Habits Pt2 – How to maintain habits

In the last article, we talked about how to form habits and a little bit about the science behind them. Well, in this follow-up, let’s dive a bit deeper and talk about how to maintain habits. 

Most of the time, the hardest part in forming a habit is staying consistent. There is often a slow build-up of resistance after the initial high of the habit formation process wears off, which in the end, is what forces us to break routine. Doing the task will start to look like a chore and when that happens, most of us stop doing what we set out to do. This is a very normal and common obstacle that we face while forming habits. So let’s take a look at a few things that might help with tackling this resistance and overall, will help in effectively building habits. 

1.Accessibility – James Clear in his widely talked about book Atomic Habits, talks about how humans are wired to take the path of least resistance. If we think about it, it makes a lot more sense that this would be true and applicable not only to habit formation but to other things in life as well. 

So how do we use this tendency to our advantage while building habits? By making sure that the tools we need to build the habit are extremely accessible. If you are set out to work out every day, keeping your workout gear where you can see them instead of in a place where you’ll need to actively go out of your way to reach for them can do wonders for your motivation. Choose the path to the least resistance.  

2. Discipline over Motivation – Although everyone might encourage us to keep being motivated to incentivize habit formation, motivation, in reality, only will last us for so long. So instead of relying on intrinsic or extrinsic motivation to push you to build the habit, choose to be disciplined. Set a routine for yourself and stick to it. Even on days where you feel the most unmotivated, challenge yourself to do at least a little bit. Being disciplined in the end will also serve as a form of intrinsic motivation that will feed into a positive loop. Here is an article that talks about discipline over motivation in a bit more detail. 

3. Realistic goals – Set a routine for yourself and stick to it is easier said than done. However, we all have to start somewhere in our habit formation journey. The best thing to then do would be to start small. It can get overwhelming to start with a big task and try following it through every day. Setting realistic, small yet attainable goals is key to maintaining a positive feedback loop and keeping ourselves invested in the habit we’re trying to develop. If you’re going to start working out, instead of overwhelming yourself with an hour of working out everyday, start small — a 10minute workout for 5 days a week. By this time, the sense of achievement of having done the workouts will serve as the motivation needed to keep going and challenge yourself. Then you can build upon those 10 minutes and effectively turn working out into a daily habit. Here’s how you can set realistic goals.

4. Build a healthy system – This is very important. Sticking to routines is important but it is more important to listen to your body and mind’s needs. If you just don’t feel your best on certain days, don’t force yourself to push through the discomfort and complete the task you set out for yourself. Try to listen to your body and mind and understand the differences between resistance to doing something and genuinely not being able to. Also, keep in mind that doing one thing a day well is better than feeling overwhelmed with wanting to do 5 things in a single day. A healthy and intuitive system that focuses on holistic well-being will do wonders for your overall growth. An interesting article on time vs energy management to build healthy systems.

5. Patience – Last but not least, be patient and kind to yourself. No growth is ever linear so it is fine if you miss a few days in between or indulge yourself in something else over the habit you’re trying to develop. Do not feel pushed to do anything, instead, look at it as an opportunity to better yourself. Habits take time and are not easy to form or break so take all the time you need with them. 

Whether it be forming new habits or breaking bad ones, it is important to be mindful of both the environmental effects and to your own inner workings. With time, effort and patience there can be no habit impossible to form or break. All the luck to you!

Further reading

[1] Three step habit change – James Clear 

[2] Habit formation 

[3] The science of habits