrastinating on bad behavior.
It works like a charm.
But I have to warn you about two things.
First, people often want to reinvent themselves and the way the lead their life.
This usually implies that they want to eliminate several habits and start several new ones.
My advice is to start only with one habit unless the other habit you want to start is a supplement to the first one.
This means that if you want to start with your health, you can start with healthy diet first, but exercising is a supplement.
Eating healthier will give you enough results on its own, without jeopardizing your habit. You can add exercise if you want to achieve this faster, but it should be added slowly and without pressure.
Second, it’s easy to break habits.
That’s why you must have this in mind.
The longer the habit lasts, the harder it is to break it. The shorter it lasts, it’s easier to break it.
If you eat healthy for two months, even if you cheat for a day or two, it will be simpler to go back to eating healthy.
But, if you had only started a habit five days ago, and you cheat even once, this can jeopardize your habit. Twice, and you probably won’t go back to eating healthy.
And then it will take you most likely several weeks before you motivate yourself to start again.
So, try to be diligent.
Now, I know that you have a habit you want to start.
Go easy on yourself, and think in a span of 24hours.
One small action towards it. And tomorrow just repeat and improve.
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Author: Zdravko Cvijetic
Zdravko Cvijetic, the founder of Zero To Skill, creates practical content, ranging from articles, e-guides, and courses, that will help you become a top performer, by gaining clarity on your life path, mastering your habits and becoming 3x more productive. With a degree in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning, he was able to create content that has influenced more than 100.000 people.