Building Good Habits
Habits are the small decisions you make and actions you perform every day. According to researchers at Duke University, habits account for about 40 percent of our behaviors on any given day.
Your life today is essentially the sum of your habits. How in shape or out of shape you are? A result of your habits. How happy or unhappy you are? A result of your habits. How successful or unsuccessful you are? A result of your habits.
What you repeatedly do (i.e. what you spend time thinking about and doing each day) ultimately forms the person you are, the things you believe, and the personality that you portray. When you learn to transform your habits, you can transform your life.
Understanding how to build good habits (and how your current ones work) is essential for making progress in your health, your happiness, and your life in general.
1. Start with an incredibly small habit.
Make it so easy you can't say no.
When most people struggle to build new habits, they say something like, “I just need more motivation.” Or, “I wish I had as much willpower as you do.”
This is the wrong approach. Research shows that willpower is like a muscle. It gets fatigued as you use it throughout the day. Another way to think of this is that your motivation ebbs and flows. It rises and falls. Stanford professor BJ Fogg calls this the “motivation wave.”
Solve this problem by picking a new habit that is easy enough that you don't need motivation to do it. Rather than starting with 50 pushups per day, start with 5 pushups per day. Rather than trying to meditate for 10 minutes per day, start by meditating for one minute per day. Make it easy enough that you can get it done without motivation.
2. Take some time to understand exactly what is holding you back.
I recently spoke with a reader named Jane. She decided to exercise more consistently as her lifestyle was too sedentary but had always thought that she was, in her words, “the type of person who didn’t like to work out.”
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 preparation time just to work out.
Jane has been sticking to her workout routine for months now. She says, “You might not be able to fix everything you don’t like, but figuring out how to work around one or two of those hurdles might provide the push you need to get over the hump and stick with your goals.”
The people who stick with good habits understand exactly what is holding them back.
You might think that you’re the “type of person who doesn’t like working out” or the “type of person who is unorganized” or the “type of person who gives in to cravings and eats sweets.” But in most cases, you’re not destined to fail in those areas. Instead of making a blanket statement about your habits, break them down into smaller pieces and think about which areas are preventing you from becoming consistent.
Once you know the specific parts of the process that hold you back, you can begin to develop a solution to solve that problem.
3. Increase your habit in very small ways.
Success is a few simple disciplines, practised every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.
Rather than trying to do something amazing from the beginning, start small and gradually improve. Along the way, your willpower and motivation will increase, which will make it easier to stick to your habit for good.
4. As you build up, break habits into chunks.
If you continue adding one percent each day, then you'll find yourself increasing very quickly within two or three months. It is important to keep each habit reasonable, so that you can maintain momentum and make the behavior as easy as possible to accomplish.
Building up to 20 minutes of meditation? Split it into two segments of 10 minutes at first.
Trying to do 50 pushups per day? Five sets of 10 might be much easier as you make your way there.
5. When you slip, get back on track quickly.
The best way to improve your self-control is to see how and why you lose control.
Top performers make mistakes, commit errors, and get off track just like everyone else. The difference is that they get back on track as quickly as possible.
Research has shown that missing your habit once, no matter when it occurs, has no measurable impact on your long-term progress. Rather than trying to be perfect, abandon your all-or-nothing mentality.
You shouldn't expect to fail, but you should plan for failure. Take some time to consider what will prevent your habit from happening. What are some things that are likely to get in your way? What are some daily emergencies that are likely to pull you off course? What are some temptations that you are likely to succumb to? How can you plan to work around these issues? Or, at least, how you can bounce back quickly from them and get back on track?
You just need to be consistent, not perfect. Focus on building the identity of someone who never misses a habit twice.
6. Be patient. Stick to a pace you can sustain.
Learning to be patient is perhaps the most critical skill of all. You can make incredible progress if you are consistent and patient.
If you are adding weight in the gym, you should probably go slower than you think. If you are adding daily sales calls to your business strategy, you should probably start with fewer than you expect to handle. Patience is everything. Do things you can sustain.
These ideas are not the only ways to build good habits — there are plenty of others out there — but these simple steps can help you make progress with most of the goals you have for your health, your work, and your life.
Source: ‘How to Build a New Habit: This is Your Strategy Guide’ (https://jamesclear.com/habits)
The real reasons you procrastinate — and how to stop
April 27, 2016 at 10:29 p.m. GMT+8
Have you ever sat down to complete an important task — and then suddenly discovered you were up loading the dishwasher or engrossed in the Wikipedia entry about Chernobyl? Or perhaps you suddenly realize that the dog needs to be fed, emails need to be answered, your ceiling fan needs dusting — or maybe you should go ahead and have lunch, even though it’s only 11 a.m.?
Next thing you know, it’s the end of the day and your important task remains unfinished. For many people, procrastination is a strong and mysterious force that keeps them from completing the most urgent and important tasks in their lives with the same strength as when you try to bring like poles of a magnet together. It's also a potentially dangerous force, causing victims to fail out of school, perform poorly at work, put off medical treatment or delay saving for retirement. A Case Western Reserve University study from 1997 found that college-age procrastinators ended up with higher stress, more illness and lower grades by the end of the semester.
But the reasons people procrastinate are not understood that well. Some researchers have viewed procrastination largely as a failure of self-regulation — like other bad behaviors that have to do with a lack of self-control, such as overeating, a gambling problem or overspending. Others say it's not a matter of being lazy or poor time management, as many smart overachievers who procrastinate often can attest. They say it may actually be linked to how our brain works and to deeper perceptions of time and the self.
