Whether it’s studying more, learning a new language, or saying no to a piece of chocolate cake at lunch, I think we can all agree – new habits are hard to develop. Actually, scratch that, for those of us who can pretty much do anything for one day, they’re hard to maintain. This is why the book Atomic Habits by James Clear is so cool! He actually breaks down the science of habits. Even better, it’s a science that’s easy to understand. See below for his top 3 tips on forming and maintaining habits you can apply to school, work, fitness goals, and beyond!
1. Start with a habit that is so easy you can’t say no.
The most important part of building a new habit is staying consistent. It doesn’t matter how well you perform on any individual day. Sustained effort is what makes the real difference.
For that reason, when you start a new habit it should be so easy that you can’t say no to it. In fact, when starting a new behavior it should be so easy that it’s almost laughable.
- Want to build an exercise habit? Your goal is to exercise for 1 minute today.
- Want to start a writing habit? Your goal is to write three sentences today.
- Want to create a healthy eating habit? Your goal is to eat one healthy meal this week.
2. Take some time to understand exactly what is holding you back.
I recently spoke with a reader named Jane. She wanted to exercise consistently, but had always thought that she was, in her words, “the type of person who didn’t like to workout.”
Jane decided to break the habit down and realized that it wasn’t actually exercising that bothered her. Instead, she didn’t like the hassle of getting ready for the gym, driving somewhere for 20 minutes, and then working out. She also didn’t enjoy going to a public place and working out in front of other people. Those were the real barriers that prevented her exercise habit.
Once she realized this, Jane thought about how she could make exercising easier. She bought a yoga video and started exercising at home two nights per week. She was also a teacher and her school offered an exercise class for the faculty after school. She started going to that class because it meant that she didn’t have to drive somewhere else or put in a lot of prep time just to workout.
3. Develop a plan for when you fail.
Dan John, a popular strength and conditioning coach, often tells his athletes, “You’re not good enough to be disappointed.” The same is true when you build a new habit. What were you expecting? To succeed without fail from the very beginning? To be perfect even when people who have been doing this for years make mistakes on a regular basis?
You have to learn to not judge yourself or feel guilty when you make a mistake, and instead focus on developing a plan to get back on track as quickly as possible.
Here are three strategies that might help…
- Set schedules rather than deadlines.
- Forget about performance and focus on building a new identity.
- Make this your new motto: “Never miss twice.”
I find the “never miss twice” mindset to be particularly useful. Maybe I’ll miss one workout, but I’m not going to miss two in a row. Maybe I’ll eat an entire pizza, but I’ll follow it up with a healthy meal. Maybe I’ll forget to meditate today, but tomorrow morning I’ll be oozing with Zen.
Slipping up on your habits doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you normal. What separates top performers from everyone else is that they get back on track quickly. Make sure you have a plan for when you fail.
Atomic Habits is currently available in both audiobook and print versions at the Los Angeles Public Library as well as at your favorite book retailer.
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