Why good habits are hard to build, and how to make it easier.
Picture this: it’s December 31st, the clock is ticking down to a brand new year. Starting from tomorrow you’re going to start exercising more, eating healthier, and finally start working on your side business. You make it a few days, even a few weeks, and when February hits, you’re all out of steam and have gone back to your old ways. Sound familiar?
Why is it so hard to build good habits?
Many times, part of the reason lies in the fact that we try to do too many things at once. Our brains don’t like change, even if it’s good for us in the long run. It needs to be convinced that what we’re doing is worth all the energy we’re causing it to expend. Beyond that, it needs to make gradual shifts that don’t feel like a huge change all at once. Change is threatening to our brains, even if it’s a positive one. So, we need to work with our brain, rather than against it.
Let’s say you want to start exercising, and you’ve never really had a habit in place. Telling yourself you’ll start going to the gym 5 times a week for an hour each time will be really overwhelming to your system, and you’ll face a lot of resistance.
Instead, start with the smallest step you can think of, something so small that you can’t possibly fail at it. In this case it could look like 5 minutes of stretching, 5 push ups, or if you’re really having a hard time, just putting on your gym clothes!
For other habits it could look like 2 minutes of meditating, 1 extra glass of water during the day, or reading for 5 minutes each day. When this becomes easy, add another small action in. Continue building the habit in this way, and over time, you’ll get where you want to be.
The likelihood of sustaining the habit will be far higher than if you were to start with too many things at once.
Set yourself up for success by taking it slowly and gradually.
What is activation energy?
Activation energy (AE) is the hump you have to get over when starting to build a new habit. It’s the resistance you feel when you’re starting something new – the feeling that makes you say I don’t wanna! when the work day ends and you promised yourself you’d go to the gym, but you’re not “feeling it”.
AE is highest when you’re just starting to build a habit. Learning to expect this as a normal part of the process is fundamental to moving past it. Expect resistance to show up; observe it, name it, and then decide to take action anyway. Naming it takes its power away, and separates yourself from the feeling. Saying to yourself “I am experiencing resistance” allows you to understand that this feeling isn’t you, it’s just something moving through you. It gives you the choice to not be led by it.
The good news is that with time and consistency, activation energy becomes lower. Think back to any habit you’ve successfully implemented, and compare how it felt in the beginning to how it feels now. Maybe you had to drag yourself out of bed to go on your morning runs, but now it’s second nature. In the same way, any new habit implemented over time will feel the same way.
Another way of reducing AE is simple: through the power of belief. If you believe you can do something, the activation energy is lowered. On the flipside, if you’re trying to build a new habit, but you believe it’s too hard and you can’t do it, AE becomes much higher. If you focus on the difficulty of the task, your brain will find all the reasons why you can’t do it, and point them out to you. Instead, shift your beliefs around what is possible, and you’ll start seeing ways it can happen.
Daily habits are the key to maximizing your productivity and efficiency. Having strong habits in place reduces the energy needed to continuously make decisions around how to spend your time. Habits around morning and evening routines, what to wear, what to eat, etc. frees up energy for the rest of the day. These might seem like small decisions, but over time, all decisions compound; reducing decision-making in these areas leaves more energy and resources to make important decisions regarding life, work and business.
Understanding that resistance is normal when first building a new habit is key to pushing through. Starting small and working your way up will help you create a sustainable habit that will serve you in the long run.
To listen to the full episode that we had with Dr. Erik Reis where he speaks on how to build those consistent habits, click here.
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Written by Alia Rajab