4 Mindful Ways to Make Habits Stick
It’s almost June, my babies! And how are those resolutions coming along? You know, the ones you set in January with every intention of becoming a healthier, smarter, more well-balanced lil cookie?
Not so well, huh? That’s alright, you’re part of a mighty statistic if that’s the case—80 percent of resolutions don’t stick past the second week of February. So what’s the deal here? How can we improve our chances of sticking to the goals that we know we want to achieve, but just can’t seem to stay committed to? Whether you’re a fan of setting resolutions at the New Year or not, we’ve all fallen victim to getting off track when we set out to become better people through our daily behavior. Below, find four scientifically-backed tactics to help you stay mindful of and committed to your next goal, whether it’s daily meditation, becoming a black belt, or just reading a book every month of the year.
Use Your Brain to Your Advantage
Shout out to science for studying habit formation and giving us all the knowledge we now have access to on the habit loop. If you’re not looking to read through multiple books and research studies on the topic, here’s the gist: we create habits (really for just about every facet of our life) without even noticing, and these habits follow a structure called the “habit loop,” which goes like this:
Cue: what gives our brains the hint that it’s time to take part in a habit, like seeing our running shoes by the door.
Routine: the habit part, where we perform the repeated action. Such as lacing up our shoes and going for our daily morning run.
Reward: the little treat our brain gets when we complete the habit, lighting up our internal rewards system with a whole bunch of tiny fireworks. Think, the rush of endorphins from exercising, or the cup of coffee you make once you’ve cooled down from the run.
The easiest and fastest way to take advantage of the habit loop is to alter that juicy little bit in the middle. Maybe you want to read more books this year, but you just can’t seem to find the time. First, take notice if there are any habits you can hijack. Consider this:
Cue: Lunch time! You are hungry and it’s time to eat. Grab your vegan stir fry or falafel wrap or whatever you decide to shove into your mouth around midday and get ready to feast.
Routine: Grab your phone! Eating means it’s time for a mental break, so you usually spend this time scrolling through Twitter, mindlessly chewing on some leftover lasagna from the night before. Sweet, sweet release from the world around you.
Reward: Ahhh, sweet relief from the crushing work day. You got a nice little mental break from your immediate surroundings and were able to cast yourself into other worlds: your friend’s breathtaking trip to Iceland, the pictures your mom sent you of the family pup doing something extra cute. Alas, time to get back to work!
Let’s take a look at that juicy bit. Any ideas? You’ve been cued by lunch time and all you want is to forget about the world around you for a bit while you refuel. Hellooooo, grab that book, baby girl. Instead of tapping through disheartening news and tired memes, delve into a world entirely outside your own and work towards your goal to read every day. You might even have the added reward of feeling extra-recharged by lessening your screen time and giving your brain some ~*imagination*~ time.
Walk the Tightrope
The most crushing thing about trying to change our habits is when we slip up. We have to accept that this is bound to happen, because sadly we’re mere humans who can’t help but fall off the path sometimes. But what’s worse than eating a big ol’ slice of cake when you’re a few days into trying to eat more healthily? Saying fuck it and going back to eat four more giant slices. With ice cream. And maybe some chocolate sauce. Because you’ve already ruined it, right?
Wrong. It’s never too late to turn the boat around, but the more cake you eat, the harder it gets. So you’ve got to learn to walk the tightrope: go easy on yourself, but hold yourself accountable. How can you improve your chances of doing this successfully? Some ideas:
Take it one habit at a time, for at least one month before you introduce another habit.
If you slip up, don’t let yourself snowball until you’re a one-woman avalanche careening down the mountain. Talk to yourself as you would a friend: so you forgot to run today, that’s a bummer. Get back out there tomorrow.
Create a tangible rewards system (cough habit loop cough) if you’re struggling to stay motivated. This should keep the slip-ups minimal in the first place.
Forgive yourself, truly and completely. Once again, you’re just a little bean trying to do her best.
But maybe you’re having trouble sticking to your habit on even the first day. Yikes, my dude, but also, I can relate. Which leads us to...
Okay friends, here’s the real treat. Starting a new habit can be tough because it’s usually not something we find super enjoyable. Like quitting nail-biting, or meditating daily. Both tedious and not-so-glamorous, but ultimately great for us. Luckily, there is a way to make things a little more fun and it’s called temptation bundling. The idea is that you combine an activity you’re not so crazy about with one that you really love, and do them at the same time. The epitome of two birds, one stone! The original study tracked three groups of adults: one group exercised sans audiobook, while the second and third group exercised while listening to an audiobook. However, the third group was discouraged from listening to the audiobook at home and told they should only listen while exercising at the gym. The results? The group encouraged to listen to their book only at the gym exercised a whopping 51 percent more frequently, with the unlimited audiobook group still exercising 29 percent more than the control group.
There is one caveat: once you’ve bundled the same temptations for a while, the same study shows the effectiveness of this technique lessens slowly over time. But by now, you’ve built the habit into your routine so it’ll come easier to you. How do you stay interested now? Maybe try to...
Replace Newness with Nuance
So by definition, a habit is a habit because it’s the same, it’s rote. Over time our habits become so ingrained in us that our responses become automatic, and our brains get into the routine without even thinking about it. Which is great for accomplishing our goals, but maybe we’re just not having fun anymore. So how do we intrinsically motivate ourselves to stick with it?
Try to replace your desire for something new with any nuance you can find in your habit. Let’s say you’ve been successfully eating vegan for two months now. While that’s fab, you’re probably pretty sick of the recipes you first started with. So do your research, find some new exciting ingredients, like a different meat replacement or an exotic veggie you’ve never cooked with before. Maybe you’ve been working out every day, but you’re about to die from boredom just thinking about your gym routine. Try signing up for a class in something you’ve never considered, like mixed martial arts or weightlifting. If you can find pleasure in the nuances of your habit, you’ll be able to derive satisfaction from sticking to your habit for a much longer time to come, which is the goal in the first place when we make lifestyle changes.
Whether your goal is to journal every day or instill a daily workout regimen worthy of an Olympian, it’s difficult to create a new habit and stick to it if we’re not aware of what’s working against us. By being mindful of things like the way our brains work and the importance of remaining kind to ourselves, we can establish habits that will work for us now, and eventually, a while to come.