11 Tips to Cultivate Good Habits
Monday September 19, 2011

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 “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” –Aristotle

With all of the bits and pieces of information we have to remember on a daily basis, relying on habits that require our minds to “just go with it” is a relief – that is of course if the habit is something that contributes positively to our lives and propels us closer to our goals.

Throughout each day, we engage in habitual behavior, whether it is the food we choose to eat and how much, the ideas we have churning inside our minds, the mannerisms we display toward others and even how we move and master skills we are expected to do regularly – driving, opening the door, cooking, taking a shower, etc.

It is important to realize how many habits we engage in each day because at some point these were not behaviors we practiced.  Ever habit is introduced to us. We learn it and then we mindlessly let it continue because for some benefit or ease it works in our lives.

Keeping that in mind, if there is a new habit we would like to bring into our lives, we must accept that it will take time, but eventually it will become robotic if we practice it consistently.

One of the main reasons incorporating new habits into our lives is initially considered is because we want to change the quality or direction of our lives. In order to reach certain goals, whether it is weight loss, financial security, a healthy self-respect or strong relationships as examples, we must cultivate new habits thereby letting go of old and unhelpful ones.

So today I want to share with 11 tips on how to successfully acquire and welcome into your life new habits that improve the quality of your life, as I have experienced success by following them as well.

1. Be very clear and focused

With anything we choose to attain, we must first know what we want.  Before attempting to change anything, be very clear about the change you want to see in your life. For example, I wanted to improve my flexibility and at the same time find more tranquility in my life. Over 15 months ago I began taking a weekly yoga class and while my flexibility didn’t improve immediately, it eventually did progress to a point I never thought would be possible, and I also find myself much calmer going about other daily business.

2. Use positive motivating rewards

As we begin the process of toning new muscles so that the habit we wish to acquire becomes a part of our body’s memory, the constant requirement to make the decision that keeps us on track can exhaust us.  Knowing this ahead of time is crucial, and so I highly suggest you create a reward system that is motivating enough to keep you on track, but doesn’t detour the progress you have already made. For example, trying to follow a more balanced and healthy diet, I have limited myself to two desserts a week and no cookies (they are my vice, I just can’t stop eating after one or two or three). On the days in which I don’t eat dessert and I eat three balanced meals and a snack, I reward myself by eating one Arrowhead Chocolate truffle at bedtime. A simple positive motivating reward and doesn’t detour my efforts thus far.

3. Give it time

For anything to become engrained in our memory it takes 7-11 times of successful repetition, and if it isn’t something you do daily, it takes about three to four weeks. I highly suggest getting the habit started and then become busy focusing on something else entirely. It is natural to want to see results immediately and when we don’t, to become frustrated, but the first initial period is the most difficult, so try to begin, stick to it and forget about it.

4. Start simple

“Incremental change is better than ambitious failure” ~ Tony Schwartz

Setting a simple goal of one exercise class at the gym a week or limiting your daily pop intake to one or two fewer than you normally do is fine, as long as you stick to it. One of the reasons I only attended one yoga class a week when I started was because I didn’t want to burn out.  By doing this, I did eventually increase to two classes a week, but I didn’t beat myself if I only made it to one based on how busy my schedule was.

5. Get rid of temptation

Revamp the grocery list, choose to be surrounded by supportive and uplifting people or stop watching commercials when the hunger urge arises. Whatever the goal, if you are trying to change something in your life, there will be something you will have to eliminate or reduce from your life currently. For me, in the past if I had chocolate chips in the pantry, I too often would immediately bake a batch of cookies without thinking too much about it.  By not shopping for them and refusing to bring them into the house, I have eliminated the need for even more self-discipline.

6. Regarding results, be patient. Focus on day-to-day.

When you begin to see results, it can be tempting to let it slide and step back into your old habits for what you say will just be once, but the reality is if you keep revisiting them, you will never remove them from your mind’s memory. Appreciate and celebrate that you have made progress, but then focus on the day-to-day of following your new habit.

7. Be clear about your intentions

Make sure that the new habit that you want to bring into your life is because of something you want to achieve for yourself, not for someone or something else.  In other words, make sure it is to improve your health, not to simply look better in a bathing suit.  While looking in a bathing suit would be nice, it is easier to dismiss this reason when things become a bit more difficult.

8. Understand the long term and immediate benefits.

As stated in tip #1, once you become clear about what you want to change and what you want the new habit to bring into your life, also investigate all of the other possible benefits that may occur. For example, while your health is the long term benefit of eating right and exercising regularly, other benefits will be a renewed self-confidence, more energy for day to day tasks, ability to stock up your sick days instead of using them on sniffles you could have prevented simply by building up your immune system. The idea of making a list of all the possible benefits is to increase your motivation and help you to become your very own coach for the game of life.

9. Post your goal somewhere safe.

Simply stating a goal in your head will be far less effective than writing it down as well. Whether you place it on your inspiration wall, your journal, or on the fridge, be sure it is somewhere that you can revisit to see how you are progressing.

10. Tell someone you trust.

By telling someone you trust, you are adding an extra bit of accountability. For me personally, I don’t need someone to harp on me,but just knowing that someone else knows what I’m trying to achieve and will be there to celebrate when I finally achieve my goal is a nice extra “umphff” of motivation.  Something else I do because of past experience is that I tell my trusted someone after I have successfully practiced my new habit for at least two to three weeks.  Why, you might ask? I first need to know that I can do what I’ve set out to do and to make sure it truly is something I want.  Once I realize that the answer to both of these questions is yes, then I’ll bring someone else on board knowing I’m not just full of hot air and won’t be wasting their time.

11. Appreciate how far you’ve come and allow that to be part of your motivation to continue.

The best motivation to continue doing what you’re doing is knowing how long you’ve incorporating a new habit into your life. Early in June I began walking my dogs in the morning between 5:30 and 6am and while when I began I wasn’t going to school, I still tried to cultivate a habit of walking early  because I knew that when school began I would want to be used to this particular time. After having successfully walked every morning for the past three months (except two due to travel), once school started, I wasn’t going end my streak. The thought of breaking this habit after how far I had come was part of my motivation to get out of bed so early each morning.

Whatever new habit you are contemplating bringing into your life, take some time and determine why exactly you want to change.  Once you are clear and have a direction, be patient with yourself and know that this habit will become a part of your life just as so many others have become with time and consistent effort. It all comes down to making conscious daily decisions. Have a wonderful week everyone!


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7 thoughts on “11 Tips to Cultivate Good Habits

  1. I love that photo with the rectangular home and really want to know where it is from. But I went through the four sources you have at the bottom and could not find it? Could you help me?

  2. You know, this is a perfect blog for me. I get my bit of life coaching, and while I am digesting your words of wisdom (like ways to resist eating that apple tart in this post — looks so yummy!)I get lovely doses of eye candy! Simply great.

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