zenhabits : breathe

5 Steps to Create a New Habit

‘Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.’ ~Benjamin Franklin

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Tess Marshall of The Bold Life.

When I decided to quit smoking, I was 27 years old, my two oldest daughters were seven and five, and the twins were three.

I didn’t want to be a bad example, I hid my smoking from them. I smoked when they were sleeping or when they were with the babysitter.

As my addiction grew stronger, I began smoking in the bathroom with the window open. One day, my five year old knocked on the bathroom door and said, “Mommy, I smell something in there!”

I freaked out, flushed my cigarette down the toilet, gathered my composure, and nonchalantly walked out. That evening, still freaking out, I explained to my husband what had happened.

He calmly told me, “Tess, the way I see it, you have two choices: you can either quit or come out of the closet.”

I chose to quit.

I also decided to replace smoking with running.

I began running laps on an indoor track, at a nearby college. Eight laps equaled one mile. At first, I couldn’t run a lap without losing my breath, so I walked.

When I could run a mile without stopping or walking, I decided I would add one mile per month to my training. I wanted to join my neighbor in a 10K race and, only six months later, I crossed the finish line, as my family cheered!

Soon after, Hubs and the girls began running as well, and it wasn’t long before we were racing together on weekends.

Today, thirty years later, two of the girls work for an athletic company, one runs marathons, and another participates in triathlons.

With my new habit, I changed our entire family.

Each one of us has the power to improve our quality of life, one habit at a time. And running isn’t the only way I’ve made changes.

The Keys to Habits

A couple of months ago, I became a beta tester for The Habit Course created by Leo Babuata, Katie Tallo, and Barrie Davenport.

I decided to make daily meditation my new habit.

I made a commitment to read through the course material, listen to the podcasts, attend the webinars and spend time in the forum for four weeks.

During the first week, I made my plan and built up my anticipation. Over the following three weeks, I sat in daily meditation for only five minutes.

I can now say “I meditate” just like I say “I run.”

When you create a new habit, it’s tempting to jump right in and do too much. I discovered the practice of the new habit is more important than the habit itself. The more you practice the easier it becomes.

When the course ended, I increased my morning meditation time to 10 minutes. My goal is to add five minutes per month until I’m up to twenty minutes each day.

Once I achieve my goal, I plan on adding an afternoon meditation session to my daily practice, using the same process.

For me, learning the skill of creating a new habit has been empowering and life-changing.

Read on for the steps you can take to create a new habit:

1. Make a plan. Forget about failures in the past, set a date, and start fresh with a solid plan.

My plan included using the acronym RPM, rise, pee, meditate. Each morning I would rise, use the bathroom, and immediately meditate.

I also arranged for getting positive feedback on my progress, reporting to a social group for accountability, and rewarding myself.

2. Choose a trigger. A trigger is an event that kicks off your habit. My previous habit was drinking coffee after I peed in the morning. Peeing was my trigger and drinking coffee was my habit. Now I rise, pee, and immediately go to my meditation chair.

To strengthen the habit, when I go to use the bathroom I consciously think about my trigger and meditation to create a bond between the two.

3. Get positive feedback. It’s easy to give up without accountability and support. You need praise for your efforts and encouragement when it’s difficult. I’ve had Hubs and the Habit Course forum for my positive feedback. I also reminded myself every day about the health benefits I’d gain from my daily meditation habit.

4. Report your habit to a social group. Announce your new habit on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog. Ask friends and family for support. Tell them you want to be held accountable. I used the Habit Course forum for this as well. If you miss a day, feel discouraged, or get stuck, report it so your friends can cheer you on and encourage you.

5. Reward yourself. My reward is an espresso maker. I use it to reward myself daily, but only after meditating. Sticking with my new meditation habit became easier as I looked forward to my cup of espresso each morning.

Changing a habit is a skill. Many people fail when they decide to create new habits because of poor planning and trying to do too much at once.

My new habits have become easier for me. I’m getting more comfortable with meditation and, if I fall back in the future, I will remind myself of my new skills and begin again. It’s that easy.

I was so invigorated by my success that, when The Habit Course was offered to everyone, I signed up again!

Currently, I’m building a new habit of making time for creativity each night and, once again, life feels fresh and brand new.

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet, desperation.”I never want to be a part of that group. How about you?

Read more from Tess at her blog, The Bold Life and sign up for her free guide, Peace, Love, Connection.



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