Any kind of personal development or physical training requires us to develop a routine, and routines are essentially collections of habits that we build into our daily lives. It could involve going to the gym four times a week, attending your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or kickboxing classes, training at home, it could even be something like giving up cigarettes or changing your diet.
Deciding which habits you want to develop or work on is relatively easy, but sticking to them is another story altogether. The six techniques below are some of the most effective methods for ingraining habits and making them stick.
The 30-Day Conditioning Phase
The first 30 days are the most important for ingraining a habit until it becomes second nature. This is the general amount of time the brain takes to integrate a habit with your regular routine. We can take advantage of this by consistently performing the task/habit every day for the first 30 days, after which it will become a lot easier to remember and stay motivated to continue on with.
For physical exercise and training, make sure to reduce the amount of work you do every day for this period to avoid injuries and overloading your muscles. Keep it simple since the first priority is to adjust to devoting time to this habit and to go through the motions. After 30 days, you can reduce the daily frequency to a more appropriate number and increase the intensity of the activity.
In the first few days, all you will be thinking of is sticking to your habit, but after a week or two, it becomes extremely easy to lose focus and forget about it. By the time we remember, it’s too late and we have to start over.
Anticipate that at some point you will forget, so after a week of practicing your habit, set reminders for yourself in places you can’t avoid. Use alarms on your phone, put post-it notes around the house and beside your bed, and tell your friends and family what you are trying to do so they can also remind you. At the start, be consistent and force yourself to perform the activity as soon as you see a reminder so that laziness doesn’t become engrained instead.
Partnering up with someone who is on a similar journey of physical training and personal development allows you to track each other’s progress and provide encouragement and friendly competition. This can make a world of difference in motivation and enjoyment levels.
This is especially important for children and teens who may need some extra encouragement to stay motivated. One of the main focuses for our Little Ninjas and Teen Martial Arts classes is to grow friendships and personal connections between students for this exact reason, since a fun and personal environment can transform a student’s experience and the likelihood of success.
Develop A Trigger
If you want to wake up earlier, then as soon as you hear your alarm, count to 10 in your head before sitting bolt upright. If you are in a martial arts class, try performing breathing exercises and meditation beforehand. If you are quitting smoking, practice snapping your fingers or eating a piece of candy when you have cravings instead of smoking a cigarette.
By consistently performing a ritual before performing the task, over time we train our brains to associate the ritual with the task, with the ritual acting as a “start” button to get us moving. Once it has been trained, we can quickly hit that ritual button to get into the zone for our habit, without dragging our heels and struggling with motivation.
Find Your Role Models and Be Like Them
Success often doesn’t depend on your characteristics as an individual; it depends on the people you hang out with and look up to. Find people who have the same goals as you do, and people who have succeeded in achieving those goals. Find out things that you like about them and the ways you want to be like them and use your role models as a guide to your success.
There are two daily visualization techniques we can all use to reinforce a new habit. The first is visualizing not doing the chosen activity (like in the case of exercise) or carrying on with a bad habit which we want to change (like with smoking). Then, visualize the consequences of that decision such as becoming overweight, not achieving your physical goals, or continuing to smoke and how that will impact your health.
The second technique is to visualize that same bad habit and then forcibly replace it with a visualization of yourself doing your chosen activity and achieving your overall goal. This could be visualizing training every day and earning your black belt, going running four times a week and losing weight, or conquering any bad habit and seeing the direct benefits you will receive.
Getting habits to stick can take a few attempts, so go easy on yourself if at first you forget or you just run out of steam. What’s important is that you get back up, apply these tips to your chosen habit, and do your best.