Some Golden Rules for Habit Change

From ZenHabits:

  • When you make a small change, your “normal” adjusts
    • Changing your life in small steps like this, one small change at a time, is much easier and much more likely to succeed than making multiple huge changes all at once. Gradually change your normal.
  • Small changes are easier to start
    • Making it easy to start a habit means you’re more likely to actually do it.
  • Small changes are easier to sustain
    • If you make the habit very small when you start, you are much much more likely to sustain it for longer. It’s easier to keep a small thing going than a big one. And keeping it going is what matters
  • Habits are tied to triggers
    • The habit-trigger bond is strengthened from lots of repetitions
  • Habits with variable or multiple triggers are harder
  • Learn to do easier types of habits first
    • you’re building your habit skills, and most importantly, you’re building trust in yourself
  • Build trust in yourself
    • Build trust slowly, with small promises and small victories. This takes time. But it’s arguably the most important thing you can do
  • Incremental changes add up to huge changes
    • If you stick with small changes, you’ll see some powerful long-term change. Try making small changes to your diet and activity levels — after a year, you’ll be way fitter than before. Try learning something a little at a time — if you can make it a habit and stick with it, you’ll be way better at it in six months. This is what I’ve seen in my life, and it’s been dramatic in scope
  • It doesn’t matter which change you focus on first
    • Just pick the one you feel like doing the most — the one that you’ll enjoy most
  • Energy and sleep levels matter a lot
  • Dealing with disruptions in routine is a learned skill
    • Anticipate it. Know that it will happen (yes, everyone’s routine gets disrupted). Plan to either take a break while you’re traveling (for example), or have a new trigger while your old one is temporarily disrupted. This kind of anticipation and planning is a skill that you can learn, and this skill makes you better at creating new habits.
  • Think ahead to avoid foreseeable obstacles
  • Watch your self-talk
    • You have to become aware of what you’re saying to yourself, and recognize that it’s not true. Then tell yourself things that are positive. This is a key habit skill.
  • Get good at watching but not acting on urges
    • At the moment you’re watching, dig deep and remember your powerful motivations
  • Have powerful motivations
    • Write your motivation down. Remind yourself of it when things get hard
  • Use accountability to engineer positive & negative feedback loops
    • Feedback loops help steer you to doing a habit long enough for it to be ingrained as a habit … or they help steer you away from a habit
  • Challenges work really well
    • It’s a form of accountability that’s fun and, again, revises the feedback loop in a good way. Examples of challenges: no sugar for a month, work out every day for 21 days, stick to a diet for 6 weeks, etc.
  • Exceptions lead to more exceptions
  • The habit is the reward — it’s not a chore
    • The habit is lovely, a reward in and of itself, a way to care for yourself. Do not think of it as a chore you need to get done, or you’ll avoid it
  • Lots of habits at once means you’ll probably fail
    • One habit is much more successful than two at a time, and exponentially more successful than 5-10 habits at once
  • Failure is a learning tool
    • When you fail, you learn something new, and that helps you get better
  • How you deal with failure is key
    • The people who succeed at habits aren’t people who never fail — they’re people who keep going after they fail
  • Define your breaks
    • Set the dates of your habit break in advance, rather than letting it slide and then thinking that you’ve failed. And have the date when you’re going to get back on track, and set a reminder so you don’t forget
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Perfect is the enemy
    • Progress is much more important than perfection. If you find yourself not starting a habit because you want the perfect circumstances, or not meditating because you want the perfect time or space, or not writing because you want the perfect tool, or not being happy because you haven’t been perfect with your habit — drop your expectations and just do the habit
  • Habit changes are tools for self-learning
    • Habit changes aren’t just ways to add a new thing to your life. They’re tools for learning about yourself. Through habit change, you learn about what motivates you, about self-talk and rationalization, about urges, about internal vs. external rewards, about weaknesses and kindness, about progress and empowerment. You can learn more about yourself through a few months of habit change than you have in the last decade, if you pay attention. And in that way, habit change is an extremely rewarding process, regardless of the outcome.
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