Everyone has a bad habit or two that’s holding them back. For some, it’s checking their smartphone first thing in the morning and losing track of time. For others, it’s something more serious like smoking. Whatever your bad habit is, there’s a better habit that can replace it.
But establishing good habits is easier said than done. It takes a lot of self-mastery and persistence to make a lasting life change. Fortunately, there are strategies you can use to make beneficial habits come more easily. Here are five ways to establish good habits in your own life:
1. Identify Bad Habits to Replace
To kick off your self-improvement program, start by identifying your bad habits. In order to make way for good habits, you need to kick negative ones to the curb. Otherwise, your improvement efforts will be canceled out.
Take weight loss, for example, one of the most common personal goals out there. In order to meet your goal, you’ll need to add physical activity to your daily routine and eat healthy. You won’t see nearly as much progress if you add exercise to your schedule but keep your bad eating habits.
Additionally, it’s difficult to get a good habit to take root when you still indulge in a bad one. By continuing to eat fast food every day, you’ll lack the energy and drive needed to make exercise a regular occurrence. Replace your poor eating with a healthy diet, and adopting a daily exercise habit will come much more easily.
2. Get the Right Apps
You’re already used to carrying your smartphone around all day, so you might as well put it to good use. Instead of using it to text and browse through social media, download an app to help you automate better habits. There’s an application for almost every single habit you want to adopt.
Let’s say you want to save more, whether to amass an emergency fund or pay for a dream vacation. Downloading a savings app to direct your efforts will make sure your savings habit lasts for longer than a few weeks. There are also debit cards that have connecting apps that allow you to view your spending and control your savings. By using this resource, you are able to round up your purchases to the nearest dollar and add the difference to your savings account. This makes the saving habit automatic.
Fitness apps are extremely popular for making workouts a regular habit. They use gamification to help you celebrate even the smallest achievements, like a two-week workout streak or reaching a personal record. As the app becomes ingrained into your daily life, you’ll be motivated to “get your steps” each day.
3. Stick to a Schedule
Good habits don’t establish themselves. You don’t just fall into a half hour of strength training the way you might, say, a half hour of social media scrolling. It takes discipline to make a good habit become a part of you. To make that happen, you’ll need to keep a calendar handy.
Sticking to a schedule will train your mind and body to commit to better habits. For example, making time for meditation might be tough at first. But when it’s simply the thing you do every day at 7 a.m., the new habit will feel automatic instead of forced. When an activity is planned in your calendar, it’s much more difficult to avoid it. It will gradually become a part of your regular routine.
Staying up too late watching television or playing video games is one bad habit far too many are guilty of. Doing so ruins your sleep, making it difficult to wake up in the morning for work or establish other healthy morning routines. To make good sleep a habit, add a specific bedtime to your schedule. You might feel like a kid initially, but as it becomes second nature, you’ll feel more refreshed each day.
4. Leverage the Power of Association
There’s a lot of power that comes with association. This is the mental link you have that automatically connects objects, senses, or activities. Some associations are simple, like connecting the color blue with the sky or the act of exercising with perspiration and fatigue. Others are more complex and can even be created to help you establish better habits.
Remember Pavlov’s dog? The Russian physiologist ran a famous experiment showing the power of association and conditioning. He taught his dogs to associate the sound of a metronome with feeding time. Soon enough, the dogs would salivate upon hearing the ticking of a metronome regardless of whether food appeared or not.
You can use this principle to create associations with the habits you wish to form. Need to improve your focus while working at home? Carve out a particular space that you associate with work time. Play the same music or white noise playlist when working each day to get yourself in the right headspace. These tricks of association will help you concentrate on the tasks at hand rather than the many distractions that fill your home.
5. Enlist an Accountability Buddy
The truth is that developing better habits is difficult on your own. Keeping a commitment is much easier when you have someone to push you through difficult days and keep you accountable to your goals.
Find someone to regularly report your habit-building progress to. This could be a partner, an exercise buddy, or a co-worker who struggles with a similar habit (e.g., smoking). Talk with them at regular intervals about the progress you’ve made. Occasionally you’ll have to own up to failures, which will happen from time to time.
When you know you have to report your efforts to someone else, you’ll be more likely to follow through. The thought of turning up empty-handed week after week is a powerful (albeit negative) motivator. Soon you won’t need your accountability pal anymore because you will have made your new habit a part of your daily rhythm.
To start your self-improvement journey, write down the good habits you want to develop and the bad ones you want to replace. Keep this two-part list somewhere you will see it often to remind yourself of what you’re working for. Then, use the strategies above to start creating positive habits that will become ingrained. With enough perseverance, these new, improved habits will be the tough ones to break.