Much of what you want in life can be yours if you form the right habits. The good news is that it takes only 30 days to form a habit. Once a habit is formed, you don’t have to think about it any more. You will perform the desired behaviour on auto-pilot. This frees you to focus on forming another habit the following month.
If you do this consistently, you’ll be a changed person in just 12 months, let alone in 5 years. Even if you aren’t every disciplined about it and miss every other month, you’ll still make a lot of progress in a year.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
1. Choose a new habit every month
You could decide to improve your health, finances, relationships, or any area of your life. If you want to work on your health, choose habits like eating salads for lunch, or drinking two litres of water daily, or jogging every other day. If finances are more pressing, decide to use only cash that month, or check your bank balance every day. You could work on a relationship habit, like calling one friend a day just to say hello, or opening your mouth only when you can speak gently.
If you’re not sure what habit you want to work on, choose any post title on this site. All of them are designed to be simple actions that the mind can easily understand. A good habit to start forming would be to keep a gratitude journal.
2. Write down your desired habit
Thinking about a desired behaviour alone seldom brings about any change. You have to write it down. Keep this instruction to yourself concise and clear. “Compliment one person” works much better than “Find someone to say something nice about”. What you want is three to five words that your brain can register easily each time it is repeated, so that this simple instruction finds its way into your subconscious thoughts.
3. Look at your desired habit everyday
Once you’ve written down your desired habit on a card, stick this somewhere you will look at everyday. This daily written reminder helps your brain to focus on giving you what you want. I put my monthly ‘habit card’ next to my desktop PC which I look at every morning and night. Yours could be on the fridge door, on your car windshield, on your dresser mirror, wardrobe door, or anywhere you look at often.
Putting your ‘habit card’ in the right place removes the need for you to deliberately try to remember what habit you’re trying to form that month. You probably won’t remember because you have so many other things to do. But if the habit card is staring you in the face everyday, your mind will see it without any further effort required on your part.
4. Review your habit card monthly
At the end of the month, you’ll know whether or not you’ve successfully formed the habit you want. If the habit is formed, you’ll feel uncomfortable if you go one day without performing the desired behaviour. When you’ve reached this stage, you’re ready to choose another habit to write on your habit card to look at everyday, to form this new habit the following month.
If the habit is not formed yet, perhaps you are not putting your habit card in the right place and therefore not looking at it everyday. If you are looking at it everyday, perhaps the phrasing of the habit is not simple enough for your brain to register the desired behaviour. Try a shorter phrase which is more to the point.
5. Keep old habit cards
Since we’re only human and sometimes lapse into old bad habits, it’s a good idea not to discard habit cards once you’ve formed the habit. Keep them all in a small box. When you’re not sure what habit to work on in any given month, take this box out and go through the cards. If you’ve allowed any of these habits to lapse, you could use that month to re-establish the habit.
When you go through the old cards, you’ll also be reminded how many new habits you’ve formed over time. As your stack grows, you can literally see how you’ve become a better person. You’ll feel an enormous sense of fulfillment and gratitude, and be motivated to keep up this practice. So start now, grab a piece of paper or card and write down a habit you’d like to form. You’re only 30 days away from being closer to the person you’ve always wanted to be.