Habit involves several scenes, for instance, reminders, motivation, commitment, accountability, resistance with mindset, distractions, overcoming distractions and etc. In realistic, one of the first reasons people often mess up the habit is they forget to do it in the first place. That is, it is not automatic yet and accordingly you need a reminder in place. After a few weeks, if you are fairly consistent, you probably will not need a reminder anymore, though it does not hurt to keep it for a few more weeks.
This is actually recommended for having more than one reminder at least one digital reminder, and one physical one.
The favorite physical reminders include: (1) a big note (“Meditate,” for example) near where your trigger happens — for example, near your coffeemaker if starting your coffee in the morning is the trigger, (2) a note on your laptop or phone, if that is the first thing you reach for in the morning, (3) An object, like a little Buddha statue if you want to meditate, placed where you will be sure to see it, (4) the equipment you need for the habit — for example, running shoes or a meditation cushion — placed near your bed or somewhere else you will be sure not to miss it, (5) a rubber band or bracelet on your wrist, which is good if you are doing an irregular habit (like chewing your nails when you are nervous) and you do not know when the trigger will occur, (6) a picture that reminds you why you are doing the habit — your kids, if you are doing it for their sake, for example.
Talking about physical reminders, if placed where you will see them when you are supposed to do the habit, are excellent. And digital reminders are also very helpful. Here is some examples: (1) a phone reminder or alarm, (2) A calendar alert, (3) a desktop picture/wallpaper on your computer that reminds you of the habit (or the reason you’re doing the habit), (4) an app (like a habit app or meditation app) that reminds you to do the habit, (5) your browser home page set to something related to the habit and (6) an email reminder — automated, or from a good friend.
This is to suggest that you pick one from the physical category and another from the digital category as you are getting started with your habit. A good combo to start with is a phone reminder and a note placed near your trigger. If that does not work for you, try another from each category, dropping the old ones if they were not right for you. Lastly, you will find what works best.
Questions About Reminders
A couple good questions about reminders that people have asked: Question: How can I set reminders that are unobtrusive to others? Answer: My favorite reminders are physical — a small note somewhere you will see it (“meditate” on a small piece of paper perhaps) or a small physical object like a rock or flower could serve as an unobtrusive reminder. Or put your running shoes, yoga mat, meditation cushion by your bed, perhaps. Another idea is to wear a bracelet or rubber band around your wrist as a way to remember. But if you can not find physical reminder that is unobtrusive to others, try a digital reminder — maybe a phone reminder that goes off at the
same time each day, an email reminder if you check email often, a desktop wallpaper or phone lock screen wallpaper that will remind you of your habit.
Question: My reminders tend to lose effectiveness over time — how can I combat this?
Answer: It is good that you are aware of this! You can combat it by noticing when your reminder is not working, and setting up a physical reminder instead. Or ask others for help in reminding you. Create different digital reminders each week so you do not start ignoring them. Or make a huge commitment with a big consequence so you can not possibly ignore your reminders. The bigger the stakes, the less likely you are to forget.
Why do you want to form your habit? It is a question you should take a little time contemplating. If the answer is something like, “It would be cool to journal every day,” or “It would be nice to have abs,” or something along those lines … then the reason is not very strong. You are not that motivated. And the problem is that when you face resistance, you are not likely to push through that resistance if your motivation is not very strong. You are more likely to skip the habit on the days you feel resistance, feel guilty about it, and miss doing it the next day too.
If you have strong motivation, however, you’re much more likely to push through the resistance. So what are some strong motivations? Here are some examples (some will be stronger for some people than others): (1) your health is suffering and your doctor said you’ll die if you don’t change your diet, (2) you badly need the money (from writing an ebook, for example) to feed your family, (3) you are in physical pain and need to stretch, do yoga, and go walking to relieve the pain and (4) You set up a really embarrassing consequence (you will have to sing in front of a crowd, for example — if that is embarrassing for you) and you definitely aren’t going to let that happen.
Those are pretty good motivations. But there is found that the best motivations are emotional ones. And the best emotional motivation, in my experience, is love. For example, here are some deeper motivations that come from a place of love: (1) you are doing this habit out of love for your family, to make a better life for them, (2) you are trying to set a healthy example for your spouse or parents or siblings, in hopes of inspiring them to make healthy changes, out of love for them, (3) you doing the habit with hopes of setting a good example for your kids, and perhaps inspiring them … out of love for them, (4) you are doing this habit out of love for yourself, to make your life better, to make yourself healthier or happier and (5) you want to create something that will help others, out of love for them.
