Whether you want to get up earlier, do more exercise, eat better or simply keep on top of your study or work deadlines more efficiently, you can ‘hack’ your life to turn these goals into habits.
Ask anyone what little things they’d like to change about their lives and they’ll probably have all kinds of answers, from saving more money every month, to dropping 10lbs or reading more books instead of watching so much TV.
These sound simple enough to be achievable in theory, but human nature often seems to sabotage our good intentions in practice. So if we want to form better habits, why do we find it so hard?
Start small, aim low
The first mistake people often make is aiming too high. Studies show that if you want to create a new habit you should repeat the action enough times – some suggest every day for at least 21 days – and it will become second nature. That’s all well and good if your goal is to eat one extra piece of fruit a day, for example, but if it’s to run five miles every evening then that’s a bit of a big ask, and you are likely to fail, get disheartened and give up entirely.
Instead, go for the ‘little and often’ mantra. Do a bit of whatever it is you want to achieve, but do it every day and in the end it will become as automatic as cleaning your teeth (yes, you should be doing that every day already, at least twice!)
Find your energy peaks
Some people race through tasks in the morning and then hit a slump in the afternoon, while other people prefer to leave tackling chunky pieces of work until after lunch or feel that they are at their most productive in the early evening. It might not always be possible, but if your work or study environment gives you room for a bit of flexibility it’s worth working out when your most productive energy peaks are, so that you can capitalise on this.
If you don’t feel sharp enough first thing in the morning to fire off a series of emails or run meetings, schedule those kinds of tasks for later in the day when you are more on the ball and vice versa.
Clear the clutter
You’ve heard the saying “tidy desk, tidy mind”, right? Well, it goes for any kind of space - physical and emotional. If you need to be getting on with a task - be it study, work, cooking, whatever - but your workspace, kitchen counter, virtual desktop or even your brain is piled up with all kinds of ‘stuff’, then it’s distracting and it makes it harder to concentrate on the job in hand.
Make some room and you’ll find it a lot easier to get on with what needs doing. Clear papers off your desk, do the washing up or, if it’s your mind that is overwhelmed with chatter, write a list of what’s bothering you and you’ll probably find your inner talk quietens down a bit and gives you room to concentrate. If you can keep this clutter-free momentum up, it’ll make it much easier the next time you’ve got to get cracking with something.
Don’t think that you’ve got to do all this hard work by yourself. From apps to social (and real world) networks, including family and friends, there are plenty of tools that you can use to help keep yourself on track. There are various gadgets that pair with apps to help you log, follow and analyse your progress in anything from step-counting to weight loss and even reminders about when to meditate.
Set up calendar alerts on your phone to remind you about meetings or appointments. Arrange to go running with a friend and you’re more likely to go. Sign up for extracurricular activities or courses with a colleague and encourage each other. Or you can always go the old-fashioned route and simply tell people what you want to achieve so they can help you stay motivated and spur you on if it seems you are about to give up.
Rinse and repeat
The only real failure is the failure to carry on. A famous quote from Samuel Beckett says: “Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better”. Whatever it is you want to achieve, don’t give up.
It doesn’t matter if it’s working towards a PhD, keeping on top of your inbox or stopping biting your nails. Every journey starts with a single step, so break your goal down into manageable, do-able chunks and get on and do them.
Keep at it and it’ll soon become a regular part of your routine, rather than something that you wish you could achieve, but which remains tantalisingly out of reach.