6 Ideas for Creating Lasting Habits

Being physically healthy is something we all want but most of us struggle to achieve. We all know the basic steps to become healthier: eat a healthy diet, exercise, get the proper amount of sleep, and see a doctor as needed. The challenge for all of us is that our lives are busy, and we have so many other things to worry about, that often our health gets forgotten.

Sometimes, we think the solution is to make large improvements to our life. Losing 20 pounds, running a marathon, or becoming a vegetarian. Making these large improvements can help give us a significant boost of motivation, but eventually that initial motivation subsides, we burn out and return to our previous habits. The classic example of this is the New Year’s resolution. We start the new year with lots of energy and enthusiasm. We buy a gym membership, we faithfully go to the gym every day, but over time, other commitments get in the way of this large lifestyle change. Soon our motivation has dropped, the effort required is no longer worth it, and that gym membership ends up sitting unused for the rest of the year.

What if, instead of trying to make large disruptive changes to your life, you looked for small simple changes that are almost effortless. Creating tiny improvements in your life, mastering that change, and then adding another. Slowly layering these small changes into your life until they build up enough to be meaningful. Think of a retirement savings account, those first few dollars you add are almost meaningless, but over a lifetime of work that retirement account can grow large enough to fund your lifestyle for your entire retirement years. This is the same principle. Those first few habits you add may not make any noticeable change to your life, but as you continue to layer on small meaningful habits you can create a lifestyle that is significantly better than where you are today.

Getting started can be very simple. Pick something small that you could add to or change in your life that will have an impact. For instance, parking further from the doors at the grocery store so you have to walk a few more steps, or cutting a specific food out of your diet. Will these things solve everything right now? No, but they are a start. You may not even be able to see the difference it makes, but it is there. Each minor change, when compounded with a bunch of other minor changes, becomes a major change.

Here are some guidelines for how to do this:

  • Make the change automatic by adding a small addition to something else you already do. For example, Kelli and I already have a habit of running flights of stairs each morning but we decided we wanted to work on our core strength as well. So we added a simple new routine immediately following our stairs, leg lifts for 30 second. Simple. We are still working on remembering to do it each day, but overall it has been a simple addition to something we are consistently doing.
  • Create habits that simplify what you are already doing. Time is one of our most valuable resources and as a result we need to continue to look for opportunities to add more of it to our lives. Sometimes the best new habit is to remove a habit that is no longer serving you. An example of this in our lives was when we decided to start having a very simple breakfast, muesli, every morning. This is a high fiber, healthy meal, and it reduced the amount of time we spent planning, shopping for, and preparing breakfast, giving us time for other habits we wanted to add to our lives.
  • Make the change part of your identity. We think of these as “I am” habits. For example, I am (we are) someone who wakes up early every day. At this point, waking up early is something we are pleased with, and something we have been doing long enough that we think of ourselves as early risers. Every morning at 5 am, the alarm goes off and we have no difficulty waking up and getting on with our day. Once you see yourself as a certain type of person, it becomes natural to continue being that person.
  • Be honest and kind to yourself. Sometimes you add a new habit to your routine that for various reasons doesn’t fit. Don’t give up too easily, but if after a period of time you can’t get to the point where it feels natural, you should let it go. Try out some other habits, and maybe in the future you will be ready to come back and try that habit again. Forcing a habit that doesn't fit wastes time and effort that you could be using on habits more likely to remain part of your life.
  • Recognize your accomplishments. We all need praise, but often we forget to praise ourselves. Remember to look back and see how far you have come. For example, when I look back, even 6 months, I can see that I have added 4 or 5 high value habits to my life. Occasionally review and evaluate your progress and congratulate yourself on your accomplishments.
  • Slow down. Stop being in such a rush to fix everything. The most important piece of advice we can give is to stop comparing yourself to others. Stop thinking that you need to fix everything today. Stop thinking you aren’t good enough. If in a month from now you are making even the smallest amount of progress, that is further than you were previously. When you try to focus on too many new habits at the same time, you can’t give them the attention they need to make them feel natural in your life. You may have heard the saying “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast”. If you try to improve your habits too quickly, you are more likely to give up after a few months, and then you will be right back where you are today.

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This idea of adding small simple habits to your life, instead of focusing on large changes and short term goals, isn’t new. You can find similar ideas in many different books, and in many different blogs. The purpose of this article is simply to share some of the ideas that have worked for us.

We hope these ideas will encourage you to start adding simple habits to your daily routine that will help you become the person you want to be. Following this path has helped us slowly improve how we eat, how much we exercise, and the quality of our sleep, and these ideas can help you in a similar fashion. If you have questions about this article, we would love to be given the opportunity to clarify. If you found this article helpful, we would love it if you would share that with us as well. Either way send us an email. We read and reply to all of them.

Kelli & Nathan

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The purpose of “The Couple Project” is to learn more about what makes a strong marriage or relationship. We share what we are learning, which ideas we are trying, and which ideas helped improve our relationship. We realize not everything that works for us will work for you, but we still hope you will find our journey valuable.

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