With very few exceptions, forming a new habit is hard. If it wasn’t, we’d all be living perfect lives with perfectly clean homes, never worrying about productivity or becoming a better person. We’d simply think of some change we wanted to make — a new routine, exercising more, eating better or waking up earlier — and, voila, it would be so!
But life doesn’t work like that, and new habits take practice and, unfortunately, time. They take consistency and determination and perseverance. Basically, creating new habits is a lot of work!
However, I have discovered a little secret that’s made a difference in the way I approach new habits.
This secret isn’t really revolutionary or new. It doesn’t cost any money or require you to have a certain app on a certain mobile device. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t make any of the work easier.
You see, forming a new habit isn’t about doing it perfectly or always remembering that thing you’re trying to do. That would be impossible, and whether it’s flossing your teeth before bed or drinking a glass of water before you eat breakfast each morning, chances are you’ll have times you forget along the way to actually making it a habit.
The key, then, is not perfection; it’s simply doing it whenever you think about it.
Sounds oversimplified, I know, but bear with me for a second.
With uncanny certainty, I can predict whether a habit in my life is going to stick or not based on my reaction the first time I remember the action I’m supposed to be taking and don’t want to take it.
Forming a habit takes a series of those “I don’t really feel like it” moments, and when you choose to floss your teeth or drink your water or do your jumping jacks anyway, you move a little bit closer to making the habit stick.
But when one of those moments comes up and I think to myself, “I don’t really feel like it…so I’m not going to this time,” it is almost always the beginning of the end. The permission I give myself not to take action that one time becomes permission time and time again until I’m not even trying or remembering the action at all.
This was an important realization for me because it’s often the motivation I need to overcome my reluctance. When I wake up in the morning and don’t feel like folding the laundry that’s waiting for me, I remind myself that choosing not to could undo my months of hard work in laying that habit. When it’s time to floss my teeth before bed and I feel like skipping it “just this once”, I remember how that’s worked out for me in the past and spend the 3 minutes to floss them anyway.
That’s not to say there are never times that I leave the load of laundry or skip the teeth flossing, because there are. But there’s a difference between a morning when we’re trying to get out of the house by 7 a.m. and there truly isn’t time to fold the laundry and the morning when I have a lot on my plate and I just don’t feel like doing that one.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a hard-and-fast rule to follow in those circumstances; all I can say is I firmly believe we all know the difference in our heart if we take the time to think about it, and it’s better to choose the habit if you’re unsure.
What’s your secret for forming a new habit? Have you seen this lesson play out in your own life?