Experts say a new habit can be created in just 21 days. They say things like, “Just stick with it for 21 days, and then it will be a habit.” Unfortunately, they don’t address how to stick with something that long.
I’ve always wanted to know how to stick with a new habit for the first 21 days. And, after that, how to continue to stick with it?
The dictionary defines a habit as “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary: the habit of looking both ways before crossing the street.”
Because of the definition of a habit, I’ve always assumed you have to force yourself for the first 21 days and then your habit will come naturally. I think a lot of us think this way. Especially when it comes to developing habits in our web-writing businesses.
But, as it turns out, it’s not so difficult to develop a habit, if you follow a few simple techniques.
Daily actions like asking for referrals, following up with clients, responding to job ads, or posting to our blogs are all beneficial habits we would like to do involuntarily.
Think how much easier it would be to just do something — without excuses or procrastination. That is the promise of an involuntary habit.
Here are six easy steps to get through Day 1-Day 21:
Choose just one habit.
In “The Power of Less,” Leo Babauta suggests that we focus on just one habit at a time. By doing this, we can focus all our energy on creating that one habit.
For example, if you’re trying to grow your web-writing business, choose just one thing to focus on and do just that for a month.
It could be guest blogging, emailing potential clients, asking for referrals, posting something on Twitter, or a number of other things. But whatever it is, put all your energy into it.
The biggest mistake people make when trying to learn a new habit is to start out with a lofty, ambitious goal. But, keeping it as simple as possible ensures your success now, and your success with future goals.
Trying to create a new, big habit right out of the gate may make you enthusiastic in the beginning, but it’s easy to run out of steam. Starting with a small habit is like pacing yourself in a long distance race. If you start out sprinting, you’ll run out of energy and fall behind — or even quit. But, if you start at a reasonable pace, you can endure and finish the race.
Write it down.
Get out a sheet of paper and write down your new daily action you intend to make a habit.
For example, if you’ve decided to get at least one referral every day for your web-writing business, write that down.
Then, determine a trigger event. This is something that will remind you to do your new habit. Ideally, it’s something you do every day anyway. In this example, it could be turning on your computer.
Then, when you sit down and turn on your computer, you’ll remember you need to get a referral for your business.
Plus, tying your new habit to a trigger event, like turning on your computer, will cause you to complete your daily action early in the day, before life gets in the way.
Involve others in your new habit.
When you make yourself accountable to other people, it will be easier to stick to your new habit. Post your intention on Facebook or Twitter, or email it to your friends and family. Tell as many people as you can about your new habit.
If you’re really ambitious about your new habit, you can join a website like Stickk.com.
Stickk offers “Commitment Contracts” so you can “put a contract out on yourself.” Basically, you pledge a certain amount of money and, if you don’t complete the commitment you made, you lose the money. It can go to a charity, anti-charity, or a friend of your choice. (There is an option to pledge without putting any money on the line, but Stickk claims “putting money on the line doubles your chances for success.”)
People on Stickk are committing to things like “learning something new,” “going to the gym,” and “eating better.”
I made a commitment to “Rise and Shine at 6 a.m. every weekday,” so if you decide to join, please look me up so we can support each other with our daily actions.
Report your progress every single day.
Once you tell everyone what you’re doing, don’t let them forget about your new habit. Help them keep you accountable by posting your progress every day. Once your friends and family get used to you checking in, they’ll be sure to ask what happened if you miss a day.
If you’re joining us on Stickk, accountability is built in. Plus, Stickk also offers “email reminders, a commitment journal to track your progress, and an entire community of support to help you work towards your goals, which is of course better than slugging it out alone.”
If you’re not joining us on Stickk, social media is also a great way to report your progress.
After 30 days — or 21 days depending on if you believe the common 21-day rule or Leo Babauta — you will have a new habit. That’s something worth celebrating!
Plus, knowing you have a celebration waiting for you at the end will help keep you motivated.
How to Stick With A Habit After 21 Days
Many people stick with a habit for 21 days only to forget about it on Day 22. Why? I think it’s because we’ve heard that if we can do it for 21 days, then it’s automatic.
I don’t think this is always the case. Depending on the habit you’re trying to create, you might need to remind yourself daily for several months — maybe even years.
For example, I feed my dogs every day, twice a day, but I still have to remind myself to do it … Or rather, my more vocal dog reminds me with a loud bark — like clockwork. (Clearly, eating on time is a daily habit that he’s learned!)
If the 21-day rule held true, I would automatically get up to feed the dogs at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. But, I don’t. I have to be reminded.
Playing with my phone, on the other hand, is a real habit — a completely involuntary habit. In fact, while writing this article, I picked my phone up three times to fiddle with it. It didn’t make a noise or alert me of a new message. I just have a bad habit of checking it. Sometimes I have to physically remove it from within arm’s reach to keep me from getting distracted by it.
I think the difference is I use my phone multiple times per day, but I only feed the dogs twice.
I think the less often you do the habit, the longer it takes to become involuntary. In other words, I think the 21-day rule is only true if you do the action multiple times every day. If you’re only doing something once per day, in my experience, it takes much longer to become a habit.
But, have no fear. A habit doesn’t have to be involuntary for it to make a difference in your business.
Set An Alarm
I personally set an alarm on my task list to remind me to do all the things I can’t remember to do on my own.
Send invoices, follow up with clients, and drink water are all habits I should remember to do, but I still don’t, so I have my alarm.
Setting an alarm to remind yourself to take an action every day doesn’t make your habit any less beneficial than one you do naturally.
So how about you? Do you have any techniques for creating habits? Will you be joining us on Stickk? What habits do you want to create?