According to those in the know it takes 21 days to form a new habit, such as eating more healthily, waking up earlier or getting more sleep. Adding and/or changing behaviours requires repetition and practice, and these methods can also be applied to your work life performance – whether that’s being more punctual or setting yourself a target.
Before you begin, qualify what you want to achieve by using the S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) method -
- What is it? Be specific about what you want to do.
- How can you measure success? Quantifying how you’ll achieve it works well.
- Is it achievable? Be realistic and don’t stretch yourself.
- Is it relevant to you? Is it truly a behaviour that you want to build into your life?
- When do you want to achieve it? Set a rough timeframe so that you have a deadline to work to.
US speaker and author, Brian Tracy, offers some guidance on steps to forming a new habit in three weeks.
What do you want to start doing? Make a decision that you’re 100% committed to and put measures in place to ensure it can’t be avoided. For example, if you want to exercise when you wake up, lay out your exercise clothes the night before so that there are no excuses for avoiding it. They’ll be ready and waiting for you when your alarm goes off.
2. No exceptions!
It’s important in these first 21 days that you don’t make exceptions – don’t give yourself a reason not to do something. It’s raining? Maybe you could move your exercise routine indoors today? Keep going with your habit-forming behaviours until they become routine.
3. Let people know.
If your nearest and dearest know what you’re trying to do, odds are they won’t let you get away with shirking it! You’ll be surprised how your resolve to do something increases when others know your plan – either to show them that you can achieve it, or to avoid disappointing them by making excuses.
4. Imagine it.
It sounds tacky but picturing yourself achieving what you want does really help. Visualising ideal situations can benefit a number of issues including anxiety, and victorious athletes have been known to imagine themselves winning races over and over again before taking to the start line. The more you picture yourself with the new habit, the faster your sub-conscious will accept it.
5. Say it (out loud or in your head).
Again, repetition is the key to cementing a new habit in your day-to-day routine. Recite it to yourself – out loud or in your head, whatever works for you – just before you perform the action, and reaffirm your reasons for doing it each time.
You can choose between literally saying what it is you’re going to do, or instead reciting something positive about the habit itself; for example, “I have complete control over my actions”, “This is positive and beneficial”, or “I am changing my life for the better.”
6. Keep going!
Repeat, repeat, repeat, until it feels odd not to be performing that habit – whether it’s morning exercise, going to bed at a certain time, or filing work emails in a more organised way.
7. Treat yourself.
‘All work and no play’ and all that. Nothing will become a long-term behaviour if you don’t recognise the positives of it, so it’s really important to acknowledge your efforts.
Every time you treat yourself you’ll be reaffirming why you’re doing what you’re doing, and associating this good feeling with the habit. If you’re finding the new behaviour difficult to stick to, visualise yourself enjoying whatever reward is waiting for you and focus on that.