Question: Did you follow through on your habit you picked for the happiness experiment? Or did your week look something like this:
Day 1: You are really excited to get started on your new habit, say meditation. You’re sure you can stick to it. It’s going to change your life!
Day 2: You completely forget that you were on this new habit thing and had to meditate today.
Day 3: You remember. You feel like a fraud. You get your meditation done for the day, but it’s harder than you imagined.
Day 4: You’re really busy. You decide that it’s okay to have a day off. A fresh start tomorrow won’t hurt anyone, right?
Day 5: You feel guilty all day, but you just can’t find the motivation to sit your butt on that meditation cushion.
Day 6: You’re pretty sure this habit thing is just a waste of time. Happiness experiment, really? What kind of a joke was that? You’re a really busy person and no one can expect you to find time to do stuff like that.
Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s a really common scenario. It has happened to all of us and it sure has happened to me.
Now why is it that it is so hard to make even the smallest change, like taking out 5 minutes everyday to meditate or waking up 15 minutes earlier?
Mostly it’s because our brain doesn’t like change. Not to be discouraging you, but the odds are stacked against you. Your brain doesn’t want you to change, because that would require it to go off from autopilot and use a lot more energy energy than it usually does just to perform your new habit. That comes largely because it can’t use the subconscious as the habit is too new to be played on autopilot. To make sure that you don’t exhaust it, the brain has all kinds of tricks to make you fall back into your old habits where it can relax and chill a lot more. Researchers say that it takes 66 days to make a new habit go on autopilot, so that gives your brain a lot of time to play its tricks and guess what, most of the time it succeeds.
Now fear not, even though your brain might look like a dictator to you right now, there are several things we can do to dramatically enhance your chances of success.
Make it a no-brainer
Your best chance to make our new habit stay is to make it as easy as possible for you and your brain to follow through on your new habit. There shouldn’t be much conscious effort tied to it, otherwise you’re brain will fear to be over-worked in no time and do everything in its power to make you drop the habit. So how can we make our habit go on autopilot as much as possible from the very start?
There are a few simple strategies that you can use. Let’s start off with the most important one…
Commitment: “99% is a bitch, 100% is a breeze”
Now what does that mean? It means that it’s a lot harder to stick to your habit if you’re not 100% committed to it. The 1% left are enough for your chatty brain to start negotiating with you because it suspect that there is a chance that you might fall off the wagon.
If you’re 100% committed to your habit then you know for sure that you’re going to do it. There is no room left for your brain to start sabotaging you.
“Successful people adhere to the ‘no exceptions rule’ when it comes to their daily disciplines. Once you make a 100% commitment to something, there are no exceptions. It’s a done deal. Nonnegotiable. Case closed! Over and out.” -Jack Canfield
And that’s exactly why 99% is a bitch, 100% is a breeze. It’s a lot harder to get yourself to meditate daily if you have to listen to that whiny voice inside your head that tells you that you must have your morning coffee first before you do your meditation. And then of course you gotta take a shower, and brush your teeth, call auntie Rose… and before you know it the day is over and your good habit is gone. If you allow yourself to take those arguments into consideration, you’ve lost the battle.
On the other hand, if you’re 100% committed to your habit, you know you’re going to do it. You have committed yourself and you don’t make exceptions. This makes it easier for both you and your brain, because it takes less conscious effort and willpower than if you were to make a new conscious decision to perform your habit every day. Your brain will be more willing to stop sabotaging you. And if it does, it will be a lot easier for you to stick to your habit anyways.
The 100% commitment is what has done the trick for me with my meditation habit. I had been on and off meditation since February, but it wasn’t until I fully committed myself to meditate daily that I was able to make it a consistent practice. Now I have 64 days of consistent meditation under my belt. It has been a lot easier than before, when I had allowed myself to slip off and skip some days every now and then. Because if you do that, you’ll have to use all your willpower to start over again. Now my meditation happens on autopilot and it’s no big deal anymore.
