In 1947, the Norwegian explore Thor Heyerdahl and his crew boarded the Kon-Tiki, a makeshift raft and floated the Humbolt Current across the Pacific from Peru to a small Island near Tahiti.
It was an unimaginable journey completed in 101 days. The men, the Kon-Tiki and the ocean current they rode highlight the power of creating habits in our lives.
In 1998, I was living in Tijuana Mexico working with a church among the urban poor. We built houses, fixed roofs, fed the poor and volunteered at an orphanage.
But on Fridays, Travis, Misti and I would jump in my truck, spend an hour creeping up to Tijuana’s famous border crossing and head up to sunny San Diego.
On one of those Friday vacations, we rented a surf board to try our hand at hanging loose. It was a big, fat foam board on which we could stand up and go strait – there was no turning that beast.
Rides lasted five, maybe ten seconds before the wave diminished at the beach.
The Humbolt Current and the waves I surfed serve as an apt analogy for the power of habits in our lives.
Motivation is tremendously important in our quest to get things done, but motivation always ends at the beach where as habits have a way of carrying on with no end.
To be successful at anything then, we need to form good habits that support our endeavors and carry us through to our goal’s end.
If you are like me, you have started toward many a new goal with a flurry of motivation and good intentions and then, in a matter of weeks, found yourself sidetracked.
- You’ve wanted to become physically fit and so started running.
- You’ve wanted to lose weight and so gave up sweets.
- You’ve wanted to build your blog into something great and so you set out to post five days a week.
- You’ve wanted to learn a new language and so bought Rosetta Stone.
You have started strong in so many cases, but like a surfer approaching the beach, the ride ended.
What is needed is a strong habit that will carry you in its current through the highs and lows that inevitably come.
Today I would like to offer seven suggestions to help you begin to create and maintain the habits that will carry you to your goals.
Habit First, Quality Second
The power of the current is what got that little boat across the Pacific. Creating those currents in your life, those habits, should be your first priority.
You can improve the quality of the activity later but your first priority should be to establish the habit. It may not be much at first, but you want to be making a conscious choice every day.
This consistent and repeated act of choosing is what forms the habit.
example: A piece of advice often give to beginning runners is to not think about running everyday, but rather to make the goal to get into your running gear – your shorts and shoes – and step out the front door every day.
Somedays you’ll just run around the block. Somedays longer. The goal is to get the habit started first, quality will come later.
Too often when we think of starting new habits (usually around January 1st) we come up with huge schemes that will change our life in amazing ways.
And if we could actually follow through with them, they probably would. Unfortunately, by starting with gargantuan and life changing habits we often set ourselves up for failure.
Start small. Start manageable.
Expand as you get into the rhythm and establish the habit.
example: If you want to start a habit of writing daily, commit to writing something daily – in a journal, part of an article, a letter to a friend, a grocery list even.
You probably already have habits in your life – activities and tasks you do every day. You eat breakfast. You brush your teeth. You read the paper before work.
They are established parts of your routine and it would be difficult to imagine a day without them. Consider starting new habits by piggybacking on these. You are already stopping everything to do them.
Adding an extra five or ten minutes to one of these already established daily events will be far easier than trying to create a brand new event in the flow of your day.
example: If you want to make it a habit to do push-ups and sit-ups every day, do them right after you brush your teeth in the morning or evening.
Don’t Break the Chain
You see Jerry would print off one of those calendars with the entire year on it, put it on his wall and then write 1,000 words every day.
If he completed this task, he put a red X on the calendar for that day. When he did it again the next day, he put a second X and thus a chain was born.
As the row of X’s grows, the motivation not to break the chain will grow with it.
example: If you want to form a habit of flossing your teeth, place a calendar beside your bathroom mirror and place an X on it every day that you floss. Don’t break the Chain!
Create and Maintain the Mindset
Self identifying as a runner or writer or entrepreneur or language learner is an important step in creating and maintaining strong habits and the desire to reach your goals.
One way to create and support a strong habit is to begin building the new identity even before the reality has arrived.
example: If you want to develop habits that will lead to successful business ventures, begin subscribing to blogs and podcasts by the experts in the field.
Fill you space with information that will inspire, inform and allow you to interact with other entrepreneurs.
Urgency is a tremendous motivator. It causes us to spend our time doing all sorts of activities that are not really that important, but which we rush to complete because they seem urgent.
Creating positive urgency that supports the formation of strong habits will support you as you work to establish new ones.
example: If your desire is to learn Spanish, buying a ticket to Mexico City six months from now will do much to create a real sense of urgency to learn Spanish and thus to create the language learning habit.
Use the Carrot
Habits are formed when we do the same things consistently over time. Giving yourself rewards when you have completed seven days in a row of the activity you wish to become your habit will increase the short term motivation that will help you keep at it until the long term habit is formed.
Seven days, fourteen days, a month – you choose what you need, but reward your success.
example: If you desire to build the habit of rising early in the morning, give yourself a reward of dinner at a nice restaurant after waking at 5:00 am ten days in a row.
Habit formation can be a big part of your finding success at the goals you wish to achieve. Your motivation will one day wane. A strong habit though – like an ocean current – will carry you through to success.
It has been strong habits that have helped me to learn Turkish and to build The Everyday Language Learner blog. It has been the habits I have formed in both of these endeavors that have helped me put in the time daily and get things done.
What habit do you need to begin building today to reach your goals?
This guest post is by Aaron Myers. Aaron is the author and language coach at The Everyday Language Learner. The blog, the Ten Week Journey email series and his Guide to Getting Started are all ways he is helping language learners everywhere become more effective, more efficient and have more fun on the language learning journey.
Photo Courtesy Of rcia424