Published By Janet Gershen-Siegel at May 15th, 2018
Do you know how to create effective habits?
Most of us are constantly on the lookout for how to create effective habits and make them stick. Good habits can be everything from eating right and exercising, to setting aside retirement funds, or contacting our loved ones more frequently.
We know, intellectually, that we should do any or all of these things. Yet we seem to have so much trouble getting down to them, right? It can be maddeningly difficult to start or keep up with any or all of these. What to do?
Without further ado, here are five tips/suggestions on how to create effective habits.
It can be tempting to look in the mirror or at our checkbooks or anything else and declare that everything is wrong, and it is all going to hell in a hand cart.
However, that does not do any good. And neither does multitasking five different new habits.
So, how do you handle this?
I am, personally, a big fan of lists. Lists are specific and they record what you want to do that you do not have to wrack your brains. They also help to eliminate excuses. Oh, I forgot. Well, no; you cannot forget if it is all written down, now, can you?
So, first we can start with setting aside retirement funds. This one, fortunately, is pretty easy in the abstract. You will need to contact Payroll or Human Resources at work. This depends on which department handles retirement funding. And once you are in touch with them, ask for retirement withholding for a 401(k) plan.
Or your company might not have a 401(k) plan but you can get a certain chunk of your funds diverted to a second account via direct deposit. If that is the case, then maybe set aside a chunk to a retirement fund.
Not working right now? Then contact your bank. You may be able to get a regular transfer going, even if it is for something as small as $5 – 10 per week. Better that than not saving.
The whole truth is that this method works beautifully with the previous one. Just like we might divide a list of tasks up, we can also do so with intended new habits.
Now, we can take our list, above:
So of that simple list of four effective habits, consider the following:
On our list, saving for retirement and contacting perhaps one loved one probably take the least amount of time. The other two probably take the most. Saving is most likely to be set it and forget it while the others have to be redone repeatedly.
Immediate impact comes from contacting our loved ones; the others (and even that one) have long term impact. Possibly all of them need to be done or at least started immediately, particularly if a loved one is elderly or ill (or both).
Perhaps the best way to start is with two things which can be done quickly – such as starting the process of saving for retirement, and contacting one person. Even if they talk your ear off for two hours, it will not be forever.
We can never account for every single contingency, but we can at least plan a little bit. We do not have to throw our hands up and declare, It is what it is. Or, I give up.
So, it is time to again consider our four.
What would derail or good eating habits? One obvious way is by keeping unhealthy foods in the home. So do not buy them in the first place. Despite the myriad of diets and studies, some things are obvious.
One of them is that cake is never going to be good for you (sorry!). When you do not keep unhealthy foods around, you only have to say no to them once – at the checkout counter.
What could derail our exercise plans? Maybe bad weather would, so we can build in a contingency plan in case of lousy weather. This can be joining a gym, or doing mall walking. Also it could be getting our exercise by cleaning or even shoveling snow.
So how about contacting the family? Not connecting might derail things, so why not set up a regular time for contact if it is someone close to us? Mom, I will call you at 6 every Sunday night and I will let you know in advance if I am unable to make it. And then set it as a calendar reminder, on your phone or computer. There you go.
What about retirement savings? We could fail if we do not set aside the money, so the best way to assure that is by having it taken out automatically via a payroll deduction.
For a lot of us, there are certain triggers which derail our best efforts. Maybe it is the alluring aroma of movie theater popcorn which causes your diet to go off the rails. Or maybe you call your parents and they lecture you about the exact opposite political stance to your own. Maybe sitting on the couch and starting to binge watch the latest fun series wreaks havoc with your best intentions to exercise. That couch practically swallows you, it is so comfy. Who are you to deny that? Or maybe the crush of bills makes it impossible to save for later.
Whatever your triggers are, the first step is to quite simply to know what they are. And then you need to do your best to address those directly. That smell of movie theater popcorn might be addressed if you get a small popcorn, and share it. There is no law saying you have to finish it, now, is there?
For your political folks, why not plan ahead with a few noncontroversial topics to discuss? Something more than the weather or sports or your health. Maybe you read a great book and want to share it. Or you started working with a personal training. Whatever is your news, write it down so you remember to share it! And set an alarm on your phone. Sorry, I’ve gotta go. Gotta work out/do homework/make dinner/take a shower – whatever.
Wait, you’re suggesting we lie?
Well, maybe stretch the truth creatively.
Having trouble getting into the exercise habit? It may help to consider how you respond to pressure or suggestions or advice. Is there someone you listen to more? And is the opposite true, where there is someone who you just dismiss out of hand? If you respond to authority, then consider a personal trainer. And if you respond to peer pressure, maybe join a gym. Or start working out with a friend. If you are inspired by rewards, then sign up for a race.
When it comes to saving, the best course of action is to have the money move over to your retirement account before you ever see it. Out of sight, out of mind. One terrific piece of advice from (oh my God!) over thirty years ago has stayed with me to this day. What is it? It is to plow your raises straight into your retirement.
Making an extra 2% annually? Then raise your retirement contribution by 2% and call it a day.
Could a new pair of sneakers make it easier to exercise regularly? Then get them. Would creating a family group on Facebook make it easier to keep in touch? Then make the group. Can a slow cooker or an insta-pot make it easier to eat right? Does a retirement vision board give you the incentive to save? Then you know the drill – just do it!
Much like Rome, good habits are not built in a day. Be patient! Give yourself some time, and that includes time for setbacks.
Imperfect execution of effective habits is better than no execution of them, so if your healthy eating plan means not having a second piece of cake one day, then accept that that is how you will bolster that habit on that particular day – but also vow to do better the following day.
Usually it takes a few months before we stop seeing effective habits as chores or something on our list of things to remember. You brush your teeth every day, right? You do not even think about it most of the time, right? That same automatic feeling can be a part of any habit – if you give it enough time.