How to Make Habits Stick: The Simple Guide

In what area of life do you want to see progress?

Perhaps one day you want to be a published author. Maybe you want to see improvement in your health. You might be diligently saving funds to buy a lake home to relocate your family. You're turning up each day at your job with a hope to  eventually be the manager you wish you were working for today. Playing the harmonica is a skill you're working on. Or, you are aiming to inch your way forward to living a life with less stuff to live a more meaningful life. 

We've all got our own pursuit of progress. But how does progress actually transpire?

With daily habits.

Habits are like avalanches. In the beginning things are slow and small. But over time, momentum takes over and results accelerate rapidly.

The key is to then make sure we engage in the daily behaviors necessary to create the avalanche like momentum.

Inertia is the enemy.

We inherently understand that forward progress - no matter how minor - is victory. It's something like "smashmouth" football. As long as we're moving the sticks and getting first downs, our souls are sated.

For me, the area where I've focused my energy on seeing progress is with my writing. I've noticed something that has allowed me to continually move the sticks regardless of the season of my life.

I call it the habit design formula. And you too, can benefit from it.

I recognized that my habits in regards to my writing are different during the weekdays, weekends and vacation trips.

My writing habit consist of a few activities:

Reading:

Reading is my habituation to writing. In sports, athletes warm up before the game. Reading is my warm up to writing. It primes by brain to enter writing mode. I don't have a timer or deadline on how long I read. Sometimes it's 15 minutes. Other times it's an hour.

Writing:

Writing is a passion of mine. I've put enough reps in to call it a passion. But it's also difficult for me. Kurt Vonnegut said, "When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth."

Most of the time, that's how I feel.

Exercising:

During my reading and writing times, I'm physically still, but mentally I've traveled far. During exercise, I'm moving physically, but mentally I'm still. This dance between divergent and convergent activity offers me endurance in both disciplines.

What I've noticed is that the time spent on each action and the entire habit itself varies based on the time or season of life.

During a typical weekday, this cycle - reading, writing, exercising - is about three to five hours. It's almost always in the mornings. In the afternoons, I come back and engage in less mentally demanding tasks like editing, social media, emails, reading titles widely outside of my focus, and framing future blog posts.

During a typical weekend, this cycle - reading, writing, exercising - is about three hours. And, I only engage the three point cycle on Saturday mornings. On Sunday's, I don't write and my exercise usually consists of a longer walk rather than a full workout. I do read on Sunday's.

During vacation, this cycle - reading, writing, exercising - is abbreviated. In most cases, it's anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours first thing in the morning. It's also a lot earlier than normal - I try to get it done before Charlie (my wife) wakes up. As I write this, I'm in Barcelona, Spain. It's 4:49 A.M. I'll have gotten my reading, writing, and exercising done before she gets up. I've found that this approach lets me enjoy my days with my wife without having an itch to open up the laptop and deep dive into work while we're on vacation.

Here's the point: Recognizing that the blueprint of my writing habit looks different based on the days and seasons of my life allows me to keep momentum going.

And momentum is the lifeblood to forging and sustaining a new habit.

This habit design formula has worked for me. I haven't missed a writing session in almost two years. Consequentially, that also means I haven't missed a reading or exercising session either. 

It can work for you too - you don't have to be a writer.

I believe that failed attempts at forging or sustaining new habits can largely be attributed to the lack of awareness when  it comes to weekday, weekend and vacation behavior design.

However, when we plan for these different environments, it sets us up for continued momentum.

Now it's your turn.

Take the habit you'd like to fashion and then map out a simple game-plan on how to engage with that habit during the week, on the weekend, and during vacation. For some of you, the vacation section might double as the "business-trip" section as well.

If you're tired of wrestling with a habit you're trying to change, it's time to change the way you're trying to change. 

This simple exercise of designing your behavior based on the days and seasons of your life is how make habits stick. 

And when habits stick, results accelerate rapidly.