How to Build Strong Habits

Humans are habitual creatures. Scientists say that 40-50% of the actions we take during the day are habitual. Our brains are habit making machines. That's why we have so many bad habits. We can use our habit making tendencies to our advantage to create good habits. Once a good habit is established, it produces a tremendous return on investment.

Your habits are running most of your life. Why not direct that flow by creating good habits that will take you in the right direction? Here are a few pointers to help you build strong habits.

Man running in the desert

Start Small

The first rule of starting a habit is to start small. By starting with the smallest possible step, you are more likely to do it. And if you do it consistently (everyday is best) after a while, it will become automatic - that is, it will take very little will power on your part. Once your habit is established, then you can build on it. Think of a couch potato that wants to run a marathon. They don't start out running 5 miles everyday! 100% of the potatoes who try are fried after the first day. Even running a mile everyday could be a stretch for many people. Something more doable is simply jogging around the block. Once that easy habit is established, more miles can be added on.

Be Super Clear

Another challenge to starting a habit is being too vague. Most brains operate better with clarity. When you choose a vague goal or habit, you are much less likely to do it; it's so vague you don't know how to, you can't picture it. Narrowing your habit to something very clearly defined helps get you started. For habits, clarity means two things: when and where. Where will you run? Not just "run a mile" but, "run from my door, down Griffin Street to the coffee shop, around the lamp post, and back." When will you do it? Not just "a few times a week" but "Mon, Wed, Fri, 8:00am-8:15am." Studies have shown that when you determine ahead of time when and where you're going to work on something, you are twice as likely to do it!

Remove the Roadblocks

You want to make your habit as easy as possible to start doing. When starting a habit, you want to test your  willpower as little as possible, thus increasing chances that you'll actually do it. Example roadblocks are things like: not having clean running clothes when it's time to go running, wasting time looking for your book when it's time to read, getting distracted by social media when it's time to write. You remove these roadblocks by: buying extra pairs of running clothes, or doing your laundry every day, putting your book in the same place and reading it in the same chair, putting your phone in airplane mode every time you go to write. Anything that you find distracting you from starting or completing your habit is a roadblock. Removing roadblocks gives you a better shot of staying consistent and sticking with your habit until it's automatic.

Reward Yourself

Habits are great once they are established. Think of them like passive income, you reap benefits with minimal exertion. However, they are really tough to get going. While you are trying to establish a habit, one way to motivate yourself to stick to it when it's hard is to give yourself a small reward after you practice your habit. Our bodies are wired to respond to positive stimuli and earn rewards. Even a small positive reward right after completing your habit will help build positive associations in your brain and build your motivation for next time. For example: watching your favorite show after your workout, eating a chocolate chip after writing an article, things like that. Building positive associations with habit execution will help your brain and body be more motivated to do it when your willpower is low. Once your habit is established, the natural benefits of your habit will be a reward in itself.

These are only a handful of useful tips for building solid habits. There is a ton of useful research out there on building positive habits. I recommend James Clear’s Atomic Habits—it has a lot of research-based insight and helpful examples for building life changing habits. Check it out!

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