If you think about it, you'll likely realize from your own experience that procrastination comes from avoiding negative emotions, not laziness.
The real origins of procrastination
Most psychologists see procrastination as a kind of avoidance behavior, a coping mechanism gone awry in which people “give in to feel good,” says Timothy Pychyl, a professor who studies procrastination at Carleton University, in Ottawa.
It usually happens when people fear or dread, or have anxiety about, the important task awaiting them. To get rid of this negative feeling, people procrastinate — they open up a video game or Pinterest instead. That makes them feel better temporarily, but unfortunately, reality comes back to bite them in the end.
Once the reality of a deadline sets in again, procrastinators feel more extreme shame and guilt. But for an extreme procrastinator, those negative feelings can be just another reason to put the task off, with the behavior turning into a vicious, self-defeating cycle.
People can be various kinds of procrastinators. Some procrastinate by doing useless things, such as searching for cat GIFs. Others actually accomplish things — cleaning their homes, working their boring jobs — but never quite getting to the things they really want to accomplish in life, their most important, long-term goals.
Pychyl discusses the idea of the "monkey mind" — that our thoughts are constantly darting all over the place, preventing us from concentrating. And psychologists agree that the problem with procrastinators is that they are tempted to give in to instant gratification, which brings people the kind of instant relief psychologists call "hedonic pleasure," rather than staying focused on the long-term goal.
Important goals are more challenging but in the long run bring longer lasting feelings of well-being and self-satisfaction that psychologists call "eudaimonic pleasure."
How to return to the land of the productive
What can people do about procrastination?
Tim Urban points out that the typical advice for procrastinators — essentially, to stop what they’re doing and get down to work, is ridiculous, because procrastination isn’t something that extreme procrastinators feel as though they can control.
“While we’re here, let’s make sure obese people avoid overeating, depressed people avoid apathy, and someone please tell beached whales that they should avoid being out of the ocean,” Urban writes.
But there are some simple tips, those who study the subject say, that can help procrastinators get down to business.
You don’t have to be in the mood to do a certain task: The best thing that Pychyl recommends is to recognize that you don’t have to be in the mood to do a certain task
— just ignore how you feel and get started.
“Most of us seem to tacitly believe that our emotional state has to match the task at hand,” says Pychyl. But that’s just not true. “I have to recognize that I’m rarely going to feel like it, and it doesn’t matter if I don’t feel like it.”
Figure out why you're procrastinating: Not by asking yourself, "What's wrong with me?" but by being genuinely curious. The fact that you're putting something off means that doing it would make you unhappy. Why is that?
Once you've answered that question, you may be able to find ways to make the job at hand less upsetting. If it's tedious, perhaps you can make it more fun by listening to music or asking a friend to keep you company. If you're feeling resentful because you think you shouldn't have to do whatever it is, maybe you can explore passing the task to someone else, or at least confide in a friend. If the task is daunting and you're afraid you won't do it well--always a cause of procrastination for me--you can try a technique Pychyl recommends called "next action."
Consider the next action: Instead of doing the task right now, just do the next thing you would do if you were doing it, even though you're not. For example, if you're stuck at the beginning of a writing project, just quickly write down a couple of sentences or a few points for a skeleton outline. You can come back to it later and it'll be easier because you've made a start. Or, having made a start, you may just want to keep going.
Even if it’s an extremely small action, a little progress will typically make you feel better about the task and increase your self-esteem, which in turn reduces the desire to procrastinate to make yourself feel better, he says.
Don’t wait to be in the mood to do a certain task. “Motivation follows action. Get started, and you’ll find your motivation follows,” Dr. Pychyl said.
Make your temptations more inconvenient: It’s still easier to change our circumstances than ourselves, said Gretchen Rubin, author of “Better Than Before: What
I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits.” According to Ms. Rubin, we can take what we know about procrastination and “use it to our advantage” by placing obstacles between ourselves and our temptations to induce a certain degree of frustration or anxiety. If you compulsively check social media, delete those apps from your phone or “give yourself a really complicated password with not just five digits, but 12,” Ms. Rubin said. By doing this, you’re adding friction to the procrastination cycle and making the reward value of your temptation less immediate.
On the other side of the coin, Ms. Rubin also suggested that we make the things we want to do as easy as possible for ourselves. If you want to go to the gym before work but you’re not a morning person, sleep in your exercise clothes. “Try to remove every, every, every roadblock,” Ms. Rubin said.
A final word…
Pychyl believes that teachers and parents should teach kids to deal with the temptations of procrastination from a young age. “A lot of teachers think that kids have time- management problems, when they procrastinate. And they don’t have a time- management problem What they have is an emotion-management problem. They have
to learn that you don’t feel good all the time, and you’ve got to get on with it.”
“Mark Twain is quoted as saying, 'If your job is to eat a frog, eat it first thing in the morning, and if your job is to eat two frogs, eat the big one first,'” Pychyl says.
Urban basically says the same thing in different language.
“No one ‘builds a house,’” he writes. “They lay one brick again and again and the end result is a house. Procrastinators are great visionaries — they love to fantasize about the beautiful mansion they will one day have built — but what they need to be are gritty construction workers, who methodically lay one brick after the other, day after day, without giving up, until a house is built.”