A Quick Request
I look at the video folder on my computer and see one lonely recording.
Despite promising myself that I’d start making videos to accompany my articles, there’s only a single rough edit to show for my underwhelming effort.
Starting a YouTube channel is just one of many projects I’ve planned and then abandoned over the years.
In this article, let’s look at finally making our routines stick and how to create lasting habits.
Building better routines
We’ve all had similar experiences, when analysing our lifestyle, wanting to replace bad habits with productive behaviours.
Maybe this involves less crappy snacks and more unprocessed food.
Or perhaps you’re oversitting and underexercising, necessitating a new workout schedule.
You might want to reduce your mindless internet consumption and replace it with active learning.
The amount of self-help material weighing down our bookshelves is testament to the fact that we’re hungry for personal growth.
But invariably we fail to prioritise these goals, remaining instead distant future regrets, an alternate life that could have been lived.
If you’ve had enough of making excuses and cowering from life changes by clinging desperately to your comfort zone, let’s see how we can cultivate sustainable habits.
How to create lasting habits
Foster a deep desire
Habits are difficult to maintain unless we possess a burning desire to change.
Too often we fall in love with the romantic surface-level image of how our lives could eventually look through behaviour change, rather than surrender to the daily discomfort of implementing a new routine.
As an example, I’ve always wanted to write a book, but feel like I might only like the sound of being an author, as opposed to the slow struggle of inching a story forward each day.
A deep desire always trumps a vague preference, sustaining us when our motivation invariably wanes.
Write it down
When you know exactly what you want, it’s necessary to formalise the process.
From these practices, you can drill down further into an overarching mission statement outlining the end goal.
Reverse engineering further, you can create a daily list of tasks, or in our case habits, allowing us to realise our vision.
Research shows that documenting when and where you’ll action said behaviour increases the likelihood of compliance, so after creating a list of non-negotiables, add them to your calendar to stamp your intention with a date and time.
Associate with the right people
As Jim Rohn famously said,
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with
Although this is an arbitrary number, the premise holds true.
If you desperately want to stop drinking alcohol, but constantly associate with boozehounds, you’ll be sucked straight back into that undesirable behaviour.
If you want to stop complaining, but surround yourself with negative people, it becomes difficult to break the psychological chains.
In contrast, if you associate with people who consider your desired behaviour normal, it will seem much more achievable in contrast.
Undertaking the painful process of behaviour change is predicated on finding people who are examples you can embody before modelling the success you desire.
Alter your environment
Just as associating with the right people make certain habits easier to implement, so too our physical environment plays a significant role.
If our house is full of delicious chocolatey goodness, we’re more likely to overlook an apple and reach for a sweet treat.
Humans are lazy and take the path of least physical and emotional resistance.
Therefore, in learning how to create lasting habits, we must make good things easy and bad things hard.
Want to play fewer computer games? Make it harder by unplugging your console and putting it in a drawer.
Want to exercise more? Make it easier by preparing your gym kit the night before and placing it next to your bed.
Set yourself up for success by modifying your physical reality to grease the wheels of behaviour change.
Add to existing habits
It’s far easier to add to existing habits than create new ones from scratch, predominantly because our current behaviour patterns act as a physical and mental cue for the desired action.
Harnessing this human psychological quirk to utilise well-worn routines makes adding productive assets frictionless,
Such habit pairing might include doing 5 squats each time you get up from your desk.
In my own example, whenever I’m waiting for the kettle to boil, I try to write for two minutes on my phone.
Bonus points if the two habits are context-matched as well, which can enhance psychological carryover.
It’s easier to make sustain habits when we feel obligated to do so.
Public announcements of your intention can work well.
Interestingly, I recently read a study indicating that couples getting married in the presence of friends and family are more likely to stay together compared to those tying the knot alone.
Simply declare your intention on social media and secure the support of friends and family.
Alternatively, get involved in a community.
NaNoWriMo is a famous novel-writing project during November, where would-be authors from around the world attempt a first draft, championing each other along the way.
If you can’t access a free support network, hire the services of a coach or mentor to keep you on track.
Harness our aversion to loss
Another advisable tactic is to up the stakes of our new habit or behaviour.
Words cost nothing and unless we intentionally make failure more painful, it’s too easy to renege on a self-made promise.
The best way to achieve this is by betting on ourselves and harnessing our aversion to loss.
On the low end of the scale, this could include a pride-based bet with our accountability buddies to see who follows through.
To up the ante, check out websites like Stickk which allow you incur a financial penalty for failing to nail a habit.
Identify with your new habit
Using tools and techniques are great for overcoming the initial and often uncomfortable stages of habit formation.
However, ideally, we want to reach a stage where these productive habits and routines are locked in and on autopilot.
This only really happens when we’ve done enough repetitions to bake these the behaviours into the fabric of our identity.
After starting regular running a few years ago, I now see myself as a runner as opposed to an occasional jogger.
This mindset shift was imperative, and it means that even if I miss a few days of running, this deeper aspect of my identity is ever-present, ready to re-emerge.
Habit formation for a happier life
There are many steps and often frequent false starts in learning how to create lasting habits.
I’ve had my fair share of failure and will continue to do so.
I know I just need to apply the methods above and film another YouTube video to regain momentum.
The key is not to be disheartened by temporary lapses and trust in the tools of the habit trade.
With enough persistence, we can eventually enjoy the outsized impact of incremental habit gains.
P.S. If you want to learn more about this topic, check out Atomic Habits, the excellent book by James Clear.