6 Helpful Tips for Forming Habits


This may not come as a surprise to some of my readers, but I have a difficult time forming habits. I have a touch of the ADD and with that comes the SQUIRREL easy ability to be distracted. I will explain the three phases of how this works for anyone who might not realize.

Phase 1. New task.
I get super excited. I’ve just thought of this amazing thing I’m going to start doing that is going to change my life, organize me, create financial stability, give me six-pack abs, and change the world for the better.
I’m a creative person so this new task probably involves downloading an app, creating a paper calendar, buying a pen, a journal, a rolling desk with filing drawers and of course, research! I will look up everything possible about how to crochet a doggy sweater. I will learn all of the intricate stitches, print out patterns, and order new ergonomic crochet hooks online so I don’t get carpal tunnel from all the doggy sweaters I’ll be making.

Phase 2. A couple of days in.
I am still pretty excited. Look at me, I’m a blogger/chef/plumber/doctor/artist. Because this is the part of the project I’m good at (learning) I actually can pick up on some skills fast. A few days in and I am pretty decent at speaking in sign-language.

Ooh! Pretty Shiny Thing!

Notice there was no third phase. A week after phase 1, I’ve either started a Project Runway marathon and don’t have time to paint every day, or I’ve gotten bored already. Hey! Doing 100 pull-ups a day isn’t as exciting as I thought it would be!

So what is a person to do? Well, luckily some habits are so important to me that I do them daily even though they are boring. Brushing my teeth and showering for example, are boring, but I just don’t like to smell, so I do them. Not everything comes with such an obvious adverse side effect however. This is why eating healthy is such a hard habit to form. The adverse effect of weight gain is so slow and the taste and feeling from the food is sometimes more motivating.

Here are a few ways to build habits that you’ve been working on for a long time:

  1. Get clear on your why. I’ve said this before, but it’s really, really important. Want to quit drinking? Why? Want to eat healthy? Why? Want to file all of your bank receipts alphabetically? Why? Figure out how you will feel when you have built this habit. When you have a strong Why, you can fall back on this when you are tempted to break your habit.
  2. Form a support group. Seriously, don’t do this alone. You will come up with excuses. And because you are the only one you have to convince, you will accept them. If you have a support group, when you tell them that you had to drink a bottle of wine last night it was the anniversary of your mother’s dog’s annual vet appointment, they will be on to you. Hopefully they will speak up and it will help you get back on track.
  3. Decide on a daily minimum or maximum. Want to meditate every day? 20 minutes at a time would be great, but what if you did just 2 minutes? That should count and is easier than getting in all 20. Giving yourself an easy task to check off helps you build the daily habit and often will lead into the full habit. If you sit for 2 minutes, you may just stay and complete your 20 minutes. And that’s a bonus!
  4. Set aside rewards. This one is tough, but will be easier if you have the support group we discussed. It’s easy for me to say that I will reward myself with a bath or going to get my hair trimmed, but what if I don’t follow through with my habits? I might still want a bath or a hair trim. And guess what, I have no one to answer to. Get a support group (or just one person). Build in rewards that do not have to do with food. Some great suggestions are: Make yourself a hot cup of tea, watch your favorite tv show, spend some extra time snuggling with your dogs in the morning, give yourself a scalp massage in the shower.
  5. Instead of beating yourself up when you skip a day, use it as a learning experience. Analyze it like it’s a new species you’ve discovered. What happened? Were there any patterns that you noticed? Did you simply forget or did you not want to do it? When you can figure out what went wrong you can figure out some solutions. Did you just forget? Set a reminder on your phone. Did your reminder go off at a time that you didn’t feel like blogging? Come up with a better time for the reminder. Do you hate the sound of your alarm? Come up with a better notification sound. Do you hate blogging? WHY are you trying to form this habit?
  6. Brag about it. Don’t be afraid to blast your success. Facebook it, Tweet it, Blog about it, hell you are finally a blogger, tell the world about it! Because it’s out there in the world, you are more likely to feel held accountable for the behavior. Random people will ask you how it’s going. Be honest with them. If you forgot, that’s okay, it can be hard, but you’re working on it. If you’re jamming, be honest! I’m a freaking superstar!

This is only a short list of some helpful ways to be more succesful in setting up habits. Here are also some resources I have found to be useful for me (but don’t spend all day researching these, you’ll get stuck in phase 1).

HabitRPG– this one’s on top because it’s my favorite. Set a habit, a daily or a to-do, set up your rewards. Earn gold and diamonds and level up your character. Join challenges with fellow players and lose Health Points for habits not checked off.

Trello– a simple to do application that allows you to drag and drop to do lists onto cards, archive them and hide away some that you’re not working on right now. It has a desktop and a smartphone component.

Google Keep– To do lists with Google style. I don’t use this one, but I’ve heard lots of good things about it.

Google Calendar– I have used this for years along with gmail and google drive. I work better when I have everything with me everywhere I go. And google calendar has been very consistent for me since at least 2006.

What about you? What habits are you working on? Do you have any favorite tools that should be added to the list?

Author: Mary Preston, LMFT

I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Life Coach. Through dealing with my own anxiety and attention difficulties over the years I have discovered many useful practices and tools to help regain focus, shift my attention to what’s important and to stay organized enough to get the life that I want. In my practice I work primarily with women and children with Anxiety, ADHD and Depression and I share what I’ve learned to get them back on track to living a full, purpose filled life.

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