6 Steps (and 100 days) to create a new habit

How often do you promise yourself that ‘tomorrow’ you are going to start doing things differently?

We all, at some point, have probably made a New Years eve resolution - but we also make mini-resolutions all the time. How many of the following have you made?

‘I’m going to exercise regularly.’

‘From today I will tidy up my [desk, room, living space…] at the end of each day.’

‘Starting from Monday I will only drink alcohol on a weekend.’

‘I am going to read one book a week.’

‘I promise to leave [the office, workplace] on time at least 3 days a week.’

The thing I notice is that most determinations come from a sense of ‘I must do better’ rather than ‘I really want to do this’! So, if we can find a way to change our motivation and start with a more positive goal surely we will be successful?

Sadly, it’s not that simple!

Whether you call it motivation, determination or drive; creating the right mental attitude to change the habits of a lifetime is not easy (hence the huge library of self-help books on the subject). It is my job to keep up to date with the latest thinking on this topic (amongst others) and I was intrigued to read a while ago about the 100-day challenge. It worked so well for me that I have decided to do another 100-day challenge to take me through to the end of 2018!!

Why 100 days? People used to say it took 21 days to change a bad habit or create a new one. However, a study by University College London found that it took,on average, 66 days to form a new habit. In the study they found that there was no one magic figure - drinking a glass of water with breakfast took about 20 days to become automatic, but something harder, like doing 50 sit-ups a day, took more than 84 days!

So, the more difficult the challenge the longer it will take but, even though you may form the habit before 100 days by saying the course you will embed this new habit more deeply into your subconscious.

If you think this might work for you there are some tips on how to prepare for the challenge:

1. PICK SOMETHING THAT WILL CAUSE A BIG CHANGE IN YOUR LIFE

Choosing a challenge that is meaningful to you should give you that little extra incentive to succeed. If you pick something that you don’t really care about, or because everyone else is doing it, will just make the task harder.

Visualise what your life will be like in 100 days when you have made the change or developed a much needed (or wanted) skill. Make this as detailed as possible - imaging yourself doing things differently or write it down, in the present tense, as if you have already achieved your goal.

2. TRY THE ‘IF/WHEN … THEN’ TRICK TO KEEP YOU ON TRACK

It is hard to create new habits so we usually need a nudge to keep us on track. One trick is to tag your new habit onto an old one to make it stick or link the new habit to a specific time or location. Or, as nature abhors a vacuum, replace the bad habit, with something else.

Here are some examples:

  • If it is 5:00 at work, then I’ll text [my flat-mate] and tell them that I’m leaving. This simple prompt will then remind you to pack up and go home if you are trying to leave work on time more frequently.
  • If I am working on my weekly report, then I’ll put my phone away (to stop looking at texts or messages).
  • If I feel like buying something from XX, then I will go for a 30 minute walk (to avoid wasting money).
  • When I first sit at my desk in the morning, then I will work on my blog (to avoid distractions).

If it helps, write your statements down and post them next to the place where the action will take place. Changing your environment is a strong way to influence habits, so putting a reminder by your work-space can give you the nudge you need.

3. KEEP A RECORD OF YOUR PROGRESS

Before you start make up a chart with 100 lines / squares - one for each day. Write across the top of the page what your goal is and what you are going to do every day to keep your challenge going. This might be as simple as ‘I will learn 5 new words in [French] during my commute’ or ‘I will take the stairs at work instead of using the lift.’

Next, look at your diary and see if there are any activities that could prevent you from taking action during the 100 day challenge and what you can do to keep on track. The first ten days are the hardest so pick the right time to start with minimal distractions.

Now tick off every day that you achieve your target and make a note of any triggers / situations that made you hesitate or not achieve your goal that day. Think of tactics that can help you should this happen again.

4. HAVE A PLAN B

Stuff happens! There may be times when you just can’t do it. You might be ill or suddenly have a deadline at work that stops you from doing your challenge. Think about what you can do to catch up.

  • Can you swap another activity to catch up on your reading?
  • Or go back down the stairs and do it all again to get in some exercise?
  • If your challenge doesn’t allow you to double up are you prepared to tack an extra day or two on the end?

5. GET SUPPORT

Some people are motivated by encouragement from others. If the idea of putting it out there on the web doesn’t appeal try asking your friends and family to help. If you prefer to keep it private that’s OK too, but you might want to pat yourself on the back when you reach a milestone. Stick a gold star on your chart (yes, it works!) or choose a treat that supports your challenge.

6. WATCH THE NUMBERS

I said before that the first ten days are the toughest but once you have it past that mark it becomes much harder to break the run. We become energised by seeing those squares fill up with ticks!!! And the more days that you succeed in your challenge, the more it becomes a new habit and the easier it gets.

NB: you can use alternatives to ticking the box. Try one of these to see what works for you:

  • Fill a jar with 100 pebbles, coins or shiny beads and then transfer them to a second jar every time you achieve your goal. If you use coins decide beforehand what you are going to do with the money at the end - you might want to celebrate!!
  • Use a ‘thermometer’ chart - draw a thermometer on a large piece of paper (the bigger the better!!) and mark off 100 lines. Fill in each space every time you complete your daily goal.
  • If its public post the number (day 1, day 2 etc.) on social media and ask your friends to keep you accountable!
  • If you want privacy with accountability find someone (or a group) who also want to change something and use private messaging to update each other and celebrate milestones along the way, If the group is geographically local then arrange to celebrate at the end smile

GOOD LUCK!!

If you decide to challenge yourself let me know - and enjoy the ride!!