Learning from my failure - how to keep a habit

OK. I’ll admit it. I suck. For the purpose of this article I’m referring to my writing ability. Everything else is open to debate

I wrote back in January (here) about resolutions and why many people fail to keep theirs. At the time I was writing reasonably regularly but was oblivious to how I was setting myself up for failure. This is not all bad though, recognising where, and why, we fall down is the best way to get back on the path we want to go down. 'A bit of humility goes a long way’ as my Mum like to say.

A study that’s been thrown around a lot recently is this one by UCL . “It takes on average 66 days to form a habit’. I don’t mean to poke a hornet’s nest, it’s been referenced so many times, but DOES IT? After reading through the study 66 days is the average for THIS report in which habits became ‘automatic’ with the range being from 18 to 284 days.
My first thought that sprung to mind is “18 days to become automatic”. That’s not even 3 weeks. The habits in this study that achieved this were really small and simple such as ‘a glass of water after breakfast'. Complex exercise routines on the other hand often took months.

After reading other great work from BJ Fogg, Power of Habit & James Clear’s newsletters, it became clearer how to hack the whole habit forming process.

Start with why

What is it you want to accomplish? Are you just doing this because you think you should or because you know it would make your life more fulfilling/better/easier once you’ve achieved it. Remember –* If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. Sounds really cheesy, but that doesn’t make it less true.

Don’t start small…start tiny

Breakdown what you want to achieve to the simplest starting point. I’ve often said to various people the hardest part of running is tying your shoelaces. I find the resistance to not run is highest at this point and the excuses to not run come flooding into my head. Very rarely once I’m outside do I go back in. So if your goal is to run, make your tiny habit ‘Tying your trainer laces and going out the door then go back in’. It sounds so simple, but how often have we failed to stick at something because our ego takes over and made it too complex. What you do is not nearly as important as what is happening on the habitual level. You are changing your personal character by committing and accomplishing your goal. No longer will you be the type of person that doesn’t succeed in sticking to your goal As long as you keep it simple and acheiveable. Don’t make my mistake. Now my tiny habit is to write ’10 words a day in Evernote after my shower’.

Motivation vs ability

Hopefully this demonstrates why making it as easy as possible for you is vital for it to work. When we start something new, motivation is usually high, particularly when someone has recently inspired you. The problem starts later when you have had a bad or tiring day and you fail to do what you ‘promised’ to yourself you would commit to. Keeping it easy means that even when you can’t be bothered you still do it

The process of forming a successful habit

Follow the 5Rs and you’ll be setting yourself up for success.

REMINDER - attach your new habit to something you already do. For me I write after a shower. The earlier you do this in the day the better. Willpower is like a muscle and can deplete.

ROUTINE - the behaviour itself

REWARD - Tell yourself ‘well done’ or do an Andy Murray fist pump. This will lock into your brain that you are doing something worth repeating. A little bit of dopamine goes a long way to increasing the chance you will repeat it the next time.

RESIST - to make it too complex. Remove the ego, keep doing your tiny habit. It is often the most difficult thing. I always want to make things harder than they ned to be.

REVIEW - After a week or 2 how are you doing? If it is going well see it though to the end of the month. If it isn’t try and address why. Maybe you made it too hard, or didn’t attach it to a particular reminder to trigger it. We don’t always succeed in what we plan, but it is just as important to kow how to correct it. Don’t be disheartened, it happens to everyone!

I find keeping a physical sheet with boxes to tick if I’ve done my habit I’ve set that day very helpful. Don’t panic if you miss a day, just make sure you do it the day after. The research shows missing a day does not have a major impact as long as you get back on the horse. Missing 2 days in a row will often lead to failure

Knowledge is not enough, we must do. Willing is not enough, we must try’.

If you found this interesting and useful make a plan and write down what you are going to change and what is your tiny habit. I’ll try and help anyone in the comments. This will also help me on my 10 words a day!