How Do You Develop New Habits

By Azzy Aslam

Power Habits, Routines, & Processes. It's all down to habits.

16 Feb, 2021

Always Start Small

When it comes to personal changes, you are attempting to change your habits and routines, and plunging straight into the big task would seem to be the best approach. It will get you to your destination faster. Most of the time, reality and, and lived experiences tells us otherwise.

The thing which helps us fail quickly and often is when we take on too much. This can be too many things or starting with a big target. Sure, you can have big audacious goals, but it usually gets broken down into some manageable piece.

Let’s take the very popular change we hear about often – ‘making the most of the day’. This usually means getting up earlier than we would normally.

Joining the 6am club, or the 5am club or even the 4 am club!  If you have been waking up at around 8am for the last umpteen years turning it around to get yourself out of bed at 4 am is going to be a challenge.

It’s all in the mindset I hear you say. You make up your mind, visualise it, and then do it. This approach may work for an extremely few number of people. And it may well work for the many others, at least for the first day or three. Then reality kicks in. You start feeling tired through the day (it usually starts during day two). You are falling asleep by 7pm – which is normal. This is something which does not get factored into your day and most earlier risers don’t talk about. The shape of the day changes!

You must drag yourself out of bed in the morning, eyes still closed and invoke some shock therapy such as taking a cold shower just to wake up. It looks nothing like the experience the YouTuber you watched as he/she talk you through their 30 day get up at 4am programme. That’s a little unfairto some productivity YouTubers; a few do show the reality and some even say it wasn’t for them.

Anyhow, you already know in your mind and your heart this is going to be tough and there will need to be a whole bunch of other changes you will have to make alongside the getting up early or whatever is your current.

 

What do you do?

The answer was right at the top of this post. Start small. Yep, that’s about it!

Start with something which is manageable and your body (& mind) are not going to react (violently) to the change. Here are some common example I work on with clients:

Getting up earlier

– As we have already mentioned it…. If you can start by getting up an hour earlier than your normal time that would be a great start. Otherwise you can start by getting up 15 minutes earlier for a week to 10 days. Then another 15 minutes for the following week to 10 days. As you start to feel comfortable with the new wake up/get up time then keep moving it back by 15 minutes (or even 10 minutes) until you get to the wake-up time yoo want. A big thing to remember is you will have to adjust your sleep time too. Otherwise, you will start be sleep deprived and this opens up a whole bunch of other challenges and well-being concerns.

 

Meditating

– A lot more people are taking up meditation. It is proving to be a key tool to helps us quieten the mind in a very noisy and rushed world. It works for most people.
Instead of starting with an hour-long meditation, go with shorter meditations and try a few during the day. A good way to start is simply to meditate for as little as a minute! If you can manage it start with a 5-minute meditation, twice or three times a day. Keep this up and over time as your meditation practise gets better, then extend it by a minute or more. Over time you will build up to hour long meditation if you want.

 

Exercise

– Similar to sleep or rather getting up earlier you will see the impact on your body and mind fairly quickly when you start (or restart) exercising.

Same as above, start with something you know you are likely to sustain each day. It may mean you start with a 10-minute walk, rather than a run. Extending the time over the days and weeks. Or add in a short 1-minute jog or run in the 10 minutes. Repeating this over the weeks until you can run for 5 minutes without stopping. Once again, this will take time. With exercise, it really does pay to start really slow, particularly if you haven’t exercised for a while. It doesn’t have to be walking/running. You could start with a few stretching exercises at home, yoga, some calisthenics, or get to a gym, beginners Zumba class, or a go for a quick swim at the local swimming pool.

 

Intermittent Fasting/ Prolonged Fasting

– Fasting has also become popular as the benefits of eating less, and not eating for extending periods is proving to be beneficial for our mental and physical well-being. First thing you can do is become aware of your eating habits and what you eat. Some people find they snack constantly through the day, and simply cutting down or not snacking at all makes a huge difference to their health and gets them to review what they eat at mealtimes. Another quick start is to cut down on sugary foods and drinks. Small changes help make big life changes.

And we haven’t even started fasting! When you do, it can be as simple as having breakfast an hour later one or two days a week. Keep adding to the hour until you have a fasting window of 16 hours (or more). This also means no eating or snacks after the evening meal the night before! So, if you finish eating at 8pm you can fast overnight and the next morning through till 12noon. It’s not hard as it sounds, but a slow and gradual lengthening of the fasting window works best.

 

Final Words

There are plenty of other thing you can do which help you make a shift in your life, well-being work, productivity, and relationships. In the examples above and in other changes there are a couple of things you are doing by starting small.
The first is you are more likely to stick with the change. The bigger benefit is you will repeat the activity. By repeating, you are setting up a new habit. Even if it is to meditate for 1 minute, you are building the habit of meditating. Once the habit is formed and repeated daily, it will strengthen the neural pathways and automate the habit. Then it is easier to stretch the activity to 5 minute and longer.

One final word. Aim to focus on one thing at a time. It is much easier for the brain to build one new habit at a time than trying to build five.

Once one habit feels automated you can start with the next.
Which habit are you going to start with?

 

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