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6 proven ways to make new Habits stick

Lifestyle segment with Jackie

Not long ago, my daily life was in really bad shape. I was sleeping anywhere between 3am to 6am on average, and on the really bad days I wouldn’t sleep at all. Because I slept late, I would wake up late. Subsequently, my day would start off late, which meant I was busy “playing catch-up” and being late for my appointments. My diet was horrendous – I was eating lots of junk food and snacks at night to stay awake. It got worse month after month, and I didn’t want to continue on. I needed to revamp my lifestyle!
I picked out 9 habits I wanted to cultivate for the next 30 days, such as: (1) Sleeping at/before 12am,

(2) Waking up at 5am,

(3) Reading a book or listening to music once a day

, (4) Meditating,

(5) Being timely for my appointments

(6) Even eating a raw food diet! #6 might be a bit of an overkill for some people, but hey – since it was just for 30 days, I thought I might as well try something different for a change.
I’m extremely happy to report that nearly all my habits have stuck. My life has become significantly organized. I wake up early, I get to all my appointments early/on time, I get my work done, I meditate, I’m eating raw, and I sleep on time. Out of the 9 habits, 8 habits stuck, while 1 habit was let go because I realized it wasn’t something I wanted to work on for now. Compared to my previous lifestyle, this has been a total 180 degree turnaround.

If you have been trying to cultivate new habits with little success, then you might find these very useful. These habits are not rocket science – they are easy to understand, apply and have worked tremendously for me.
Here they are:

1. Know the Real Reason Why Your Habit Didn’t Stick Previously

Address the root cause of the issue, not the effect . Desperately battling with yourself every morning to wake up at 5:30am is to address the effect. Understanding why you keep failing to wake up at 5:30am is to address the cause.
For example, I couldn’t wake up early for the longest time ever, and all I kept doing is to keep trying and failing the next day. This would continue on for several months until I finally realized it was just going nowhere. I began to start analyzing my situation to understand why I couldn’t wake up early, through a self-questioning process. I probed into the situation, and asked myself “why” this was happening to drill down to the root cause.
Below is an example of the drilling process:
Why can’t I wake up early?
Because I’m tired.
Why am I tired?
Because I didn’t have enough sleep.
Why didn’t I have enough sleep?
Because I slept late.
Why did I sleep late?
Because I had too many things to do.
Why did I have so many things to do?
Because I can’t finish them.
Why can’t I finish them?
Because I schedule more tasks than I can accomplish for the day.
Getting down to this root cause helped me realize two things

(1) All our habits are tied to one another (sleeping time, waking time, timeliness)

(2) I underestimate the time taken to finish the tasks (and subsequently overestimate how fast I can do those tasks). Many times, I would target to finish multiple projects in 1 day, which wasn’t possible at all.
This meant that to make my waking early habit stick, (1) I need to change habits that are related to waking early (see Tip #2) and (2) I have to be more realistic in my planning. Rather than stuff in so many tasks for a day and not finishing them, now I go for a challenging yet achievable schedule and complete my tasks accordingly.
Keep asking why to drill down to the root reason. Once you get to the real cause, you can immediately resolve the issue.

2. Pick Habits that Reinforce Each Other

Our habits are not standalone; they are interlinked. Some habits have a stronger linkage with each other than others. For example, sleeping early and waking early are obviously linked to each other, while sleeping early and reading a book a day might not be so closely related. If you want to cultivate a habit, identify the other habits that are tied with it and make a holistic change. These habits will reinforce each other to help make the change seamless.
For example, my new habits to: (a) Wake up early at 5am (b) Sleep before 12am (c) Be on time (d) Meditate (e) Have raw food diet are all interlinked.

3. Plan For Your Habits (Right down to the timings)

Having a schedule lets you know when you are on or off track for your habits . For the 1st day of my new lifestyle, I did a full-day planning and continued thereafter for all other days.

What I do is this:

1. On the night before, put together a list all the tasks I need to get done for the next day. This includes what’s on my calendar (I use
Gcal ).
2. Batch them into (a) Major projects, (b) Medium sized tasks and (c) Small, administrative activities
3. Slot them into my schedule for the day. Major projects would have most amount of time assigned. The principle I usually go by is 60-30-10 (% time spent) for a-b-c groups respectively.
4. Be aware of how much time each task requires. If it helps, most of the time we underestimate the time we need. Make it a realistic yet challenging time to work towards. Usually I assign a 5-10 minutes buffer time in between tasks to account for the transition from 1 task to the next.
5. Assign exact timings for when each task starts and ends. For example, 9am to 10:30am for Project A, 12:30-1:30pm for lunch, 6:30-7:30pm for commute.
6. If there are more tasks to be done than my schedule allows, I’ll deprioritize the unimportant ones and put them off to another day.

With all this planning done, when the next day comes all I have to do is to follow the schedule to a tee. I keep a close watch on the timing to ensure I’m on time. 5 minutes before it’s up, I do a wrap up and start transiting to the next task on the list.

4. Stay Ahead of Your Schedule

I found it’s extremely motivating to stay ahead. Waking up early at 5am means I’m ahead of most people in the world (and myself too, if I were to stick to my old schedule), and that motivates me to work fast and stay ahead. What helps me continue this momentum is that I end my tasks earlier and start the next task before the scheduled timing. By ensuring I stay ahead of my schedule, I’m naturally motivated to work on all the things I have planned, including my habits. There’s no resistance to get them started at all.

5. Track Your Habits

Tracking keeps you accountable to your habits. I have a whiteboard in my bedroom which I use to track my habits. On the whiteboard, I drew a large table, split by days (21 days to cultivate a new habit) and by habits. For the days where I do the habit, I will give it a check. For the days I don’t, I make a cross. It’s very satisfying to do the checks every time you finish a habit! You can also track your habits on paper or in your computer.

6. Engage People Around You

Engagement can occur on 2 levels

– (a) Active engagement, where you inform your friends who might be interested in and cultivate the habit together with them or

(b) Passive engagement, where you let others know about your plans and having them morally support you.
I had both forms of support in my habit change. 2 days before I started my lifestyle revamp program, I posted an article on my blog. Much to my pleasant surprise, many readers responded in enthusiasm on new habits they wanted to cultivate and joined me in the 30 days of change.

Don’t feel that you’re alone in your habit change because you aren’t. There are always people around you who are more than willing to support you.

Final Words

My new habits have pretty much been integrated into my daily life now. Everything runs on auto-pilot and it feels like I’ve been doing this for a long while. My personal tips above have worked tremendously for myself, so while they may look simple and straightforward, don’t underestimate them. Try them out for yourself and let me know how your new habits are coming along for you.

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