August is all about Habits.
This week, we take a look at how to optimize habits so that tiny successes become your new normal.
Your habits can—and should—change your life. You’ve decided on the one, small, new habit you want to implement into your everyday. You’ve even mastered the most important and basic habit of simply showing up.
You’ve done one of the most difficult parts of this habit-forming process: you began. You got started.
Now, it’s time to optimize.
Ways to Optimize Your Habits
Design Your Environment for Success
Your environment directly influences your habits and, therefore, your life.
40-50% of your day is habitual. You’re running on autopilot, unconsciously jumping from one task to the next. Each habit, then, is an automatic routine that will prompt what you do with your next chunk of time.
Often, your environment sets up these routine, unconscious habits. If you can prime your environment—physical or digital—so that you reduce the number of steps between you and the good choice (and increase the number of steps to that bad choice), you can create an environment that elevates your habit—which, ultimately, elevates your life.
If you want to work out, lay out your exercise clothes the night before. If you want to stop spending money, unfollow retailers on Instagram. If you want to spend more time reading and less time watching TV, create a space in your home where books are the center of attention rather than the television.
Restructure your environment so that the habits you want to do (or keep doing) are easier to do. In this setting, the desired behavior becomes the normal behavior.
As soon as you’ve completed your habit, acknowledge your success. Tap into the reward system of your brain by adding a celebration to the end of it.
These tiny rewards can come in all sorts of shapes. While you’re brushing your teeth at night before bed, tell yourself what a great job you’re doing for yourself, how this small change over and over will lead to major health outcomes. This is an intrinsic reward, one that evokes an inward positive feeling.
Extrinsic rewards also reinforce your habit. After your early morning workout, reward yourself with a fresh cup of coffee; after adding protein and vegetables to a meal, put a gold star on your calendar for the day.
Celebrations, both inwardly and outwardly driven, are hugely important in habit formation. Attaching positive emotions to the habit you want to continue with will make you that much more likely to repeat it and for that habit to become routine.
Keep Showing Up
There will always be roadblocks. We’re human! And all sorts of things can get in the way of us successfully completing our habit for the day.
But this isn’t about perfection. Your new, healthy habit is about showing up most of the time, for the rest of your life—or, at least until the habit no longer serves you.
Goals are collections of daily habits: where you are now in your life is a byproduct of the natural, habitual system you’ve built for yourself. It’s not just any one day or any one habit that gets you to an outcome. It’s the collection. Collectively, it’s about doing fewer things incorrectly.
Eating fewer unhealthy foods and missing fewer workouts will result in net gains. But there will still be workouts missed and unhealthy foods eaten! And that is OK. It’s part of being human. The key is to do more of what benefits you than what doesn’t; to be more consistent with your new habit than not; to do less than you had hoped rather than nothing at all.
It will take the rest of your life to build your habit. This healthy habit, coupled with a few other healthy habits, turns into the healthy lifestyle that you’re trying to achieve.
And a healthy lifestyle isn’t about crossing a finish line or reaching a goal. It’s meant to be your new normal—your new, healthy, flourishing life.