One of the most challenging aspects of building any business is how to create habits within yourself to give you the best chance to succeed. In fact, this is one of the toughest things to do in life. Habits are the foundations on which productive behaviours are built. When we want to do things differently, like lose weight or start running or get better at selling, we need to create new habits, I don’t have to tell you how difficult this can be. However, what if I was to say it doesn’t have to be that hard? It can even be fun.
In this post, I am going to outline a method of habit forming that is literally built on enjoying yourself. That’s kind of the whole point. If you can make a habit more enjoyable, then it is much more likely to stick.
The Challenge of Forming New Habits
Make no bones about it forming habits is very, very difficult. Here is a statistic to highlight just how tough it can be – 9 out of 10 people who undergo heart bypass surgery for health reasons cannot change their habits. Their lives are quite literally at risk and they still cannot change the way they do things. If they don’t have a strong enough motivation, then what chance do the rest of us have?
So what is it about creating new habits that is so damn hard? Well, in reality, it is something very, very simple. It is because they are simply not enjoyable. Yeah, that is it. Basically, we just find them boring.
Enjoyment and Habits
There have been numerous studies that demonstrate the link between enjoyment and long term habit forming. One example of this was a recent study which took 153 undergrads and got them to work on some puzzles. Before they started they were asked how enjoyable they anticipated the task would be. They were then split into two groups on who found the task enjoyable and those that didn’t (control group). The results showed that those who were in the frame of mind that they would enjoy the task did, in fact, perform best.
The researchers then wanted to see if this had affected the participant’s energy levels. So, following the puzzles they gave everyone a second test which was to see how long they could squeeze a ‘grip exerciser.’ One of the researchers stated, “much like the self-control needed to stay on task when we’d rather do something more fun, resisting the urge to release one’s grip when it becomes uncomfortable also takes self-control.” This was a test of mental fatigue. The results demonstrated that the enjoyment group had not only performed better with the puzzles but also experienced lower mental fatigue.
This demonstrates the correlation between enjoyment and success in a new task. Here is a couple of other studies that confirm the long term link between enjoyment and habit forming. Read them here and here.
Making it Easier on Yourself
So how on earth do we translate what these studies suggest into a new regime for creating healthy habits? Well as is evident from the findings, you need to make things more enjoyable. How do you do that, when many new habits are just so tedious and boring? This is where the term Minimum Enjoyable Action (MEA) comes into use.
The Secret? Start Small
An MEA is the most amount of change you can take before it becomes boring. So it is the tasks you can do to change your habits that you still find easy and enjoyable to do. For example, if you want to create some more healthy eating habits. Start with one part of your diet. Maybe your breakfast? You could switch from that regular bacon sandwich to a healthy choice you enjoy and just eat that every day. As long as it is an action you enjoy then keep it going. It can even be something as small as changing into your gym gear when you get up every morning because in time you want to go to the gym more. If that is the action you are comfortable with most, begin there. Each step builds on the last and over time you create new hard wired habits that form your new productive behaviours. This is an absolute core aspect of how to create habits that will stick.
Patience is Key
The key is that it takes time to change your habits and, as we have shown, to be successful you need to enjoy it. So, having an MEA helps you make progress. Once you have mastered your first MEA, then reassess and move a step on. It is a slow but an extremely rewarding process. It takes an element of understanding and acceptance that it takes a considerable amount of time to form new habits. Patience is key.
If you can get on track with your MEA’s it will make habit forming a lot more smooth and long lasting. If there is one thing that you take from this blog it is that habit changes are not made with one big change it is made up of a combination of small and minor changes that build up together to form a great shift in how you act.
Easier to Gain Than to Lose
One further element that is important in how to create habits is to remember that it is much easier to gain something rather than lose something. Therefore, instead of saying I am going to lose 10 pounds in weight, I will work on developing a love for exercise or healthy eating. Those kind of goals are not only gaining you something but they are also open ended, so it is more about the journey than the destination. When you are forming new habits the journey is everything, that’s where the habits are created. The destination is almost meaningless. In fact, if you are lucky enough to reach your goal it often leads you to think, well what next? Which can be detrimental to all those new behaviours you have cultivated. Once your goal has been reached why would those behaviours continue?
Some Super Helpful Apps to Get You Going
Momentum – This is a great app to help keep you on track. Available on both Apple and Android, it syncs with all devices and provides great data for you to follow your progress.
Habitica – This is a completely different type of app for you to build your habits. It essentially turns your life into a game. Earn rewards and endure punishments based on your progress, this app gives a completely fresh feel to building habits.
Productive – As well as being an app that allows you to identify and track your habits, Productive focuses heavily on building routines. It allows you to track your habits and build streaks. The longer the streak, the stronger the habit.