Stick With It: Top 5 Techniques for Maintaining Good Habits

Welcome back, everyone. Feeling suitably rested? Refreshed? And, if you took note of our previous post’s book recommendations, possibly even well-read, too?

One of those books – Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business – stands out as particularly relevant as another year begins. Those of you who ticked this off your holiday reading list will recall that Duhigg uses behavioural science to explore how habits are formed and how they can be changed. And we think the start of a new year is the perfect time for an exploration on habit-forming and, more importantly, habit-maintaining. After all, so many of us return to the office in a fervent flurry of good intentions, only to falter a few months in. Knowing what we should be doing is easy. To keep doing it? Not so much.

Fear not: we’re back on deck with the advice you need to ensure you go beyond intent to action – and, more importantly, that these actions last the distance, too. This year, don’t let the months of February, March and April become a graveyard for your good intentions. Take note instead of these trusted tips on how to make your healthy habits stick:

1. Start small.

You remember this one, right? It’s about making your metaphorical mountains manageable. It’s all very well to aim high – to hit the gym four times a week, for example – but research has shown that willpower works a lot like any other muscle. If you overwork it, fatigue sets in. Suddenly, you’re sitting out a session. And then another. You see where we’re going with this? The solution therefore is to start so small that hardly any willpower is required. Establish the basic behaviour first. When that’s become second nature, then – and only then – you can take it up a notch.

2. Clarify those intentions.

As PEP devotees, you’ll be familiar with this one, too. Vague aims are not your friend. PEPworldwide managing director Kathryn Anda recommends writing your goal or goals down: “The process of writing crystallises your intent. And you’re left with a visual – and therefore powerful – manifestation of your ambition.” But clarity is not just about the “what”; it’s also about the “how” and the “when”. Research has shown that you’ll be much more likely to follow through with a behaviour if you’ve already established exactly when, where and how the behaviour is going to take place. Which segues nicely to:

3. Set a structure in place.

Uncertainty may not be your friend, but a framework definitely is. Help fix any issues with follow-through by setting your new habit up as a 21-day – or, if you’re feeling brave, a 40-day – challenge. Why such a specific timeframe? Well, it’s widely believed that changing a habit takes 21 days until it starts to feel like normal behaviour. In your calendar, cross off every day on which you achieve your goal. It will become a visual representation of your increasing momentum. To be even more effective, take your habit-forming framework a step further by scheduling daily reminders at specific times. The more you commit, the harder it is to renege.

4. Enlist support – and supervision.

Even with the strictest scheduling in place, everyone has off-days. So keep yourself honest by telling as many people as possible about your intentions. Anda remembers a manager who informed his team that he was committing to leaving the office every day at midday for a walk or to go to the gym. He told them to push him out the door if he showed signs of reneging on his routine. Sure enough, his lifestyle change became a long-term habit – and not just for him, but for the rest of the team, too. Result!

5. Celebrate even the smallest successes.

Think those little wins don’t count for much? Think again. Research has shown that celebrating your progress is crucial for motivation. In other words, minor moments of triumph matter just as much as major milestones. “It’s important to acknowledge the positive impact of your actions, particularly as you begin the habit-forming process,” says Anda. “Celebrate small victories daily or weekly to help maintain momentum.” She recalls working with a manager who struggled to finish his meetings on time. However, consciously acknowledging each meeting that did finish on time – and recognising the improved outcomes as a result – was instrumental in building his new behaviour.

But perhaps the most important point of all? Don’t lose sight of the “why”. Something or someone initially compelled you to take action. If you feel yourself in danger of losing your motivation mojo, think back to what kicked the whole process off. Then celebrate how far you’ve come since then. And push on. Twenty-one days, people. It’s not that long in the scheme of things, is it?

Ready to rise to the challenge?