We all want to lead healthy, successful, and fulfilling lives. However, many of us have unhealthy habits that we want to change. Some people make a resolution to walk 10,000 steps a day or go to the gym three times a week, but how long does that actually last? One week or one month later, they find themselves back to eating junk food instead of exercising. How can you actually make a lasting change? A great resource is a free guide called “Transform Your Habits” by James Clear that you can find online. This article will give a brief overview of the steps you can take to create long-lasting good habits based on James Clear’s guidebook.
According to Clear, a simple formula you can follow to create a new habit is something he calls the 3 R’s: Reminder, Routine, Reward.
1. Reminder: Use a current habit as the reminder for your new one
2. Routine: Make your habit super easy to start so that it can become part of your routine.
3. Reward: Always reward yourself (compliment yourself, positive self-talk)
Say you want to get into the habit of flossing. You decide to floss right before you brush your teeth. Have the floss right next to your toothbrush so that you’re reminded every time you’re about to brush your teeth, and the floss is easy to grab. Then compliment yourself every time you floss. Even if it’s just one tooth that you flossed, congratulate yourself. (Good job!)
Just as important as complimenting yourself is not beating yourself up if you slip up and forget to floss some days. You’re not a failure, you’re just human. If you develop a plan to get back on track quickly, you’ll get more benefit from the cumulative successful times you flossed than if you make yourself feel guilty and stop flossing completely.
Application to Reality
Now, you may think that the flossing example is too simple, but the 3 R’s also apply to making more significant lifestyle changes if combined with a gradual identity shift. In order to stick to a new habit, you have to prove to yourself that you have the identity of the type of person that you want to become.
Many people make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight by buying a gym membership, only to cancel that membership a few months later because they ended up going only a few times before stopping. A big reason why that happens is that they try to achieve their weight loss goal without changing their identity. In order to lose weight, you have to first decide that you are the type of person who does physical activity every day and then prove it to yourself with incrementally small achievements. When you change your mindset, your new thoughts will automatically help you stick to your new habit so that you don’t have to try and motivate yourself to go exercise every day. Shifting your perspective to change your identity is obviously not as exciting as having an appearance-based goal in mind like having six-pack abs, but creating an identity shift is a much more reliable way to continually practice the good habit of being more physically active that will eventually lead to you getting those six-pack abs over time.
In order to become a more physically active person, you have to prove to yourself that you can do it through small wins. Use the 3 R’s to sequence a small behavior change: After work, walk for 5 minutes, and compliment yourself when you complete it successfully. After a few days, change it to walking 10 minutes after work. A few days after that, increase it to 15 minutes, etc. Through a series of gradual wins, you prove to yourself that you are someone who exercises on a regular basis. As a byproduct of the process, you also lose weight.
This may result in a much slower transformation than you like if your goal is appearance-based, but this process is a more sure way of making a habit stick. You can get motivated and inspired by watching a YouTube video, but that motivation won’t last long until you prove your new identity to yourself and build the habit into your daily routine. When you implement the 3 R’s along with slowly changing your identity, this process will automatically lead to you sticking to the good habit you want to keep following.
An important consideration to keep in mind is that sometimes having a numerical goal may not serve you well if you aren’t able to achieve it. If you set a goal of doing 15 pushups every morning and you don’t do it because work gets hectic and you’re too tired in the morning, you may feel like a failure and stop doing it. What’s more important is to stick to your plan of doing pushups every morning even if it’s just one pushup. A few weeks of doing just one pushup each morning is better than doing nothing at all, and you still maintain the morning pushup habit that allows you to go back to doing 15 pushups when you have more time again.
Remember to have a plan in place for the times when you don’t reach your goal. It doesn’t make you a bad person; we’re all human and make mistakes. What sets successful people apart from the average person is their ability to recover quickly from their mistakes and get back on schedule. Having a work-out buddy to hold you accountable can help prevent you from skipping out on going to the gym, and they can also help get you back on track if you aren’t able to get to the gym for a while. Paying attention to environmental triggers and getting rid of junk food from your home can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle. Or if you tend to watch TV when you’re stressed, replace it with a breathing exercise instead or put on music and dance around in the living room. Giving yourself physical space and time to exercise will also make it easier for the habit to stick.
So what good habit do you want to create? Start small, and if you pick the right change that works best for you, you’ll find yourself following a good habit without needing to motivate yourself to do it. Give it a try!