Article by Cecilia Meis
We feel it every year: January arrives with a fresh opportunity to take a cold, hard look at our lives and cut out the bad habits while making an attempt to build on the better ones.
But seriously, how many years in a row are we going to promise to hit the gym and cut out that Friday drive-thru habit?
Human-behavior researchers are always looking for new and better ways to help us overcome those flaws that make us, well, human. But you may be surprised (or not) to know these same researchers are some of the worst at following their own advice — so says Wendy Wood, a psychology professor at the University of Southern California.
“My father, who was a physicist, used to comment, ‘Scientists who study gravity still fall down,’” Wood says. “Understanding something is not the same as controlling it in your own life.”
But these researchers are more consistently exposed to tried-and-tested ways to overcome and replace bad habits, and many will tell you the first step is acknowledging when you’re off course. Maybe one cheat day turned into a cheat week, and now you can’t recall the last time you ate something that didn’t come from the freezer section.
Entrepreneurs can be the worst offenders when it comes to adopting better personal habits. With their arsenals of passionate rationalizations, business owners can easily find reasons to let their self-care habits go. But it’s important to remember why you chose to adopt these new habits in the first place. For example, raising your heart rate every day can quite literally extend your life.
And once you’ve reminded yourself of your motivation, try some of these time-tested ways to stick to your habits:
1. The Good, the Bad, and the Consistent
Wood found that by pairing a negative and positive experience together, she was better able to stick to her good habits while also learning to enjoy what was once a negative experience.
For example, after a long day at the office, you probably aren’t thrilled about spending 30 minutes on the stair climber. Try pairing that exercise with an episode of Workin’ Moms you were planning to watch from the couch. If you dread putting together a monthly expense report, take the work to your favorite restaurant or outdoor venue with live music.
Habit-building can feel grueling at times, but it doesn’t have to be. Pair it with activities, people, and places that already bring you joy. You’ll start to associate your habit with joyful memories, and that makes it easier to keep at it.
2. Make Your Own New Year
A year is a long time. That’s 365 chances to say “maybe tomorrow.” Instead, try giving yourself multiple fresh starts throughout the year. By doing this, you not only grant yourself the grace to start over more than once per year, but you also learn to appreciate how many fresh starts you truly have.
For an added bonus, attach your fresh start to an already meaningful day. Examples include your birthday, closing day on a new house or car, or the first day of summer. But avoid making your fresh start on a Monday if you can. You have enough Sunday scaries to manage without the added pressure of a new year, new week, new you.
3. Welcome Discomfort
No matter how many articles you read about the joy of stepping outside of your comfort zone, actually taking that step rarely feels joyful. Creating and maintaining new good habits is a naturally uncomfortable experience. After a few weeks, you can easily forget all about the wholehearted commitment you made. All you can see at that point is how tired and sore you feel, how far the gym is, and how terrible traffic is at this time of day.
Relish that feeling and go anyway. It’s going to be terrible right now, yes, but you’re going to feel better afterward.
4. Lighten Up
Missing one day of yoga doesn’t make you a failure. Change is difficult. Accept that failure comes with it. You’re new at this habit-building thing — what makes you think perfection should happen immediately? Give yourself a break and plan for the days when you just won’t feel like it. The next day, pick up right where you left off.
Real-World Advice From Entrepreneurs
Need some more concrete examples of how to stick to your new habits? Here are the creative ways three entrepreneurs do it:
1. Mike Falahee, Founder and CEO of Marygrove Awning Co.
Take “should” out of your vocabulary. The word “should” has so many connotations, most of them negative. Enough about what you should have done, should do in the future, and should be doing right now. If you’re thinking about what you should do, you’re not actively participating in anything.
If you remove that negative word, you remove a lot of the guilt associated with it. Although guilt can be a motivator, most of the time it is counterproductive and only gets you into a rut of negativity that’s hard to bounce back from.
Instead of saying “should,” be committed and direct about whatever it is you’re doing. “I am having steak tonight.” End of story. Don’t worry if you “should” be having a salad. If having a steak isn’t part of your plan, then say, “Tonight I’m having steak; tomorrow I’m having salad.” This perspective is guilt-free and more apt to help you form a positive habit you’ll actually stick with.
2. Emma Leigh Geiser, Personal Finance Coach
Morning is definitely the pivotal moment in my business and mindset. It doesn’t look the same every day, but I work to keep the general vibe. I have to keep my phone in the kitchen overnight and while I get ready in the morning. Otherwise, I’ll disappear into the social media pit.
I also log out of social media on my phone and computer. I am a creature of procrastination and will mindlessly click through a site. Seeing the login screen instead of my feed is enough to make me think about what I’m doing with my precious time.
The routine isn’t what’s important to me. What’s really important is preserving the first chunk of my day for myself. None of us really want to let social media into our lives that early, but we do because we’re addicted to checking our phones. When I get my phone out of the way, I’m able to get some me time and think about what I want the day to look like.
I have some of my best ideas in those first few hours of my morning, and it kills me to think I had been blocking them for years by hitting snooze, looking at Facebook and Instagram, or watching the news.
3. Alina Liao, Founder and CEO of Zenit
One method that has worked for me is sandwiching new habits between existing ones. For example, I tried to meditate daily for years. I knew it would support my growth as a person and entrepreneur, but I couldn’t seem to fit it in. Even five minutes felt like too much.
I finally became consistent when I sandwiched meditation between two existing habits: breakfast and coffee. Now, my daily routine includes: breakfast, meditate for 10 minutes, coffee. It’s great because I really need my breakfast and coffee, so it was surprisingly easy to stick with meditation once I sandwiched it between two essentials.
I’ve also been working on taking more regular time for reflecting on lessons learned. For an entrepreneur, pressing pause is never easy. I learned that I need to be more intentional about creating time and space to stop and reflect. I changed my weekly schedule so Fridays are fully dedicated to reflection.
Dedicating Fridays to tasks that center around reflecting and learning has also helped me feel more rejuvenated at the end of each week and more inspired for the following week. This helps make my work as an entrepreneur feel more sustainable.
Cecilia Meis is a full-time writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas. Besides SUCCESS, her work has appeared in Time Out Dallas, Rewire, Healthline, and others. Outside of work, she plays beach volleyball, attempts home cooking, and is ardently working toward making her cat, Nola, Insta-famous.