The benefits of building good habits and integrating them into a daily routine are significant. In this article I'm going to provide a list of top tips for developing different types of habits and making a daily routine that works for you.
Habits and routines are automated behaviours that are undertaken without a requirement for thought or consideration. They're performed without the need for any significant decision-making, willpower or effort.
In other words, a habit is a behaviour that has been repeated so frequently that it's become automatic. Different types of habits are developed when our brains know how to respond in a particular situation without needing to go through a learning process of trial and error.
Unfortunately, the benefits of new habits and daily routines are not always felt immediately. For example, exercising for 20 minutes on a single day won’t deliver any noticeable results, whereas a 90 day commitment to daily exercise is pretty much guaranteed to leave you feeling fitter and healthier.
And therein lies the major challenge of developing good habits, kicking bad habits and creating new routines. The benefits are often only realised cumulatively over an extended period of time.
Unfortunately we tend not to pay much attention to minor changes that we make in our lives, as the immediate effects are often not very noticeable.
Choosing to eat a burger rather than salad or add a side of fries to a meal isn’t going to translate into a weight issue the next day. However, if get into the habit of repeatedly making those same choices, then it won't be long before the cumulative effect the piling on of pounds.
Tip 01 | Commit To The Long Haul & Be Patient
Making positive changes in your life and career also requires patience. The reality is that it will take time before you start seeing results from the actions that you take today.
If you're frustrated that your new behaviours are not immediately delivering results, then focus on the sense of achievement that comes from consistently making progress and taking small steps in the right direction.
For example, if you want to develop the good habit of saving money and kick the bad habit of overspending, then celebrate the increase in your bank balance each month. In the short term the benefit may not seem to be that great, but over time the extra wealth you amass will be significant. Conversely, if you get stuck in the bad habit of overspending each month, then it will be your debt that ends being significant in the long run.
Tip 02 | Start With Micro-Commitments
So, importantly, it's possible to make major changes to your life in the long-run by practicing small shifts in behaviour today. Repeat those behaviours consistently over time and the results will be extraordinary.
One of the major reasons that so many people fail to maintain their New Year's Resolutions is that the types of habit and targets they set themselves are too ambitious. If you set yourself a goal of going to the gym five times per week and only go three times, then you may end up telling yourself that you've failed and not bother going at all the following week.
It's therefore better to start off by setting a goal that's achievable and gradually increase the level of commitment over time. For example, if you decide to commit to developing a new skill or learning a new language, the act of investing a small amount of time to practicing each day will enable you to achieve significant results without having to fundamentally revolutionise your life or fundamentally change your behaviour patterns.
Consider what small changes you can start making in your life and career to start developing different types of habits and daily routines today. What micro-commitments will serve you positively in the long-term? For example, what would be the cumulative impact and benefit of getting into the habit and routine of adding one new connection on LinkedIn each day?
Tip 03 | Don't Wait - Get Started Today
It's easy to fall into the trap of procrastinating about adopting a new behaviour, starting a new routine or developing a new habit. It's always possible to find a reason why it's not the perfect time to start. It might be that you have a big project on at work, or that you're going on holiday soon or that the weather isn't very good today.
The reality if that it's always going to be possible to find an excuse to delay getting started. But, consider how much you could have already achieved during the time that you've been thinking, talking or procrastinating about getting started.
How much could you have already achieved, if you'd put that energy into building the habit or creating the routine itself? More importantly, how much better would you feel right now if you'd actually taken some action?
Tip 04 | Reward Yourself
People are motivated by rewards, so ensure that you're habits create a positive sense of anticipation of the rewards that you’ll receive if you maintain your commitment to them.
When we encounter pleasurable things, our brains release a feel-good hormone called dopamine. As well as being stimulated through physical stimuli, the release of dopamine can also be triggered by the anticipation a pleasurable activity or reward. This helps encourage and motivate us to take action in our lives. It’s the reason why we derive so much pleasure from looking forward to a special occasion or holiday.
We can tap into this reward system when developing new habits and routines. If we can ensure that the new habit is something that we actually look forward to and positively anticipate, then it becomes much easier for it become part of our daily routine.
Unfortunately, sometimes it's difficult to look forward to certain actions and behaviours. One way to overcome this challenge is to associate the less desirable behaviour with one that is more appealing and likely to encourage that powerful dopamine hit.
For example, it may be that you decide to link the less desirable activities of running on a treadmill or doing a stint on the exercise bike, with the opportunity to watch your favourite TV series on your iPad whilst you’re doing them. Or it may be that you promise to reward yourself with your favourite food every time you consistently hit a key work target.
By linking these positive rewards with less desirable tasks, you'll soon begin to positive association with the new habits and daily routines that you're developing.
Tip 04 | Recognise The Trigger - Action - Reward Pattern
Good habits and bad habits all follow a similar pattern of Trigger - Action - Reward. Habits start with a trigger or cue to act. For example, when your phone pings, it triggers you to want to find out who's contacting you or what notification you’ve received. Without thinking, your response is to pick up your phone and check your messages. Your reward is reading the message and receiving the associated dopamine hit. You can think of that red new notification icon as a little dopamine dot!
Often these habits become hard-wired into us without us even realising. For example, another phone related trigger can be when someone else takes out their phone and checks their messages or social media in front of you. This triggers a craving to see if you have any messages or notifications of your own, which leads to the action of you pulling out your own phone and the potential reward of some dopamine dots.
You can test this for yourself by noticing your urge to pull out your phone next time someone checks theirs. Or you can even see what happens if you choose to instigate the trigger by checking you phone when you're with a group of friends or colleagues.
So, why is this important? Well, it's only by understanding how the Trigger - Action - Reward system works that we can start understanding our good habits and bad habits and, by doing so, start creating new, positive habits and routines that serve our life and career goals.