So commit yourself. Doesn’t have to be fancy. Just say “I’m 100% committed to doing x every day” and you’re done.
Remember, 99% is a bitch, 100% is a breeze.
If you fail, you know you’ve not been committed 100%. That’s the most common problem people run into. Commitment is the key component that sets apart the amateurs and the pros. It’s the most important component to your success.
Three ways to ensure your success (and make it more fun)
Commitment is all nice and good, but that’s not enough, you say? You want some more tips? Gotcha. There are a few other fun tricks that I have tried in the past that I’ve personally had success with.
Do it first thing in the morning
This helps a lot, especially if you’re struggling to find the willpower to get around to doing it, whatever that may be. If you do it first thing in the morning your brain doesn’t have much time to interrupt you and start bombarding you with excuses. I’ve done my meditation first thing every morning since I committed myself 100%, and it has helped a lot. On days were I decided to do it later, I often ended up doing it at 3am because I didn’t take the time to do it during the day. But as I was 100% committed, being half asleep wasn’t a valid excuse. Now that I’m focusing on getting my journaling practice going I do that first thing in the morning. Then I plan my day and afterwards I do my meditation. Mind you, this is all before I get out of bed in the morning. Kinda cozy
Pick a time to do it
Studies show that people who pick a certain time to do something are much more likely to actually get it done. Here’s an excerpt from “The Power of Full Engagement” by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, a book I’ve been playing with lately:
“A broad and persuasive array of studies confirms that specificity of timing and precision of behavior dramatically increase the likelihood of success. The explanation lies once again in the fact that our conscious capacity for self-control is limited and easily depleted. By determining when, where and how a behavior will occur, we no longer have to think much about getting it done. A series of experiments have confirmed this pattern [...].
In perhaps the most dramatic experiment of all, a group of drug addicts were studied during withdrawal—a time when the energy required to control the urge to take drugs severely compromises their ability to undertake nearly any other task. As part of the effort to help them find employment post-rehabilitation, one group was asked to commit to writing a short résumé before 5:00 P.M. on a particular day. Not a single one succeeded. A second group was asked to complete the same task, but also to say exactly when and where they would write the résumé. Eighty percent of that group succeeded.”
Sounds like a good tip to me, eh?
An X a day makes a good habit stay
Get yourself an unused calendar or draw a basic one on a piece of paper. Now for everyday that you have stayed true to your commitment, mark a big red X on it. This method was developed by Jerry Seinfeld and he found that…
“after a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
Don’t underestimate the power of drawing bright colorful X’s on a calendar. That alone is a lot of fun, but once you have a few days in a row, your ambition kicks in and you don’t want to break your beautiful chain.
This is a method I have used for months now and it has always added lots of fun and another layer of accountability to my habit building.
Time for some action
Ok, you’re pumped full of wisdom now. How about you use that and put it into practice today? If you haven’t picked a new habit yet, read last week’s article on the happiness experiment that’s going on at Bright Little Socks and Sensophy this month.
- Pick a habit x.
- Make a 100% commitment to stick to x.
- Do x.
- "This Is Too Big for Me" – No, It's Not. Here's How to Beat the Odds
- Too Much to Do Too Little Time: How to Get Off The Hamster Wheel
- How to Escape A Life That Bores You to Death
- Unhappiness 101
- Why You Need to Live Your Dreams to Make Your Life Meaningful (spoiler alert: you will die)
- How to Do What You Love, Change the World & Get Paid to Do it
- 10 Life Lessons Learned on a Trip to the End of the World
- What to Do When Everything Plain Sucks: A Gentle Suck-Day Survival Kit
- The Beauty of a Morning Ritual: How it Can Help You Get Your Joy Back
- Burnout Is Not Cool. I Know You’re Serious About Your Dream, But Stop Killing Yourself Over It.
- Listen to your intuition. It trumps your rational mind.
- You can’t skip the fucking journey (& why I haven’t been blogging as much)