Building Habits for Success

Do you have a habit (or two) that’s holding you back? Are you having difficulty finding the motivation to make a change for the better? If so, congratulations — you’re a full-fledged human being!

We’ve all been there, because adopting bad habits as coping mechanisms is easy. Motivating yourself to break those bad habits is… less easy.

Blame your brain

Why do we fall into bad habits in the first place? It’s hard-wired in the brain!

When you’re stressed, bored, or overwhelmed, your brain wants to do something familiar that doesn’t involve much new decision-making. From a neurological perspective, decisions take a lot of energy. That’s why our comfortable coping mechanisms — social media, shopping, procrastination — feel good in the moment.

Don’t break it — replace it

Simply trying to eliminate a bad habit is a recipe for frustration; your brain is wired to return to it. Rather, focus on building a new habit to replace the one you want to change.

The Goldilocks Rule, coined by author James Clear in the book Atomic Habits, tells us that people experience peak motivation when they’re working on tasks that are just on the edge of their current abilities. Your new habit should be not too hard, not too easy, but just right.

Find your whys

The hardest part of change comes at the beginning, when your brain isn’t motivated to help you. Try finding the “why” of what’s stopping you — fear of failure, discomfort with a new experience, imposter syndrome? Understanding the underlying reasons for your bad habits, without judgment, is a powerful motivator.

The “why” behind your new habit is also a valuable source of motivation. Instead of focusing on a goal, consider behaviors and what they mean about your identity. For instance, a goal might be clearing your email inbox every day. The behavior might be responding to each email within two hours. And the big “why” behind it all may be an important part of your identity: you want to be the kind of person people can rely on to communicate effectively.

Focus on the one-point toss

Imagine you’re playing a ring-toss game. The closest pole is worth one point, the next furthest is worth five points, and there’s a pole in the distance worth 10 points. Sure, you can aim for the 10-pointer every time, but you’ll probably miss it more than you hit it. The one-pointer is right there, and you have unlimited rings.

Aiming for — and celebrating — small wins builds your motivation over time.

Put it into practice today

  • Identify one habit you’d like to change; focus on a specific, meaningful behavior, not an outcome
  • Come up with a replacement habit that’s a bit challenging, but not too daunting
  • Build your new habit into your schedule (for instance, meditating instead of scrolling Facebook before breakfast)
  • When you struggle with the new behavior (and you will!), ask yourself what’s behind your resistance
  • Every now and then, step back and look at just how far you’ve come

Most importantly, go easy on yourself without giving up. You’re not going to feel motivated every day, and that’s okay. Remember, you’re rewiring your brain, so celebrate every small win!

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