Many of us use the new year as a time to reset, make plans, and try to master new, improved habits.
There’s just one issue: making new habits stick is significantly harder than writing them down on a New Year’s resolution board.
What might start out as an exciting first few weeks of meal prepping every Sunday could quickly devolve into ordering take out every day if we aren’t intentional in changing our habits.
“Changing your actions in order to form a new habit without also changing who you’re being is like running into the wind: Yes, it’s possible to put your head down, run as hard as you can, and gain some ground,” Jen Sincero, author of “Badass Habits: Cultivate the Awareness, Boundaries, and Daily Upgrades You Need to Make Them Stick,” wrote in her book.
“But you’re much more likely to give up and return to your old ways than if you run in the same direction as the wind.”
Rather than run into the wind, Sincero broke down how we form habits into six easy steps to help create good habits and break bad ones.
1. Identify your trigger
Habits, Sincero said, are usually actions that we do by second nature. It’s important to identify what the trigger or cause behind the action is.
“Triggers begin a chain reaction that results in the completion of the habit,” Sincero wrote.
This can be anything from an alarm clock prompting you to wake up at 7 a.m. every day or boredom causing you to scroll on TikTok.
Triggers can prompt good or bad habits, so identifying them can help you better understand when bad habits are occurring or what will help you remember good habits.
2. Break down the habit into bite-sized pieces so it’s easy to tackle
After you figure out what triggers your daily habits, Sincero said it’s important to figure out what your habit looks like and what it achieves.
“Habits work in a sequence of sorts that starts with the trigger (getting in the car), which signals a need (I don’t want to die), which then leads to a habit or response (putting on a seat belt), when then leads to the reward (I feel snuggly and safe),” Sincero wrote.
Repetition is key to any habit. Some have a hard and fast number of times you need to repeat something before it becomes a habit (66 times to 21 days) but Sincero focuses on why repetition is important rather than how many times.
“When you repeat something enough times, you establish new neural pathways in the brain that your habit flows through effortlessly and automatically, allowing you to literally fuggetaboutit,” Sincero wrote.
While going on a daily morning stroll isn’t a habit now, remembering that, with enough repetition, it’ll be as easy as tying your shoes will help motivate you on your journey to better habits.
4. Make habits easier if you can
Habits are easier to repeat when they are easy to complete and remember.
Sincero said choosing a gym a block away from your house might make attending morning yoga a bit easier to follow through on than one 30 minutes away driving. If you don’t keep cheese or milk in the house, it might be easier to refrain from eating dairy than if you stock the fridge with ice cream.
While the difference might seem small, they might make it easier to ignore triggers for habits you are trying to break and notice triggers for habits you are trying to adopt.
5. Be patient if it doesn’t come quickly
The age-old adage that “patience is a virtue” couldn’t ring more true for habit building. According to Sincero, many habits won’t achieve their intended results overnight, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t worth the wait.
Lifting several times a week to build muscle, flossing every day to have healthier gums, and practicing your Spanish to have better conversations with your grandma likely won’t give you instant gratification.
However, keeping your eye on the prize and remembering why you’re working on a new habit in the first place is a great motivator.
6. How to make your new habit part of your identity
Sincero wrote one of the biggest mistakes people make when they embark on their new habit journey is not making their habit a part of their identity.
While it may sound silly, embodying the person you want to become will help turn the habit from a chore to second nature.
If you want to live a full plant-based life, claim your veganism loud and proud. If you’re trying to learn to roller skate, embody the skater girl, boy, or they you’re trying to become. Making it a part of your identity will make it your nature, not a random thing you’re doing for a week.
“By shifting your identity to align with the habits you’re working to adopt, you prepare yourself to live in a totally new reality by erasing the inner struggle of ‘I’m doing X but I’m actually an imposter so it probably won’t last because it’s not really who I am,'” Sincero wrote.
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