No matter what change you want to introduce into your life, it involves removing, modifying, and replacing routines.
For example, if you’re trying to spend less money, you’re probably trying to replace or eliminate routines that involve spending money each day. You’re trimming out visits to the coffee shop or cutting out your visits to particular shops or websites.
If you’re trying to lose weight, you’re probably trying to replace or eliminate routines that involve eating unhealthy foods, and you may also be trying to add routines that involve exercise.
It doesn’t matter what the life change is. Routines are going to be altered.
Human beings are creatures of habit. We settle into those habits because they’re reasonably efficient or convenient methods of handling the challenges of life while also allowing us a little pleasure sometimes, too. We stick to routines because they work, at least in terms of the goals we set for ourselves.
Over the years, I’ve changed a lot of my own routines. I completely altered how I spent money, hijacking many, many daily routines in the process. I lost somewhere around 40 pounds, haven’t gained any back, and am still slowly losing weight. I’ve adopted many new professional routines over the years as well.
I’ve found that only a few things really work well for me in terms of adopting new routines. Naturally, there are a lot of different variations on these little tricks – and different methods might work for you. All I can comment on for certain is what has worked for me.
First, make the new routine as easy as possible. If it’s genuinely easier to try out my new routine than to use my old routine, then I’ll do the new one. It’s the path of least resistance.
How do I do this? Usually, I do something to make the old routine harder. I’ll throw out all of the junk food. I’ll take all of my credit cards and hide them in a box in the attic or inside a giant ice cube. In the past, a different work commute did the trick. Want to stand up and walk around more? Install a standing desk in your office.
The entire goal is to make old, bad routines harder than the new routines. If you don’t have soda in your house, it’s a lot harder to drink it, so you’ll drink water. If you don’t have your credit cards in hand, it’s a lot harder to run up a balance, so you’ll be more careful when you buy.
Second, do hard things first thing in the morning. My best example here is exercise. If I’m establishing an exercise routine, the best way to keep at it is to do it as soon as reasonably possible after I wake up.
Why does this work? I know that it’s something I need to do today and if I do it now, it’s out of the way. I don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the day.
Another reason it works is that I can stick the needed equipment (or some other giant reminder) in a spot where I’m going to see it early in the day. If I can’t go through the start of my day without tripping over my running shoes, then I’m much more likely to remember that routine and have it front and center.
(It also helps that I tend to have my best thinking periods early in the morning while exercising. This is when 90% of my brainstorming occurs. I often stop to record my thoughts while exercising, usually via a voice memo.)
Third, and this is the big one, make yourself accountable. This is hard to do with an internal goal, so you have to get a little bit creative with it.
Right now, my best accountability tool is my oldest son. If I tell him about a daily habit I’m trying to establish, he’s on me like a magnet on a fridge. The first thing he says when he comes in the door at the end of the school day is to ask me whether or not I’ve taken care of business – and does he ever look disappointed if I have to say “no.”
You can do this with a spouse or with a very close friend. Just set a few ground rules first, such as an understanding that the partner isn’t trying to make you feel bad or start a fight and they’re solely trying to help. You should also agree on when to stop the reminding, and you should be willing to be the same kind of assistant to that person, too.
If you don’t have someone to rely on, the best accountability tool I’ve found is the Seinfeld “chain” tactic, where you essentially create a giant visual accountability reminder that stays in your face. This has worked personally for me in the past, but only if I make a giant visual calendar and put it somewhere where I can’t miss it.
The reality is that every major change in habits in my life has come as a result of some combination of those three tactics. Nothing else has really worked. However, those moves, when done together, can really make a difference.