5 Steps to Create A New Habit
We all live with our habits. They stem from how we sleep to how we get up in the morning. Habits are both physical and mental – how we move, walk and talk; what we choose to see and hear; what and how we think. They’re rooted very deeply in our mind and create grooves so they go on operating without our awareness.
I always suggest that when students want to make positive changes in their life that they create new habits. The reason for this is because it is much easier to implement a new habit that it is to try to break an old habit. Many try to break habits and get caught into the cycle of repeated failure. This is not good and we feel bad about ourselves. Instead of breaking the habit, find something that you want to do, and start doing it. Over time, that creates a new groove and a positive habit is born.
Here’s a practical way to create a new habit from the book, Feeling Good Matters:
Step 1: Recognize you need to change and decide you will.
Beginning with a self-inquiry journal will make it easier to see what habits inhibited you in the past. Don’t judge yourself. Simply remain CALM (consciously aware of living in the moment). When you live in the moment, you’re able to distinguish those habits that help you and those that create problems for you. You’re also able to have more clarity in what’s bothering you and what needs to be done. This is helpful in coming up with an exit strategy.
Step 2: Identify the habit you want to create.
Write down your goal and a means to it. If your goal is to feel good, begin by regulating your sleep/wake time. Or pick a smaller goal, like walking 1,000 steps after eating dinner – something fun. Stick to it for 40 days; I’ve found that people are likely to revert to their old habits in less time.
The suggested habits here aren’t to be done for a specific time and then stopped. They’re designed to be incorporated into your life. If you slip, start again and simply acknowledge that you lapsed. Then pause, observe, detach from any judgment and resolve that you want to do it, you can do it and you will do it. The process is known as sankalpa in yoga science. Keep going by starting again, and soon you’ll find that you’re building momentum. The new behavior will become a habit. The old groove will be abandoned.
Step 3: Be systematic and realistic.
Make sure to practice the new habit at approximately the same time each day. For example, if you want to adopt daily meditation, designate an optimum time of day, one that will work for 40 days. If the activity proves problematic, refer to Step 5. When you don’t have time to practice the habit, like meditation, just sit on your meditation seat for one minute before heading out the door or going to bed. By performing the act of sitting, even for one minute, you enforce new behavior and support a roadway to change. It’s important to work within your capacity, not create something too difficult to enjoy and pursue.
Step 4: Be consistent and persistent.
Instilling a habit requires about 40 days, so for the first month, you must act deliberately and maintain your schedule. Habits certainly can be modified once they’re adopted, but early in the process, strict adherence is important. For example, when it’s inconvenient to practice the new habit, your mind will allure you by saying, “You really don’t need to do this today.” In fact, allurement by our senses can be so convincing that even the most resolute person will want to skip a day. Do not skip.
Consistent attention to newly formed habits is akin to stoking a fire. Left unattended, the flames diminish and expire. Miss a day or two of a new practice and risk losing the progress you’ve made. It’s important to understand this concept from the beginning. Ask a dieter about this phenomenon. She’ll tell you about her optimism at the outset but, after exceeding the diet’s guidelines, it was extremely difficult to make the changes necessary to start anew.
Step 5: Be flexible.
A martial arts teacher once sent me into a tournament with the sage advice to “be bamboo.” He knew that being flexible like bamboo would help me to remain standing and unbroken when pressured. The ability to change within a habit, when appropriate, can make an action more readily habit forming. If scheduling your meditation time becomes a burden, be flexible. Tension builds if you become too rigid with rules. Over-tighten a guitar string and it’ll break; restrict yourself too much and your good intentions could fail. Useful habits should bring joy, not only in their effect but in performing them.
Think about it for a moment. If you create a new habit every 40 days, over the course of a year you will have formed 9 new and sustainable ones. This has the capacity to transform your life giving you the freedom and fulfillment that will support feeling good.