Editor note: This is a guest post from Eduard Ezeanu.
During our lifetimes, we develop hundreds of habits. If you think about it, stuff like talking, walking, tying your shoes and riding your bicycle are all habits. They are all automatic patterns of thinking and acting which you implemented at a certain point, and now you do them naturally.
Beyond the age of 7, it seems that implementing habits gets harder. The context is no longer of such a nature that habits develop almost on their own. You actually have to follow the right steps to effectively develop new habits.
I think that most people struggle with implementing habits and creating change in their lives because they lack a certain understanding of how human learning takes places, how habits develop, so they try to implement them in deficient ways and they get nowhere fast.
What I’m gonna share with you are my ideas for effective habit implementation, in congruence with the principles of human learning.
- Make it meaningful. Why do you want to develop a certain habit? I find that very often, we want to implement habits which are not particularly meaningful to us. We may want to learn to wake up at a certain hour or do a certain task, but it’s only because other people have told us we should. With that kind of a reason, it’s hard to get excited about implementing a new habit. So, make sure you choose habits which are first of all, meaningful for you.
- Focus on one at a time. As a general rule, the more things you try to learn in parallel, the harder it is. If you only give a small piece of attention to each habit, the mental associations which constitute it will not grow fast enough, and no actual habit will develop. This is why I recommend that any time, you only work on one habit. Depending on the actual complexity of the habit, you may actually work on 2 or 3, but it’s best if you take them one habit at a time. Anything else is rather an exception, which reinforces the general rule.
- Get to the threshold. A certain way of thinking or acting becomes natural, automatic, after you practice it consciously a number of times, which can be quite large for more complex habits. You usually have to reach a certain threshold, and then it gets much easier. The common problem is that a lot of people give up working on a habit before the threshold is reached. Don’t do this! Realize that you need to get to this threshold to make it worth your effort, and focus on a habit long enough to get there. Only then, move on to the next habit.
- Schedule it. Another thing which is common is that what doesn’t get scheduled doesn’t get done. You can decide to start practicing something, but then you get caught up in your daily responsibilities and never actually get to it. The trick is to put that practice in your schedule. This means that you reserve time, energy for it, and a reminder to do it at the scheduled time. I recommend that you put the things you practice where all the important things go: in your written agenda. Give it the same status a big business meeting might have and you will see it happening.
- Make it fun. Even if you decide to implement a habit which is meaningful for you, it may still be a struggle in terms of motivation if the actual activity is not fun. The process is at least as important as the destination. This is why it can make all the difference in the world if you find ways to make implementing a habit fun. Explore options, put your creativity to work, and you will find them.
I had a problem at one point with implementing a jogging habit, because although it was meaningful to me, I found all the actual running kind of boring. Then I decided to make one change to this: I started listening to my favorite audio-books while running. It made all the difference it the world. Running actually became fun, and I would also get my ‘reading’ done at the same time as a bonus.
Implementing patterns is not hard, if you do it the smart way. Apply the right principles and you make it a process which is both fun, and productive. When you do implement habits the smart way, in time you create changes and you see results which can be mind blowing.
Eduard Ezeanu is a communication coach with an attitude-based approach. He teaches people how to put their best foot forward in communication and get top notch results. He also writes on his blog, People Skills Decoded.