In each of these examples, you are trying to help other people or yourself, out of love for them (or yourself). These are beautiful reasons, and if you think of your love for them, you might be moved emotionally. That is a great thing. As you consider your habit, think about your why. And have a deeper why. Then think of your deeper why as you get started each day with the habit — let this emotional reason move you to push through the resistance. When it first started trying to change my habits, it would just get started. It would say, “I’m going to write every morning, from now on,” or “I’m going to quit smoking, starting today.” Guess how well that went? Starting a habit casually means you are not fully committed. It is like saying to someone, “Hey, why don’t we get married today?” If you have not given it a lot of thought, and you do not make a big commitment, you are not fully in it. And then when the resistance comes up, you are out.
So fully commit to the habit. This is to suggest that you make a big commitment, and even make a vow. A vow is something you hold sacred, and will not easily abandon when things get tough. Here is how to make a big commitment and a vow: first, give it some thought. Ask yourself why you’re doing this (as in the last chapter), why you’re moved to commit to this. Ask how much time and effort this will take, and whether you have space for it. Ask whether you’re all in or not, second, write it down. If you are not willing to write a few paragraphs about this habit, you’re not fully committed. Write your commitment on paper, write a plan for reminders, accountability, and more. What will you do when resistance comes up?, third, make a vow. Again, a vow is something you hold sacred. So make a vow, by yourself or in front of someone else. Write it down and then say it out loud: “I vow to meditate every day out of love for myself and my family.”, Fourth, make a big public commitment. Tell everyone about it. Yes, sometimes telling people about your goal disperses your actual commitment to the goal, but you’re going to take the next step (accountability) so it will not happen that way for you. Tell everyone on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram about your commitment to this new habit. Or email everyone you know. Tell everyone in your office. And ask everyone to ask you about it at least weekly, fifth, ask people to hold you accountable. A good friend will not let you off the hook for your commitment. Ask your best friends, your spouse, everyone you know you can count on, to hold you accountable. Ask them to check in with you, or promise to check in with them daily. Maybe even set an unmissable consequence (more on all this in upcoming chapters).
Compare the above process of making a big commitment with the idea of just slipping into the habit without a commitment. One will keep you on the path when resistance arises, the other probably will not. The Inertia of Getting Started and when you are contemplating starting a new habit, there are two common scenarios: (1) you are not super excited and you want to get started right away; or (2) you are not super excited and you keep putting off getting started.
The second scenario, of procrastinating the start of a new habit because of inertia, is fixable. Here is what we suggest: (1) ask someone for help. Tell them you need a shove to get started, ask them to make you commit and check in with them, and then make a commitment and start, (2) make the habit super small. This makes it easier to start — it should be so easy you can’t say no and (3) Figure out your deeper motivation (as per the last chapter).
This motivation should be stronger than the inertia. If it is not, consider finding another habit that is more important to you. This will sound contradictory, coming directly after the chapter that asks you to “fully commit,” but it’s possible to overdo it in the beginning. We often start very motivated, and set big goals like, “I will quit my Bad Habit cold turkey from now on” or “I will exercise for 30 minutes every day”, but then everything falls apart once we mess up a bit. If you fail to quit the Bad Habit, you feel guilty and feel like a failure. If you can not find the energy to exercise 30 minutes every single day, the entire habit can collapse. How do we overcome this problem? By starting small — as It is said, this is possibly the most important technique in creating a new habit.
First, do not start by trying to quit a bad habit. Lots of people have bad habits they want to quit, but you shouldn’t even attempt it until you’ve formed several good habits first (like meditation, doing some pushups or yoga, journaling, etc.). If you start by trying to quit a bad habit, you are setting yourself up for failure. Second, when you start a new habit, make a huge commitment (public accountability, a big consequence) … but make the habit small. As small as you can. Meditate for just two minutes, but make it incredibly embarrassing if you fail two days in a row, for example. So don’t overdo the habit, but commit big.
Accountability with consequences has been one of the most effective techniques in getting me to push through resistance. It’s worked for some of my biggest goals: (1) when I ran my first marathon, I wrote about it every two weeks in my local newspaper, and people from all over Guam (where I lived) cheered me on for an entire year as I trained. I finished that marathon, (2) when I ran my first (and only) 50-mile ultramathon, I trained with my friend Scott — having the accountability of him waiting for me for long training runs guaranteed that I’d be there. We finished that run, (3) once I did a diet challenge where my friend Tynan promised, if I did not stick to the challenge, to throw a pie in my face, record it on video, and post it online. I knew that I’d never let that happen, and I stuck with the challenge for six months, (4) I have done pushup and sketching challenges with my family, where we all did the challenge every day for a month and reported in to each other, and I have had group challenges with friends where we report in every day via a Google Spreadsheet, so we can all see each others’ progress (or lack thereof). So, some of those challenges had rewards and negative consequences.
