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If you are like most people, your goals and aspirations are likely to be countless: eat better, save money, do more exercise, be a more committed parent. You are prepared to make a big change in life and have perfection in your sights. You fail – if not immediately, within the first few weeks.
According to Marti Hope Gonzales, associate psychology professor at the University of Minnesota, 80 percent of people who make New Year's resolutions fail or forget about their resolutions by the second week of February.
So what can you do Are all attempts at change doomed to failure?
Whether you're looking to exercise more, sleep better, or develop some other new habit, here are five science-based techniques you can use to make lasting behavior changes.
1. Create your implementation plans
Implementation plans are one of the easiest and most effective ways to build new habits.
In a research study of participants who wanted to exercise more, a group was told to create an implementation plan by completing this statement: “For the next week, I will be doing at least 20 minutes of intense training [day at night] ] on the spot]. "
The other study participants received no instructions.
A few months later, only 39 percent of non-planners were exercising. What about the group that made the implementation plan? An incredible 91 percent of them were still exercising regularly!
This study is not unique.
A meta-analysis of 94 studies with a total of 8,000 participants showed that the use of implementation plans had a “medium to large” influence on target achievement. In simpler terms? Implementation plans work. To begin your implementation plan, use the same formula: For the next week, I'll be [desired habit] on [day] at [time] in [place].
Related: 5 Ways To Set Good Habits That Actually Last
2. Make your new habit small
The key to long-term change is to start small. By implementing small changes in behavior, you can easily develop new habits with minimal effort.
Here's a quick example of little habits:
After brushing your teeth, squat down. Read a page while commuting. Have a piece of fruit for lunch. Meditate 10 seconds before bed
The nice thing about little habits is that they remove willpower from the equation. The habit is so small that it doesn't take much time or energy to carry out.
Phillippa Lally and her team found that it takes between 18 and 254 days for a behavior to become automatic. The bigger and more complex a habit, the longer it took to make it automatically. and the more often you've done a behavior, the faster it becomes a habit.
Lally's research suggests that the key to success can be keeping your behavior small while repeating it frequently. So if you crouch or meditate for 10 seconds every day, it doesn't seem like a big deal. As you repeat these little behaviors, they become more automatic.
3. Build your habit through phases
When building a habit, consistency is more important than intensity. Therefore, you should start with the smallest version of your habit possible.
However, if you master your little habit, you can achieve a slightly larger version. For example, here is the process I used to create a daily writing habit that allowed me to write and publish 12 books:
Phase 1: Write a sentence every day. Phase 2: Write a page every day. Phase 3: Write five pages each day
I purposely made the first phase of the habit as easy as possible. Success was defined as "opening my word processing software and writing at least one sentence". Sometimes I wrote more than that, and sometimes that was all I could accomplish.
After 10 days in the first phase, I felt comfortable enough to move closer to the challenging goal of writing one page per day. This turned out to be more challenging and as a result, I spent almost a year in this stage before moving up.
The point here is to start as small as possible and only then move on to the next stage once you have mastered the smaller version of your habit.
Related: 7 Habits of Super Successful Business Owners
4. Reduce the friction
To get a taxi, people had to stand in line and wait to be picked up. Then Uber came along – and you could suddenly greet a ride with the push of a button. By reducing the friction required for a taxi, Uber revolutionized an industry.
Any time you can reduce friction by making a behavior easier to perform, the more likely people will do it.
There are several ways you can reduce the friction associated with practicing your habit:
Reduce the number of steps: Do you want to exercise more, but don't like to commute to the gym? Start with home workouts. There are lots of apps for that. Prepare in advance: are you planning a run in the morning? Design your shoes and clothes the evening before. Increase Accessibility: Do you want to eat healthier? Keep a bowl of fruit where you can see it and hide any candy.
As you start looking for a new habit, it is worth considering ways to reduce the friction associated with that behavior. The more convenient and easy it is for you to get into a new habit, the more likely it is that you will do so.
5. Keep track of the habit
Use a habitus tracking app like HabitBull or Strides. Having a diary or calendar that allows you to visually track your habit can prove to be a powerful source of motivation for some people.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld was once asked if he had "any tips for a young comic". He advised the man to buy a calendar and hang it in a prominent place where he had no choice but to see it. Then every day, Seinfeld told the comic to write jokes.
"If you're successful, put a big X on your calendar for that particular day," said Seinfeld. “After a few days you will have a chain. Just stick with it and the chain will get longer every day. You will love to see this necklace especially if you have a few weeks to spare. Your only next job is not to break the chain. "
How do you apply that?
Find a way to keep track of your habit. It doesn't matter if you do it the old fashioned way with a pen and calendar or a habit tracking app, as long as you keep track of your progress. Make an effort to build a chain, but if you fail, get back on track to see if you can beat your previous streak.