Habits can be strategically used to help you meet personal and professional goals in the short and long term. When you’re ready to start building some new habits, follow these three steps to set yourself up for habit-forming success.
Preparation is key to success when seeking to build new habits or make other impactful life changes.
- Commit to a certain length of time to keep your goals actionable and time-sensitive. While your goal may be to speak French fluently, start by pledging to listen to language tapes 5 times a week for 3 months. Making SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Related) will break down larger, abstract tasks into smaller habits you can process easily.
- Think of your habit in terms of goals and quotas. Your goal is the big picture, the end result—speaking French fluently. Quotas will help you stay on task and will build up to help you reach the goal—like listening to language tapes.
- Assemble the tools you need. Whether you require specialty supplies, or simple organizational tools, be prepared in advance to remove possible roadblocks that will throw you off course or sap your willpower.
Create a Trigger
Choosing a trigger is ideal for prompting the habit formation process, as it fits within your existing routine rather than fighting against it and requiring large amounts of willpower.
- Visual Triggers: A visual trigger is an object or item whose presence reminds you of the action you need to complete. It can be putting your dry cleaning in your car the night before to remind you to drop it off the next day, a sticky-note on top of an important paper as a ‘flag’ to review the contents, or an eye-catching document box to prompt you to file the documents contained within.
- If-Then Triggers: The if-then system relies on forming associations between actions, times, and/or locations to encourage habit formation. Think of statements like, “If it is 4pm, then I will return any waiting voicemails,” or “If I need to go to the bank, then I will get gas at the gas station nearby.” Writing down these intentions in a notebook at first can help ingrain them in your mind.
Combining several triggers and resulting habit actions into behavior chains can be helpful for fitting into overall goals of scheduling, time-management, and routine building. For example, use your momentum from cooking dinner to immediately clean up afterward and then pack lunches for tomorrow before rewarding yourself with some relaxing down-time.
Track Your Progress
It’s easy to get burned out when pursuing a long-term habit, especially if progress seems slow at first. Keep track of your progress to have a clear record of your commitment to your new habit to review when you feel discouraged, and to better appreciate your journey when you look back in the future. You can use a notebook for rapid logging and habit tracking, mark completed days off on a planner, or write reminders on a wall board. Figure out the method that is easiest for you to stick to and makes you feel accomplished.
Above all else, personalize and perfect your habit-forming process to become better at working within your limitations. What are your favorite tricks for establishing a new habit?