Habits are unquestionably the holy grail of personal growth and of transforming your life.
As Aristotle already stated more than 2,000 years ago:
“We are what we repeatedly do.”
You will never change your life without changing your daily routines.
Makes sense, right?
Yet, building new, positive habits and sticking to them in the long run is also one of the most difficult challenges for many people in today’s world.
We all want happier, healthier, and more satisfying lives, yet, we always fail at the same point: Making lasting changes.
Buying nice-looking sportswear because of our new year’s resolution to work out five times per week is fun, subscribing to a morning routine challenge to finally transform our mornings and become more productive feels lovely and also bulk-ordering ten new books because we will now finally start reading more sounds appealing.
But when it comes to actually doing all these things, we fail.
And there’s a good reason why we so often fail at changing our exiting behavior.
Our whole lives are based on existing systems and patterns.
For years or even decades, we got used to certain structures and to doing things in a specific way.
That’s why radical habit change often backfires and hardly lasts more than a few weeks.
To achieve lasting change, we need to dig under the surface and change our profound belief systems.
That’s obviously not easy, but if you apply some of the following techniques, it’s simple.
“You’’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.”
— Jack Canfield
Start incredibly small
The most common reason why people fail to implement new habits is because they start too big.
They start with expectations on themselves and on how their lives might change that are far beyond reality. And after a short time, they fail.
I am a fan of big goals and of regularly pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. Yet, when it comes to habits, small changes are my secret weapon.
It’s hard to implement a new, 50-minute routine from one day to the other. But starting a new five-minute routine is doable for anyone.
Setting low expectations is not only about being realistic but about making it so easy for yourself that you can’t say no.
If I tell you to read an hour per day, you might come up with an excuse and tell me you don’t have time.
But what if I expect you to read one single page?
Will you still tell me you don’t have time, or will you just do it?
Sticking to a small habit for a long time is way more effective than making sudden massive changes and soon falling back into old patterns.
Additionally, unrealistic expectations might ruin your motivation and lead to high levels of frustration.
Starting small, however, will lead to an increase in happiness as you will make little but steady progress every day.
You can’t change your life from one day to the other. But you can indeed change it one day at a time.
As a Tanzanian proverb states:
“Little by little a little becomes a lot.”
Want to read more? Start by reading one page or one minute per day.
Want to exercise more? Set yourself the goal to move for 10 minutes per day.
Want to spend less money? Reflect on your expenses every day.
“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day-in and day-out.”
— Robert Collier
Do proper planning
As Benjamin Franklin once beautifully stated:
“Success is the residue of planning.”
The second common mistake made when it comes to building lasting habits is a lack of preparation.
Especially the combination of big expectations together with insufficient planning is a sure way to fail.
Even tiny obstacles can lead to discouragement and break your success. But the more you structure and organize your days, the easier sticking to your new habits will be.
Want to establish a morning routine? Prepare everything the night before, so you don’t need to look for your book, journal, headphones, or whatever — put them all in place before going to bed.
Want to read more books? Create a list of the next 10–20 books you want to read so that you can always look forward to the next piece.
Want to write more? Think of when, where, and what you want to write and schedule a writing appointment with yourself. Honestly, schedule it in your calendar as if it was an important meeting even if it’s just 15 minutes.
Proper planning differentiates masters from beginners.
Whenever you see someone who seems like he got all his shit together, it’s because he planned ahead.
Great successes don’t happen by coincidence.
It’s always a combination of hard work, determination, and planning.
Or as Stephen Covey puts it:
“Make time for planning: Wars are won in the general’s tent.”
Track your progress
For me, tracking my progress is a significant component when building new habits.
Knowing that you have a meditation streak for 20 days definitely makes it easier to keep going on day 21.
Tracking your habits gives you a sense of control and additional motivation whenever you need it.
You can print a simple habit tracker or download an app to keep track of your success throughout your days.
I personally like physical tracking sheets as I enjoy the pleasure of ticking off boxes, but you can choose whatever works best for you.
By seeing how far you’ve already come, you will be tempted to keep going, even through hard times.
“Remember how far you’ve come, not just how far you have to go. You are not where you want to be, but neither are you where you used to be.”
— Rick Warren
Every challenge in life is easier to solve with like-minded people.
As Sunday Adelaja once stated:
“Where there is no accountability, there will also be no responsibility.”
Habits and routines are personal and work differently for everyone, but that doesn’t mean you need to figure everything out on your own.
Finding a partner and holding each other accountable for your actions is a great way to make it through difficult times.
Several studies have shown that achieving our goals is much easier if we share our objectives with others and regularly update them on our progress.
By sharing our intentions, we oblige ourselves to perform.
Additionally, an accountability buddy encourages us to give our best and leave our comfort zone even if we don’t feel like doing so.
Once you defined goals and the exact habits you want to build, look out for friends and acquaintances who might want to join you and walk the path together.
If you don’t know anyone personally, you can even browse through the web and find a virtual accountability buddy to update each other via video chats or messages.
One of the few things all successful people on our planet, no matter if business owner, artist, or sportsman, have in common is that they all have certain habits which led to their significant achievements.
Routines are a critical part of any successful person’s life. Not necessarily because of the habit itself but also because of all the positive side effects:
- Habits allow us to save time for more important things in life.
- Habits lead to structure and clarity.
- Habits give stability and security whenever things seem to fall apart.
By creating powerful routines, you will not only elevate your physical and mental performance, but you will also have more space and time for unexpected challenges during your day to day life.
And if you take these four lessons in mind, the success of your new habits is almost guaranteed:
Start so small you can’t say no: It’s better to start small and gradually increase the intensity of your new habits once you get used to them.
Plan ahead: Through proper planning, you can eliminate to give up on your habits due to unexpected challenges.
Track your progress: Knowing how far you’ve come is fun and motivates you to keep going even if it sucks.
Partner up: Allow others to support you on your journey to transforming your habits and actively look for people who have similar interests so that you can motivate each other.