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Why it is better to build one habit at a time

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

Changing our lives for the better is a case of changing our habits. If we spend our time overeating, doing no exercise, watching TV for hours on end, procrastinating, blaming others, overspending and indulging in destructive behaviour we are not going to achieve the life of our dreams. Changing things can be difficult and often we find that come the New Year, we want to create a clean slate and fix everything that is broken. Herein lies the problem. Trying to tackle everything in one go is not going to work. It’s too overwhelming for anyone.

The secret to changing your life is to change it one habit at a time. Whether you want to break a bad habit or start a good one, working on one habit at a time will give you a much greater chance of success.

Here are some statistics: studies have shown that people changing one single habit have a likelihood of over 80% to keep the new habit going for a year or more. Adding only one more habit reduces their chance of success to below 35%. Trying to change 3 habits at a time will lead to a successful outcome in only 5% of cases.

The reason is the above mentioned overwhelm. There is only so much willpower available to us and doing something new takes willpower. Once your willpower is used up for the day there isn’t any more. As humans we also find it much easier to focus on one thing. When our focus is spread, we tend to slip up.

Which habit do you want to change first?

So which habit should begin with? It doesn’t really matter, as long as it contributes towards one of your goals. You can pick a habit you think will be easier to master or you can choose the one you think will make the biggest difference.

Some habits have the power to see yourself in whole new different way; these habits are described as keystone habits by the author Charles Duhigg who wrote The Power of Habit. In his book he describes how some habits lead to a snowball effect where one good habit almost automatically triggers another without much effort.

These keystone habits are usually small changes in behaviour that don’t take a huge amount of effort. We don’t always know what our particular keystone habits are until we have implemented them and noticed their effect.

Make it easy for yourself

Another key to habit change is to make it easy for yourself. Having only one habit to focus on is the first step. The next is to break down the intended habit and find out what is the smallest thing that you can do that will give you a benefit.

If your chosen habit is a daily writing practice, start by writing for 2 minutes or 100 words at the same time each day for month. You might find that once you’re in the flow you’ll write more or for longer, but the aim is to write your minimum amount each day. Until it becomes effortless.

When is time for another habit?

The goal here is mastery. Once you have mastered one habit, you can move onto the next, starting out small again. Make sure you still keep an eye on your first habit though until it happens on autopilot.

The good thing about changing a habit is that you don’t have to wait until the New Year. You don’t even have to wait until the beginning of the month or next Monday. You can start anytime, any day. Now is a particularly good time, so is tomorrow morning.

So which habit are you going to begin with to change your life for the better? If you’re stuck for inspiration, here’s a great article to help: 9 daily habits that will change your life.

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