Those are just a few examples, but I have used variations on these ideas many times over the last 10 years, with lots of success. Every time I think accountability (and big consequences) would help me stick to a habit or goal, I find a way to make it happen. Here are some variations on these ideas that might be helpful: first, Challenges with a group: This is one of my favorite ways of setting up accountability. People seem to love to say yes to group challenges. Set up a way to report every day (a shared online spreadsheet, Facebook, email, etc.). Embarrassing consequences for failing, or a big reward at the end of the challenge, are helpful. A good length of a challenge is 2-3 weeks, or a month at the longest, second, accountability partner: Having a running or workout partner has helped me stick to exercise over the years. Just knowing that my sister (my running partner at the time) was going to be waiting in the cold and darkness at 5 a.m. if I didn’t get out of bed to join her for a run is enough of a push for me, and would be for most people, third, peer group: I check in with peers every week to let them know how my work projects are going. I just start a weekly email thread every Monday, and we all report in. And it’s helpful to know that support is there. Some people like to check in via video chat every week or two, fourth, big public commitment: Tell everyone you know, online or off, about your commitment to your habit. Ask them to check in on you. Set a big consequence for not checking in and sticking with your habit, fifth, a class or in-person group. A meditation group is a great way to stick to meditating regularly. A drawing or language class will help you practice activities like that regularly. You do not just practice when the class or group meets — you often will practice between classes as well, and sixth, online forum: If you can’t do any of the above, find an online forum of other people trying to do the same thing as you. I found a smoking cessation group online when I was quitting smoking and it helped a lot to connect with people who were going through the same thing as me, who’d had some success and knew what worked. I promised them that I wouldn’t smoke without posting on the forum first, and that commitment was helpful. I have used online forums to support my running habit, weight loss, and more.
If none of the above work for you, just find one person you trust, and ask them to hold you accountable. Report to them daily. Set a consequence for not checking in or sticking to what you’re committed to doing. Accountability works because as humans, we’re social animals. We don’t like to look bad in the eyes of our peers, and we like to look good. So if we’re a part of a group, we’ll do our best to stick to something. Consequences work because we don’t want to embarrass ourselves, so we’ll do whatever we can to avoid the consequences. You should make the consequence as embarrassing as possible, so you definitely will not let it happen – I call this an “unmissable consequence” because it’s so strong I definitely won’t miss doing my habit. And you should make the habit so easy you will definitely do it every single day, no matter what.
Resistance comes up for every habit — for every difficult task we set before ourselves, actually. Our usual response is to run from that resistance. It is a mental habit that we all have very strongly ingrained in us: we tend to avoid even thinking about the resistance. Think about the last time you skipped doing a habit (or a difficult task like a report) for a couple days — most likely, you didn’t even want to think about that habit. You felt guilty, you dreaded thinking about the habit, so you distracted yourself with other things. You put off dealing with it or even thinking about it until later. We all do this. Faced with resistance, we run. This has the consequence of making things more difficult for us, unfortunately. When we avoid thinking about the exercise habit or eating healthy, our health becomes worse. We avoid thinking about finances or clutter and those just pile up. We avoid thinking about our habits of distraction and procrastination and those make our lives more difficult.
So what is the alternative to running? Facing the resistance with mindfulness. Instead of avoiding, actually turn to the resistance. Look it in the face. Try to really see it. Be curious about it: what is it like? How does it feel in your body? What kind of energy does it have and where is it located, physically? What effects is it causing in you and your life? When we turn towards the resistance, we are making the courageous decision to stay with it, to accept that it is there, to work with it instead of rejecting it. Try this — notice what resistance you’ve had lately (anything you’ve procrastinated on). And turn towards it for just a minute: (1) see that you have been resisting, (2) see what story you’ve been telling yourself about that resistance, (3) What rationalizations do you have for procrastinating?, (4) see how the resistance feels, physically, in your body. Be curious about it, and see it with a friendly gaze, (5) notice the stress in your body that results from the resistance and (6) Send compassion, love, friendliness to this feeling of stress, to the resistance you’re feeling.
It takes practice. This is a compassionate act, a friendly act. It is like telling a friend, “Hey, I’m not going to run from you when you’re having difficulty, I’m going to stay with you, listen to you, give you a hug, give you love.” Except that instead of a friend, it is ourselves. Practice working with your resistance in this friendly way, and see if you are then freed to act despite the resistance. You can feel the resistance, turn towards it, send compassion towards it, and then do the habit despite the resistance.
One of the tricks that helped me start the running habit was so simple you’d think it would not work. The trick was to tell myself that all I had to do was lace up my shoes and get out the door. That is all I had to do.
