Think about the last time you decided to build a lasting habit. Perhaps you decided to meditate for at least 20 minutes daily. Or to read at least two pages of a book every single day.The moment you commit to forming a habit feels like an exciting fresh beginning. Often, people get so excited by the potential power of new habits that they go a little overboard and try to establish too many habits at once.
I know this from my own struggle of trying to maintain habit streaks.
The longer your list of habit streaks, the more chances are that you’ll burnout in the process of trying to maintain it all.
According to Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked — How To Build Habit-Forming Products, the number one reason people fail to build habits in the long term is that they overwhelm themselves and stop enjoying the process.
See, building habits isn’t easy. From my experience, I’ve realized that it’s best to pick up one habit at a time because there are many obstacles that come into the picture when you try to make a long-term change.
People in your life might create resistance. The environment may not be conducive enough. An unexpected crisis may show up. Or you might simply find the habit too challenging or boring and lose interest along the way.
The 3 biggest obstacles for me when it comes to building a habit are — distractions, lack of enough willpower, and lack of time. Here are some ways in which I overcome these obstacles —
1. Set Up A Timer
When you don’t feel like reading, set the timer and read for just five minutes. When you don’t feel like meditating, set the time and meditate for five minutes.Setting a timer is an act that signals your brain that you are committing to take the action and that for the next five minutes, there is no option to quit.
This also eliminates all distractions and interruptions by fighting your mind’s tendency to switch to another action.
The timer approach also lets you start small. At the beginning of forming any habit, it’s important that you don’t overwhelm yourself by setting big goals. Lifelong habits are not about stretching yourself too far from your comfort zone on the first day itself. They are about building a foundation and then growing on it day after day.
This is based on the habit-building concept called Habit Stacking shared by James Clear in his book Atomic Habits. Habit Stacking helps people develop positive habits by building on what you already do and time boxing your activities so you can develop consistency.
Once you’ve learned to stick to your habits for five minutes, you can easily build top of it.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit. — Aristotle
Even on the days when I don’t feel like doing my dance training, I just go to my mat and start with my 15 minute daily stretches. By the end, I feel ready to take on the rest of the training planned for the day. Over years of practice, the habit of performing those 15 minute daily stretches has become the strong foundation that grounds me and lets me build on top of it.
2. Block Time For It
Simple and mechanical habits are relatively easier to form. You just need to sit down and read or meditate.
But what about creative habits? Say, for instance, creating videos for your YouTube channel or any other social media platform every day?
It’s easy to say you ‘want’ to do something when you’re not marking time for the activity on the calendar. However, in reality, most things take more time and planning than what we anticipate.According to a YouTube Statistics report, ‘A substantial number of creators, almost 23%, mentioned the lack of time as their top challenge.’
When I started creating daily dance reels for my Instagram page, I faced a similar challenge. It seemed like there wasn’t enough time to create.Over time I realized that it wasn’t the video creation that took the most amount of time. It was the smaller aspects associated with it — getting to the mindset, preparing the choreography, setting up the lights, and creating the environment. Then came the final part — filming and editing.
If you commit a time slot for your creative habits, it helps your prepare and gets all the other aspects sorted, so that you can get to the creation part right away. The most effective way to turn your goal into a habit is to plan ahead. And blocking time for it is the first step.
Creativity is a habit. And the best creativity is the result of good work habits. — Twlya Tharp
For such creative habits, you should also spend some time evaluating if creating daily is the best way to go forward. For instance, Anthony Ongaro from Break The Twitch took up daily videos challenge for 30 days and while it helped him a lot, his parting words were —
“At the end of the 30 days I was underslept, had close to 200 gigabytes of raw video files from the project, and couldn’t wait to ditch the camera on my hip. It was such a relief to not think about filming and getting the two hours per night back from what would have been my nightly editing.”
With creative habits, such streaks might help you get into the habit of executing quickly, but in the long term, you can fix a few filming days in a week to avoid burnout. The same goes for writing as well. You can utilize some days in planning so that your execution is much smoother.
3. Strengthen Your ‘Why’
Why do we fail to commit our goals despite making all efforts to stay accountable? Why is tracking habits in your bullet journal or sharing daily updates about your progress on social media/with your accountability partner, not enough?Because without revisiting your ‘why’s, you quickly lose the willpower to keep showing up. Therefore, invest some time to read and understand more about the habits. Keep reminding yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing.
For instance, having understood that all the best dancers in the world train for at least 3 hours every day in their respective dance styles, makes me committed to my daily dance training. I know that to become a good dancer, I need to put in the hours to train my body.
Find your why and you’ll find your way. — John C Maxwell
Associating long-term goals with your daily habits is one of the best ways to stick with them. Create a goals page right next to your habit tracker so that every time you log your daily entry, you are reminded why you are doing it in the first place.
For instance, when you struggle to make a video, remind yourself of your long-term goal to make money on YouTube. When you struggle to write, remind yourself of your goal to get published with the top publications. When you don’t feel like reading a book, remind yourself of your long-term goal of being more well-read and having an expansive vocabulary.
This way, your mind will start forming positive associations to the habit and there will be much less resistance to fight with.Building a positive habit can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days. Regularity in time and environment is at the core of building a new habit. However, having the right mindset and having a strategic approach to habit-building will help in overcoming obstacles that will come your way. Hope you found the above-mentioned tips useful.