We all had routines pre-pandemic. When these were disrupted, we felt disoriented and built new ones. As we move forward, our structure is once again disrupted and we wonder how to sustain our habits.
To make habits stick, we need to focus on their three characteristics: clingy, repetitive, and emotional.
Habits are Clingy
Starting a practice by itself is very difficult. For instance, you’ll face a lot of resistance to starting a journal if you come from an unrelated activity beforehand. Habits like to attach themselves to other habits. They work best as links in a chain, connected to another well-established habit.
Think about it. You probably wash your face and brush your teeth each morning. Brushing your teeth and washing your face are two separate activities, but do you see them that way in your mind? Don’t you just do your morning routine? Your mind chunked them together to create a single flow of activity that you repeat daily. Because you are so used to doing both together, it feels off if you skip one.
The best way to continue a habit is to link it to another habit that you do no matter what—like brushing your teeth and washing your face.
Habits are Repetitive and Emotional
It’s best to work with both these characteristics simultaneously. You’ve probably heard that it takes 21 days to develop a habit. The premise of repetition is that something becomes a habit after you repeat it daily for so many days. However, you have to consider your emotional state at the time of practice.
One of the greatest experiences of being human is the intensity of our emotions. These are among our greatest tools in motivating us to do things. We naturally seek pleasure and will do more of what is pleasurable, just as we resist doing what isn’t. To easily continue a habit, find what is pleasurable about it.
The trick here is to look beyond the immediate discomfort and find pleasure in the activity. There must be something pleasurable about it or else you wouldn’t want this habit in the first place. For example, if exercising in itself is not enjoyable, then perhaps the pleasure lies in knowing you have the discipline or in the experience of a healthy body.
You have to ask yourself:
- What inspired me to start this?
- What am I getting from this?
- What do I feel while I do this?
- What do I feel after doing this?
The bottom line is you have to find the pleasure.
As life continues to change, how do you sustain a habit? Look into how you feel about it. Find the pleasure it brings and hold onto that as you choose to practice it at the same time and place each day. Choose to experience the pleasure, not to perform the task. Then attach it to another habit so that the two are now linked in a single movement and become a natural part of your day. Once you’ve done that, the day starts to feel off if you don’t complete your routine, and you’ll automatically sustain your habits.