Success in habit formation and retention addresses the all-too-common human tendency to lose interest in difficult challenges and give up. The following four steps will help you see the value of your habit-building effort and to enjoy its rewards.
The rewards of new-habit formation come immediately. As you practice your new behavior, make sure you focus on the satisfaction you enjoy right from the beginning.
In your new exercise activity, the endorphins your body releases will make you feel good as you work out. But for the rest of the day, savor the satisfaction of getting started. If your new habit involves greeting people in the morning rather than checking your phone as you walk through the office, you will get a light dose of oxytocin when they smile back at you. Enjoy it!
Yes, your new habit will bring long-term rewards like more energy, stronger muscles, a tuned body, deeper relationships and a better reputation. But start enjoying the immediate rewards science promises.
It’s a fact that what we measure, we manage. So count something — the number of times and how long you exercise, the number of books or pages you read, the number of times you were tempted to but did not criticize someone.
Focus on behavior. Frame your measurements on the actions not on the reward or the favorable outcomes that followed your behavior. Your aim is to enhance your self-awareness, to know yourself better, and to gauge how well your process is working. If you’re working on a habit that other people, such as your team at work, can see, ask for their feedback.
It’s easy to overlook progress. Especially when you’re working hard within a team. When you celebrate, you and your team acknowledge that you are making progress. You affirm your common purpose. Nothing instills motivation like recognizing the value of your team’s work.
As you mark your progress, reward your success. As you improve, you will want to and should reward yourself. Bolster your new habit with positive reinforcement. Remember those rewards you promised yourself in the Preparation stage?
When I stop biting my nails, I’ll treat myself to a manicure and show off my beautiful hands.
As soon as I lose ten pounds, I’m heading for the beach!
For each uninterrupted hour I clock this week, I’m treating myself to an hour at the spa.
Enjoy those rewards now. And make your celebration uniquely personal and fun. I know a runner who keeps a photo collection of the shoes she has worn out!
Keep your progress in sight. Celebrate small steps on a list you can regularly see and read to yourself. Give yourself little rewards for small steps and greater rewards for major progress. But, of course, allowing yourself to go back to the old habit should never be used as a reward.
Behavioral research nixes the idea that habit-formation takes everyone the same amount of time. We can identify an average number of days, but why focus on average? You and your challenge are unique. So no matter how long it takes you, don’t ever give up.
If you miss a mark or take a step back, don’t let your backsliding discourage you. As the old Frank Sinatra song says, “Take a deep breath, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.”
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