Aristotle is quoted as saying, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” But those habits can work in reverse, in which they work against excellence instead of for it. In essence, where you are in your life is the result of what you do or don’t do every day.
Most people know that bad habits hinder success, but overcoming self-defeating behavior is easier said than done. Your colleagues, friends and family suggest developing will-power, but new routines are more easily developed if they don’t require extreme self-control. In fact, if you think about your habits, you know that they don’t require any thought at all. So your goal then isn’t to will your way to new actions, but to use the automations that is inherent in habits to form new ones. Here’s some tips on how to create new habits.
- Determine what new habit you want to develop. For example, maybe you’d like to do work before getting bogged down in email. It can be a personal goal too, such as exercising every day or mediating each morning.
- Choose an activity you already do as a trigger to the new habit. The goal is to use something you do all the time and connect it with your new action. If you open email first thing upon sitting at your desk, but instead would like to work for an hour before getting bogged down with email, use sitting down as the trigger to open your work. Put a sticky-note on your computer to remind you until it becomes habit.
- Reward yourself. Most habits are formed because we get something good or avoid something bad. In fact, that’s what forms a habit. When you get a benefit from an action, that action is reinforced, for good or bad. The sooner that reward is experienced the better. Spending the first hour every morning working instead of getting bogged down in email, can make you immediately feel more in control and productive. Often the reward for developing a new habit takes too long to reinforce the new behavior. As a result, depending on your new habit, you may need to build in a reward the same way you built in a trigger. But avoid materialistic reward. The reward isn’t a bribe, but the happy result of doing a good action. Your reward might be telling yourself, “Yeah! I did it.” Or you can do a happy dance.
Ultimately, you don’t need herculean will-power and self-control to develop a new habit. But, it does take planning, self-awareness and a little bit of living in the moment, but once you solidify your trigger and build in a reward, the activity will become routine and won’t need to think about it to maintain it.