How to create habits that change your life

. 3 min read

Habits. Those nerve-racking gremlins that function automatically like an organ. Those stubborn little suckers that either make or brake you. Those little devils that, with great effort, can be trained to obey your every command.

You want to lose weight? Run a marathon? Read more books? Wake up earlier? Be more productive?

The key is a thing called momentum. In physics, momentum equals mass times velocity - it can be envisioned as how hard it would be to bring the considered object into a halt. An object with a lot of momentum requires a lot of energy to stop. An object with little momentum can be stopped easily.

In creating habits, you want them to have as much momentum as possible - you want them to go on by themselves with that momentum so you can focus on other things as well. You want them to happen automatically, with no thought or willpower used. To do this and get the snowball rolling, here are my five most important tips.

  1. If the habit is something you must do physically, do it the first thing in the morning. Creating habits requires a lot of willpower in the beginning and your willpower will be full right after you wake up.

  2. Do it every day. Not three or four times a week - every day, and preferably the same time and the same place. This way you're teaching your subconscious that this is the new way of life. It'll adjust, I promise.

  3. All things are difficult before they are easy. The newborn habit is like a vulnerable little seedling - you need to water it and give it fertiliser and make sure no one, even you, steps on it. After it's grown a while it'll be more resilient and easier to maintain. So make sure you get it done and don't let anyone or anything stop you from doing it. Try to see through all justifications and distractions. This might also mean establishing only one habit at a time - trying to establish multiple habits may overload your mind (not to mention willpower) and cause you to self-sabotage the project.

  4. Make it difficult not to do the thing you want to turn into a habit. For example, when I wanted to start to go to the gym more often, I picked a gym that was in a location such that not going to the gym required getting off the bus. It was easier to sit still, comfortably, when the bus passed my stop - until the bus reached the gym stop, at which point I had to get off not to end up some part of the city I didn't know. It worked out beautifully. What a hack.

  5. Charles Duhigg's book 'The Power of Habit', while sounding like gladwellian jabber at times and turning into mashed potatoes after part one, has one thing down right: the importance of the cue-routine-reward cycle in habit creation. To effectively establish a habit, you should have a cue - something you do to trigger you mind into thinking it's time to do the action, like smelling a specific scent. Then comes routine, the thing you want to turn into a habit. After the routine, right after, you have the reward - something that signals you brain what you did was worth it, something that eventually tricks your brain into thinking the habit is pleasurable (when it's really thinking it's the only way to get the pleasurable reward), like listening to music of having a sweet - anything that you enjoy.

It might be difficult in the beginning. It usually is, very hard even. But it'll become so easy you won't believe it once the momentum kicks in. You just have to hang tight until then.