Developing a Habit
We all want certain things in life. We have various goals and a multitude of interests. So how do we get there? What tools of the trade can allow us to find success?
Here are three quick tips to developing a habit.
Tip number 1: Decide your focus.
First things first: What do you want to do?
Do you want to develop healthy habits of physical activity? Is hanging out with friends more of your priority? Do you want to consider reading a print copy of a book instead of looking at a bright screen before bed time?
Although we can receive feedback from others, no can can really decide a habit for us. It’s the consequence of a bad habit or the result of forming a good habit that gives us the intrinsic motivation for change.
As long as your focus will bring about a positive outcome in your life, there are so many possibilities of what habit(s) you could continue and which ones you’d like to begin.
Common examples of desirable habits are developing a certain skill in a sport, improving in a musical instrument, getting better at a creative outlet like writing, drawing, or technology, and of course keeping up with friends and family. Examine your life as a triangle of physical, mental, and social well-being, and make a decision if one is lacking— and why.
Nothing says a new focus needs to be permanent, so don’t worry you’ve made a wrong choice.
Reassess your focus points throughout the year to see if your priorities still align with life goals. A great time for this the first of the month. New month? Do a personal check-in. Ask yourself, “Are my behaviors truly driving me towards the life I want to live?”
Also, keep in mind that while it’s true that a person can have multiple new habits going at once, it really doesn’t need to be a huge life shift at all. In fact, that leads us to tip number two.
Tip number 2: Start small.
We’ve all heard the term baby steps. Well, it’s generally great advice with habits. Sure, some people can go “all in” and make a huge change in just one day or one week— but that’s rare. Generally, things happen by effecting a major change, but in a minor way.
What this means is, are you trying to be more organized? Start by making the bed.
Want to get exercise each day? It happens by putting your shoes on.
Feel the need to get away from the screen? Begin by opening the blinds to let the sunshine in.
It all happens with a small start. Fill your water bottle, put the book on your bed stand, write a social event on the calendar, pick up and hold your musical instrument. These small things lead to the next step, which leads to the next step, and on and on.
Which leads us to the next step! ;)
Tip number 3: Keep it going.
This one is super obvious and it should go without saying, but a habit is only a habit if you repeat the activity. Just because you did something for a few weeks doesn’t make it a habit.
It often helps to think in terms of a lifestyle versus something like a resolution. New Year’s resolutions generally don’t stick because people view the new behavior as temporary.
Build a pattern or a streak of your healthy activity to keep the habit flowing. It is human nature to get into an “either/or” situation: a rut of unhealthy living or a path of productivity.
What this means is, it’s easier to eat a whole bag of chips today if you already did that yesterday. It’s easier to self-deprecate and talk down to yourself if you’ve been doing so for a while. It’s easier to skip another night of sleep if you’ve been staying up late to watch Netflix or play video games all week. (Or, in case of you students out there… all summer?)
Likewise, it’s easier to keep up with your habit if it’s simply just part of your day-to-day routine. Without being compulsive about things, how many books have you read this summer? How many days this week did you limit screen time to under two hours? How many weeks in a row have you been perfect with flossing and brushing your teeth?
Making it routine is easier said than done, of course, because this is the essence of a habit. That’s why starting small is so crucial, and that’s why creating a calendar streak of days is the next logical step.
Miss a day? Don’t beat yourself up about it. All’s not lost. Just jump in the next day and you’re on track again.
There are two fantastic books on this topic, one entitled, “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, and the other is “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. Both focus on small steps towards big things in life, and are my personal recommendations as essential readings on the topic.
Build those healthy habits in time, and you’ll feel better about yourself with that success and sense of accomplishment. Self-confidence spills over into social interactions, and of course any stress relief in the form of healthy habits leads to better physical health and overall longevity.
“Growing Up Great!”
For more health tips geared towards adolescent boys, check out Growing Up Great!, a body-positive guide to getting through puberty confidently by respecting the body and all of its changes.