By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
If my business name isn’t a dead giveaway, I’m into habits. Habits are the repetitive actions and thoughts that essentially guide how we live our lives. We have school habits, work habits, health habits, and thinking habits (hello, anxieties!). We also have good habits and bad habits, habits that we have subconsciously fallen into, and habits that we have deliberately crafted for ourselves.
It’s that last category that I like to focus on: habits that we deliberately craft for ourselves.
The next logical question – and one that I get often – is about how to build a habit. There are dozens of strategies out there that promise to have you “living your best life” if you just do something for 21 days straight, or match your habit-building efforts with your blood type (ha!). While there may be some helpful and truthful elements to some of these strategies (not the blood type thing, folks), I take a more straightforward approach when teaching students and clients how to build a habit.
How to build a habit
My number one strategy for how to build a habit is this: do the thing when you don’t want to.
Let me unpack that. (Not much to unpack, really, as it’s literally the most basic strategy ever. Despite that, it’s also the most effective strategy ever.)
If there’s a habit you want to establish, it’s easy to do when you’re motivated. It’s easy to do “the thing” on days you want to do the thing.
What’s not easy, but what’s ESSENTIAL, is doing the thing when you don’t want to. It’s in these moments that habit-building happens. In fact, it’s only in these moments when habit-building happens.
Let’s look at an example:
- You want to (hypothetically) build a habit of establishing a Sunday Routine. On the first Sunday, you will be motivated by the “newness” of your goal, and you will likely have no trouble getting through your Sunday Routine with enthusiasm. This enthusiasm might even last for a few Sundays in a row. Go you!
- Eventually, there will come a Sunday when you don’t want to do your Sunday Routine. You will invent brilliant reasons why you “can” and “should” skip just this one Sunday, and all of these reasons will tempt you.
- But I repeat: the number one strategy to build a habit is to do the thing when you don’t want to.
- Armed with this simple fact, you will choose to go through your Sunday Routine, regardless of your motivation levels. You can certainly acknowledge and own your resistance, but you will not let it affect your actions.
If you’re serious about learning how to build a habit that lasts, you should learn to embrace the inevitable moments of resistance and do the thing anyway. The more you train yourself to stand up to your inner resistance, the weaker that resistance becomes. Will it go away entirely? Not likely. But I promise you that it will lose its power to derail you.
Again, the most effective and direct strategy to build a habit is to do the thing when you don’t want to. Build the grit muscle to build the habit.