The Power of Good Habits
Using High-Performance Habits to Achieve Significant Goals
If you've ever learned to play a sport or taken up a new personal interest, you'll know how satisfying it can feel to reach a significant goal. As well as learning something new, you've changed yourself for the better. That's an empowering thought!
Good habits lie behind many of these positive changes. The repeated actions – attending a weekly sports practice, for example – help you to build the change into your daily life. In this article, we'll discuss how good habits can help you grow, personally and professionally.
How Goals Affect Habits
You are more likely to achieve worthwhile goals if you have good habits.
Illustrating this, a 2007 study suggested that we're not motivated by goals alone. In fact, once we've decided upon a goal, we're more motivated – on a day-by-day basis – by the habits that we have set up to reach it, than by the goal itself.
We're also motivated by reflecting on our progress towards our goals. A 2010 study reinforced this: here, researchers monitored people who were trying to form better eating habits. They found that those who were encouraged to reflect on how they were doing, and who adjusted their habits accordingly, were ultimately more successful.
Creating Good Habits
Follow these steps to develop good habits in your daily life, and to kick-start positive change.
1. Identify What You Want to Achieve
First, note down your personal and professional goals. You'll need to develop new habits to achieve these goals, so it's important that you're clear about what they are.
Now choose one goal, and think about the habits that you'll need to incorporate into your schedule to reach it. What do you need to start doing every day to make this vision a reality?
Michelle has always wanted to live in France. Her goal is to learn to speak French, so that she can apply for a role in her company's Paris office. She decides to spend 30 minutes each day learning French.
2. Build Good Habits Into Your Routine
Find ways to build your new habit into your routine. Block out a regular time for it in your schedule, so that you can give your positive habit your full attention.
It's much easier to establish good habits if they fall during your most productive time of day. Our article Is This a "Morning" Task? helps you discover when you're at your most productive.
Michelle knows that she's at her best earlier in the day. She also knows that she's usually too tired to focus on learning after work.
She decides that early morning will be the best time to learn French. She resolves to go to bed by 10:00 p.m. each night so she can wake up at 6:00 a.m. In the evening, she lays out her clothes for work, prepares the coffee machine, and makes her lunch for the next day. She also loads some French learning podcasts onto her laptop in the kitchen.
When she wakes in the morning, she turns on the coffee machine and starts listening to the podcasts as she waits for her coffee to brew.
3. Reflect on Your Habits
As you progress with your new habit, reflect on how it's working for you. If you're struggling to stick to it, think about why this is. Were you too ambitious? If so, consider setting a more manageable short-term goal to remotivate yourself.
Or, if your new habit isn't delivering the change that you expected, reflect on what's gone wrong. You may need to tweak your habit to make sure that it's delivering real change.
After listening to her French podcasts for three weeks, Michelle realizes that she's forgetting some of the words that she's learning. She knows that she remembers more when she makes notes, so she starts writing new words and their meanings down in a notebook.
4. Develop Self-Discipline
One way to strengthen your self-discipline is to create a Treasure Map : a collage or visual representation of what you want to achieve. This will remind you why your new positive habit is so important to you. This can be just what you need to get motivated on days when your enthusiasm is waning.
Michelle creates a Treasure Map the night before she begins to learn French. She creates a collage full of pictures of Paris, including a picture of her company's Paris office. She feels excited about the opportunities ahead.
After two weeks of getting up early, she starts thinking about sleeping in. However, when she looks at her Treasure Map, she is reminded of her goal and she remembers how excited she feels about it. This goal is too important to give up on, and she can always sleep in at the weekends. She recommits to her morning learning.
5. Get Support
It can be hard to stick to a new habit when you're on your own. So share your goals with colleagues or friends, and ask them to support you. For example, you could ask them to call you check on your progress. Or, if they share your goal, you could meet them each week to support one another and maintain progress.
Numerous apps have been designed to support people trying to develop new habits. For example, Stickk® was developed by Yale economists. It allows you to log a goal, and to appoint a mentor to monitor your progress. A quick search online will reveal similar tools.
After Michelle tells a colleague about her goal, he agrees to talk French with her over lunch one day each week. Michelle feels more energized about reaching her goal now that her colleague is supporting her, and she has a new opportunity to practice what she's learning. In return, Michelle helps her colleague towards his goal, which is to improve his English.
Habits are powerful. They bring about change one step at a time, and they help you ensure that these changes become part of your life.
However, you're far more likely to reach your goal if you make your new habits part of your regular routine. Follow these steps to make good habits stick:
- Identify what you want to achieve.
- Build good habits into your routine.
- Reflect on your habits.
- Develop self-discipline.
- Get support.
When you decide to establish new habits in your life, focus on one at a time. If you try to overhaul your entire schedule at once, you'll likely get overwhelmed and quickly revert to old behaviors.