It worked. That was such a simple habit that I could not really say no to it. I laced up my shoes, got out the door, and then inevitably I would start running. I did not have to run far, just start moving … but once I started moving, going a little further was an easy proposition. I learned from this experience that the most important moment of any habit is the moment of starting. That is because if you do not start, you are not doing the habit. And lots of us put off the moment of starting, so that we do not do the habit at all. So just get started. Tell yourself that all you have to do each day is just start the habit. Just start.
Accordingly here are some examples: (1) if you’re going to meditate, all you have to do is get your butt on the cushion, (2) if your habit is sketching, just put your pencil on the paper, (3) if your habit is writing, just write the first sentence, (4) if your habit is doing yoga, just start with child’s pose, (5) if your habit is lifting weights, just do the first warmup set, (6) if your habit is eating healthier, just have one bite of a vegetable and (7) if your habit is flossing, just floss one tooth.
It is that simple. Focus on the moment of starting, tell yourself you do not have to do anything else, and then do that one moment with the intention of love. I have found that one of the biggest pitfalls when you are trying to create a new habit is when you start missing days. If you’ve got a good habit streak going, everything is great … until you miss a day or two. When you miss a day, the mind seems to dislike the breaking of the streak. All the good feelings you had about getting a good streak going are now turned into disappointment and guilt. You feel like you let yourself down. And what does the mind do as a result of these bad feelings? It avoids even thinking about the habit. If you remember that you’re supposed to do the habit, you are likely to turn away from thinking about it, push it back into the deep recesses of your mind. This problem compounds if you keep missing days, until you don’t want to think about the habit at all. Missing one day does not seem to be a big problem, although it’s not the best. Sometimes missing a day is unavoidable — you get sick, you have a visitor, a crisis comes up. But if you can avoid missing two days, you should. So here’s the rule you might try sticking to: if you miss a day, no problem, just start again the next day. But do everything you can to not miss two days. Write it down, ask someone for help, set some consequences. Actually, setting a big embarrassing consequence for missing two days in a row is a great idea. If you do not miss two days in a row, you are much more likely to stick to the habit. And you’ll learn that it’s not a big deal to miss a day, as long as you get back on it.
Wanting to give up after missing a day. A common issue is missing a day of your habit, and then wanting to give up.
The rule of “never missing two days in a row” helps with this, because you anticipate missing a day now and then … but you’re committed to not letting that ruin your habit. You know that the habit will not go perfectly, and will have disruptions … but you are practicing starting again as soon as you get disrupted. What if you want to give up? Ask for help. Ask a friend to stop you from giving up. Talk to them (or journal) about why you’re feeling like giving up. Dig into your resistance, face it with mindfulness, and then remind yourself of your deeper motivation.
Here’s a common scenario: you plan to do your habit, and then you face distractions from things online or from people around you. How do you overcome distractions and focus on doing the habit? First, it is good to become aware that you’re being distracted. See that you intended to do the habit but then got pulled away. What are your biggest distractions? What are you running from? Second, be mindful of your resistance, as we discussed in a previous chapter. Stay with it instead of running to distractions. Third, ask others for help. If it’s distracting with people around, ask those people to push you to do your habit even when you’re around. Fourth, change your environment. Get away from others when you need to do your habit (if possible). Close your browser and email program if you are trying to journal (for example). Whatever your distractions are, shut them down or go somewhere that they’re not a problem, to make things easier on you. Fifth, set up strong consequences and accountability if needed. It will help you overcome the resistance and distractions.
It is a fact of life: we all get sick sometimes. Also, many of us need to travel several times during the year. Or we have a family crisis, a huge work project takes all our waking hours, a loved one gets sick, or we have visitors to our homes. These are some of the more common habit disruptions. And we can’t always control the disruptions, so learning to deal with them is an essential habit skill. There are two ways I suggest dealing with these kinds of common disruptions, and either will work:
First, anticipate and adjust. If you know that you’re going to have a visitor, or you’re traveling, or a big project is coming up that will change your schedule … anticipate this change in advance and see if you can change your habit so that you can still do it. For example, get up a little earlier and meditate in a different room if a visitor is disrupting your usual meditation schedule and location. Or set extra reminders to do your habit in your hotel room if you’re traveling. However, you can’t always anticipate disruptions — getting sick or having a family crisis aren’t predictable. So then try the next method.
Second, restart as soon as possible. When you get disrupted, then you simply need to start again as soon as you can. When you notice you’re getting disrupted (you come down with a cold, for example), simply let the habit go for the moment, and set a reminder to restart your habit to go off in a few days. When the illness or trip or crisis is over, recommit yourself and simply start again. Don’t let it become a big deal that you got disrupted — just restart.
Therefore, disruptions do not have to be the end of the world. Just be a little more mindful when they happen, and either adjust or start again when the disruption is over. Treat them like small bumps in the road, and take them in stride. This article is from Leo Babauta, THE HABIT GUIDE, under uncopyrighted.