How to start a new good habit?
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How to start a new good habit?

Written by :
Aashish Dhawan

How many new year’s commitments have we made in our lives, and how many of those were actually fulfilled? How many of us started an exercise routine only to leave it after a few days? How many times have we started eating healthy only to abandon it for unhealthy food?

What is so hard about these good habits that we are never able to stick with them even after being fully aware of their benefits and what kind of positive effect they can have on our lives and careers?

To start a new habit, we need more than motivation—a system that can help us build new habits easily if we just follow the steps of that system. Motivation can be different for different people; our schedules are different, and our personalities are different; therefore, the system also needs to be tailored to our individual needs.

We are going to introduce the S.A.V.E. Framework to start a new habit, which states that

  1. Habits should be satisfying.
  2. There should be accountability.
  3. Habits should be visible.
  4. It should be easy to start.

This framework makes starting new habits very easy if these four principles are followed. To test our framework, we are going to use it to start two new habits as an experiment. These habits are very hard to start and sustain for most of us. If this framework can help us with these two habits, it can help us with any other habit as well. These habits are

  1. Start doing exercise daily to be physically fit.
  2. Start writing daily to publish a book.

You are free to choose any other habit with which you want to start testing this framework. You can also tweak some parts of this framework to suit your individual needs and unique personality.

S: Make it satisfying.

The first principle of our framework is to make new habits satisfying for ourselves. What is it with social media apps that we are addicted to them and spend hours on them, but we find it hard to get time for exercise and writing a book? Well, it is biology. Our brain likes a dopamine hit, and it will always go back to those activities that provide that. It is very hard to fight with our biology or the way we have evolved. Therefore, we need to find a way to make our new habits satisfactory or pleasant for us; we need to make our brain like new habits; and we need to play along with our biological needs.

Now, what is satisfactory or pleasant about doing exercise or writing daily? Exercise will give you returns in months, or may be years, if not decades. Also, our bodies do not like being put under stress. Writing a book is hard work, and it might take 1-2 years to come up with something meaningful. Why is our brain going to choose these two activities over dopamine-inducing social media apps? It will not unless we find a way to make our new habit of exercising and writing books fun and satisfying.

How can we do that? Well, the answer for all of us is different. Only we know what we like and what we do not, but let’s make an effort to find joy in the hardships of exercising and writing books.

What if instead of waiting for two years for our book to publish, we start publishing blogs as soon as we finish a chapter? What if we start tweeting the facts we discovered during our research? Let’s use dopamine to our own advantage by posting on social media. Maybe go to your wife or husband and tell her or him, “Hey honey, I just finished one more page of my book.” Maybe go for a dinner date as soon as you finish a major milestone in your book. Maybe write in your daily journal, “I just finished one more page for my book, and I am making progress. Hoo-yeah..”

Maybe before going to exercise, tell your spouse, “Honey, I am going to the gym. Give me a hug and wish me the best.” After coming from the gym, explain to your partner how much progress you made today. Maybe schedule some cheat days and make them look like special occasions. Maybe start learning about the greatest fitness athletes and the challenges they overcame. Be friends with people in the fitness industry; hang out with them. Maybe subscribe to a fitness magazine. Maybe join Zumba instead of the gym, or start cycling. Go on a bicycle city tour with your groups. Maybe unlock a reward for yourself if you keep doing it for a specified duration.

The gist is that we need to start enjoying our new habits, make them fun, and make them an make them an overall satisfactory and fulfilling experience for us, and we need to do it now. Most of us are not going through pain and hardship for the next 5 years to brag about our muscles or the book we are writing. We need something now. Just find it.

A: Set Accountability

The second principle of our framework is to hold yourself accountable. Setting accountability does not mean we have to punish ourselves or be too hard on ourselves. It just means that we need to make sure we are following the course of action that we promised and that only we are responsible for actions and results. The onus is on us to make sure this transition into a new habit is successful.

One way to hold yourself accountable is to have an accountability partner. An accountability partner can be any person who is also interested in the same goal. It can be your spouse who points out if you missed writing something for your book on a particular day. It can be a friend in the gym who also shows up for exercise along with you. If you miss some days, this accountability partner can remind you to stay focused on your goal. You can also read the paragraph you wrote during the day to your wife at night and make it a ritual.

The second way to set accountability is to keep a monthly habit tracker where you can add a check mark for the day if you spend time on your habit and leave it empty (or mark a cross) if you do not. The key here is to make a chain of check marks, and our goal is not to break that chain.

