Habit Building: 3 Tips to Help You Succeed in Building Habits and Other Areas of Your Life

By: Rodaina Ibrahim

The desire to build new habits and discard old ones has become almost a norm, especially during the new year. It is something trying to build a new habit, and something else entirely to succeed. Maybe you want to start going to the gym more often, or you want to eat healthier. Whatever it is, it is something you are going to have to work towards, work hard to achieve.

But what is a habit? It is something that is done without little to no thought, like brushing your teeth or drinking coffee. According to an article published in the Harvard Business Review, “research shows that around half of our daily actions are driven by repetition.” Habits govern most of our life, but that does not mean they are easy. They are hard to build and even harder to break.

So, what can you do to turn a behavior into a habit? The behavior has to go through an important stage first: routine.

Unlike a habit, a routine is something that is deliberate, frequent, and takes effort. When you first try to establish a behavior as a habit, it will be hard. Here are some tips to help you along the way:

Choose Wisely

As the Harvard Business Review says, you need to pick carefully. This is because not all behavior can become habits. Some behaviors simply cannot become a habit, like journaling or cleaning your apartment, “they’re not effortless behaviors that can be done without conscious thought.” This means that if you want to learn a new skill, like playing an instrument, you can’t really turn that into a habit. Make sure to pick something that has the potential to become a behavior with little to no thought put into it. Examples may include waking up early, walking to work, or reading before bed.

Be Realistic

Sometimes we shoot for the moon, but never make it to the stars. Instead of being extremely ambitious, try planning realistically. If you have never read a book for a long time, it does not make sense to decide to finish a book a week. Go easy. Make a realistic and well-thought out plan to either get rid of a habit or create a new one. Take into consideration your past failures, your personality, what you know will work for you. According to a CNN article, How to build a habit in 5 steps, according to science, it is best to create a detailed plan.

“A plan like ‘I’ll study Spanish for 30 minutes, five days a week’ is OK. But a detailed, cue-based plan like ‘Every workday after my last meeting, I’ll spend 30 minutes studying Spanish in my office’ is much more likely to stick as a habit.”

Do slot in some flexibility as well. Life sometimes gets in the way, so be prepared for that. If you are busy after work and not able to study Spanish, for example, reschedule for a different time. Your habit should not stop your entire life, it should become a part of it

Start Small and be Patient

This is related to the point above; go slow. Don’t start setting big goals. Let's stick with the reading example. You are someone who wants to make reading a habit, and decide that setting a yearly reading goal is a good idea. You are feeling ambitious, it being the new year and all, and decide to set it for 100 books. There is nothing wrong with a little ambition, but small steps are usually better. Maybe aim for 10 books instead. If you read more, amazing for you! That would be a great boost of confidence. If you find yourself lagging behind, the number is small enough that you will be able to catch up.

What if you don’t make it? Look into that a bit more. Maybe you outgrew the idea and it no longer brings you meaning. Maybe you employed the wrong tactics. Maybe you aimed too high. Whatever the reason, don’t lose your patience. Some habits might take a couple weeks, some might take even longer. Instead of giving up on a habit you still want to build, weaponize your failure. Look at what prevented you from success and then how to go around it. Maybe try reading smaller books, genres you actually enjoy, or even simply surround yourself with more books.

So, it might be a bit strange seeing a blog post about habit building on a parenting blog. If you think about it, it's not so strange. Parents might want to start implementing a new rule, or want to build better habits so their children can learn from them. All of these tips, although they are tailored for habits, they can be applied in other areas as well. Habits, events, or implementing new skills can always benefit from specificity and a little bit of planning. In addition, how to build habits is a good skill to teach children, making them feel more independent and capable.