How to Form New Habits

Go SignOne of the greatest things I’ve learned about my habits is that it’s almost impossible to go from black to white.

I can’t go from chewing my fingernails one day to stopping cold turkey the next. It completely sucks my willpower out of me.

If I drink a diet soda every day, I’m screwed if I think I can just stop tomorrow. It’s just not going to work. I’ll tell you exactly what would happen: I would stop tomorrow, and I would feel good about it. I would stop the next day, but it would be really hard. The third day, I would focus everything I had on not drinking any soda. The fourth day I’d forget about it. The fifth day, soda drinking seems like something I did over a year ago. A few days later, without even realizing it, I would walk over to my fridge, take out a soda, start drinking it, and say out loud: “Shit. Shit. Shit.”

Then, I’d probably feel like a failure and just go back to drinking soda. All that for nothing.

The Smarter Way

In reality, I would have to set a limit on how much I drank a week. I would have to replace soda time with ice water time. I would have to focus on breathing and just knock over one domino at a time. Then, in a few weeks, I would have completely phased out of the habit by managing what willpower I have towards a simple goal.

Dolphin WaveUnless you have an dramatic emotional experience, old habits are going to be nearly impossible to break–you have to bend them into oblivion. You have to kindly, and slowly, push yourself towards your new goal, in order to have any chance to get there.

Here’s an example:

I did some research, and found that juicing vegetables gives you a large amount of their nutritional content. Publications vary, but it’s over 50%, maybe over 90%, maybe as much as 95%, which is pretty damn good considering you get a little juice from a lot of vegetables.

I hate vegetables. Hate them. I honestly don’t know if I’ve willingly had a vegetable in five years. Good idea? Hell no. I should be eating vegetables. Doctors say they’re good for you or something.

So I decided I wanted to start juicing vegetables. Ideally, once or twice a day would be great—I would get a ton of great nutrients on a consistent basis, and my body would probably be happier in the long run.

Because I’ve tried to make a habit out of thin air, I know that jumping into once or twice a day is going to be a disaster. I’m going to be thoroughly displeased with something (cleanup. Cleaning up the juicer is a pain in the ass. No doubt it’s the cleanup) about the process and I would just stop. I decided I was going to juice on Saturdays and Sundays, when I have a lot more time on my hands. I did that for two weeks.

I found myself looking forward to juicing vegetables, so I started doing Fridays too. Then Thursdays. Now I’m juicing five times a week.

Habit established. Suck it, willpower.

You want to establish a new habit? Ease into it. Set aside an hour a day. If an hour feels like too much, set aside 30 minutes, or 15. Just start doing a little bit more each day—if you’re a student, do your homework a few nights before it’s due once or twice. Slowly ease into your new habit over the course of several weeks, and don’t suck up all your willpower.

Eventually, with patience, you’ll have the habit you want, and it will actually stick around this time.