The third way to set accountability is with guilt over a broken promise, where you remind yourself that you broke the promise with a pinch of guilt. You can write in your journal at night, “I was being lazy today, and I did not honour my promise, and I’ll try not to do this gain.”  Or you can admit your mistake in front of an accountability partner and tell them that you do not feel good about it and that you will do better tomorrow.

The other way of setting accountability is social accountability. If you start publishing a blog for your book, your readers will wait for the next one. You are now socially accountable to your subscribers. If you joined a cycling group that goes on a city tour every month, you now have a social responsibility to show up for that. You also have an unspoken social commitment to people who show up in the gym every day that you will also show up.

We can choose any one or all of the above-mentioned mechanisms to hold ourselves accountable.

V: Make it visible.

The third principle of our framework is to make new habits visible to ourselves. This also means tweaking our environment to facilitate our new habits, as our habits depend a lot on our surroundings. If you were born into an African tribe versus a rich family in London, you surely would have acquired different habits. You could have developed an ambition of running multinational companies, or you could just be satisfied with means of survival. Such is the effect of the environment.

We want to give space to our habits and keep them in front of our eyes. We need triggers around us that push us towards our new habits while reducing distractions to a minimum.

We can set up a corner in our house and add a table chair, which will work as our place to write a book. We can put quotes from writers who inspire us or photos of great fitness athletes in our room. If you are addicted to Instagram, maybe follow people from the fitness industry or follow writers who recently published books.

Keep your book research material handy; put it on your bedside table so that it is always easy to pick it up if something comes to mind. Keep your exercise shoes and socks ready so that when you have to hit the road in the morning for running, they are already there, ready for you.

We can also change the company of people and leave negative people behind. Make friends with people who show up in the gym instead of going to parties every alternate day. Join a book review club instead of joining people on eatouts. Watch documentaries about athletes and writers instead of Netflix movies.

We also need to give it a space in our calendar. It should be clearly visible in our calendar when we are supposed to spend time on our habit.

E: Make it Easy

The fourth and last principle of our framework is to make new habits easy to start. Also, I think this is the most important one as well. The truth about habits is that they emerge without permission, most of the time without your noticing them. Did you make any effort to start the new habit of watching Netflix two hours a day? Do you remember the difficulties you faced while picking up the habit of smoking or drinking? When were they formed? Did you make a conscientious effort to start your current habits, or did they just happen?

We never made a plan for social media apps or spending too much time on screens, so why do we need a plan to start exercising or to start writing a book? Why can’t we start writing as easily as we did on Netflix?

The answer lies in how easy those habits were to start with and how much fun and satisfaction we experienced. We have already discussed making habits satisfying; therefore, let’s talk about making them easy.

If you want to start exercising, do you think you can wake up early in the morning tomorrow, drive your car to the gym, put yourself under physical pressure for 60 minutes, and then drive back home? You also have to buy the clothes and shoes you need, let alone change your eating habits. You can say, Yes, I can do it, but your motivation will fade in a few days and your exercising habit will die eventually. You are making it too hard; the mountain is too steep and high to climb.

Remember, we are just trying to start a new habit and not competing in international championships. We are in the habit formation phase, and we need to make it as easy as we started with Netflix.

So instead of doing all the aforementioned stuff, start small. Whenever you wake up tomorrow, just spend 5 minutes stretching and doing 5–10 push-ups and pull-ups in your bedroom itself. That’s it—just five minutes in your bedroom. Keep doing this for 1-2 weeks, and try not to miss it. We are just starting a 5-minute workout routine daily. After 2 or 3 weeks, see how it is going. Have we created a new habit of a 5-minute morning workout?. If yes, now it is time to raise the bar. Start exercising for 15 minutes a day now and keep doing it for the next 2–3 weeks. After a month, our workout routine is 15 minutes. Slowly and gradually increase it to 40 minutes, and maybe the time to hit the gym has come once you reach the limit of 40 minutes. You can now plan to join a gym.

Similarly, with our book writing habit, just start writing for 5 minutes a day, do not miss it, and try to create a solid habit first. Gradually, start increasing the time. Commit to writing one paragraph per day, then raise the bar and make it one page per day, and so on.

This is what we need to do. Take a baby step. Before we could run, we needed to learn how to walk first. You could say that starting with a 5-minute routine looks foolish, but then hey, it’s better than doing nothing, and we are just creating a new habit, and we are not stopping at a 5-minute routine.

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