Have you ever broken a bad habit? Or replaced a ho-hum habit with a good one?

When I was in my twenties I smoked. Not a lot. Just about 3 cigarettes a day. My family unsuccessfully tried to shame me out of this habit. But their shame was no match for my positive associations with the smoking habits.

See, I would be studying with a cup of coffee, and light up a cigarette. It got so bad, I couldn’t study or write without the props of a cigarette and a cup of Joe. I associated my smartness, independence, and complete grown-upness with this tangle of healthy and unhealthy habits.

There did come a time of reckoning for this pernicious habit. But we’ll get to that later.

Habits during the corona virus

The corona virus quarantine has us facing a lot of realities. The most in-our-faces reality is our habits. Without jobs, the rhythm of social life, school, and other scheduled events, we are left on our own.

We’ve may have developed some bad habits, such as these. Can you relate? I know I can!

Corona virus has given us a time of reckoning. Reckoning which includes informed people stepping forward to help us form healthier habits, together. This post from The Children’s Hospital, Colorado offers some suggestions on healthy habits to nurture during COVID-19.

Even if we’re indifferent or in denial, our habits have taken a hard hit. After four months of the new normal, it’s time to examine whether we’re practicing habits that lead us towards readiness and success? Or are we practicing habits that keep us stuck?

It’s safe to say that we don’t want to stay stuck. And success is being redefined daily. Now more than ever, our habits will reflect our current values and the values we want to bring with us into the new world. Our habits will determine our resilience, happiness, readiness, and boost our immune systems.

Here’s how psychologists define habits

Habit, in psychology, any regularly repeated behaviour that requires little or no thought and is learned rather than innate. A habit—which can be part of any activity, ranging from eating and sleeping to thinking and reacting—is developed through reinforcement and repetition.
from the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Pause a moment and consider what you are doing every day with “little or no thought”. At some point, you learned those habits. The habit could be something detrimental to our well-being. For example my unhealthy habit such as my associating coffee and conversation with a cigarette – something I actually had to practice. (Cough cough!)

In the interest of our own health and happiness, here are some ways to make successful habits part of your life.

Success Habit Formation Rule 1: Make it personal

Don’t choose a success habit based on someone else’s idea of what’s right. Make it about you. Your goals and what you find pleasurable. Yes! It’s okay to enjoy your new habit. When you enjoy it, you receive pleasure and that’s part of the goal of success: Happiness.

Take meditation, for example. We know it has enormous benefits when it comes to cognition, longevity, mood regulation. And with the family all cooped up together, free-floating anxiety and stress in the world, who couldn’t use some mood regulation right about now?

You decide you want to start your day with 7 minutes of meditation. Find what makes that easy and pleasurable – for you. Don’t force yourself to sit on a wooden block, spine straight, as if you’re waiting for the Zen master to club you over the head with a kyosakū. Unless your goal is to become a Zen monk and you take pleasure in being hit on the head with the “stick of compassion” it’s unlikely you’ll keep this habit up.

Get real about why you want to meditate. If your personal reason is because you could use 5 – 10 minutes of self-care and solitude, start with pleasure. Begin with gentle guided visualizations, or breath counting. Are you a more tactile learner? You might enjoy incorporating prayer beads. Dance, chant, mindfully walking or being in nature are all opportunities to meditate with similar benefits.

Success Habit Formation Rule 2: Plan and Prepare

We wish our habits could be incorporated with instant gratification.  The reality is there’s no habit genie to change our lives for us. Creating a plan allows you to take ownership, increasing the chances of your successfully creating a new habit.

Your personal plan is like a pilgrimage. You know where you want to go and you want to enjoy the journey. One step a day. A hostel for the evening. What will you need in your backpack? This is an opportunity to practice non-judgment and put one foot after another.

Track your journey with a checklist, calendar, or journal. You’ll discover that your stumbling blocks are opportunities for even more personal growth.

Some people enjoy using vision boards with their planning. Vision boards do more than see what your goals will look like, they engage the imagination and feelings. When we feel something deeply, we’re more likely to work towards it.

Successful Habit Formation Rule 3: Commitment

Don’t let the “c-word” scare you off! The origins of commitment are from to put together or join. You’re not looking at a lifetime of drudgery or some cosmic referee to tell you you’re doing “good” or “bad”. You’re looking at self-partnership. Keeping a promise to yourself. Trusting you to take care of you.

Keep rules 1 and 2 in mind when you commit. Make your habit pleasurable and easy to achieve – one step at a time. Let’s say you want to move more each day. Start with 15 minutes. Too long? Set a timer for 5 minutes. Anyone can move for 5 minutes! When you’ve tracked this for a week, I promise you’ll want to increase that 5 minutes to 10 or 15. Or play with 5-minute movement breaks throughout the day.

To support your self-partnership, consider writing down a positive affirmation, keeping it visible throughout the day.

Successful Habit Formation Rule 4: Piggyback

Try piggybacking a new habit with an already existing habit. Remember my youthful bad habit of smoking, coffee, and studying? I had a moment of reckoning, in the form a cute guy who appreciated my smartness but hated smokers. With that motivation, it was easy to continue the coffee/study habit but replace the cigarette with a stick of licorice root. Licorice tastes sweet, has a similar tactile sensation to cigarettes, and licorice enriched the taste of the coffee. And sitting in the coffee shop stirring my coffee with a chunk of wood was a great conversation starter.

Piggybacking habits is also known as habit stacking. Stack a habit you’d like to nurture on to something you already do. B.J. Fogg uses the example of doing a few push-ups when he goes to the bathroom in this TedX talk.  It can be this simple, and it should be this simple when you start off. Hard wire success into your new habit from the beginning.

Successful Habit Formation Rule 5: Practice

Forget the umbrella rules of thumb that tell you habits take 21 days to become routine. That 21-day rule is not hard-and-fast. What does work is keep going one step at a time.

Make it a habit to track your habit. Keep the tracking simple. Jerry Seinfeld’s famous “don’t break the chain” productivity hack got him from Long Island stand-up to a national television show. He made an “X” on a calendar for every day he wrote. The commitment was simple: Don’t break the chain of X marks.

Take a similar approach to Mr. Seinfeld’s for whatever habit you want to integrate into your life. Make it fun by using stickers or research creative habit trackers from the bullet journal community. Some people find physical items like moving marbles into a jar an effective method for tracking habits.

Bedtime: The first, best habit

If you’re on the fence about which habit will get you the most bang for your investment, start with bedtime. Here’s why:

  • You’re already “doing bedtime” every single night. Nothing extra on your to-do list.
  • Bedtime is the gateway to sleep. The first thing a medical sleep expert will ask you to do is maintain a consistent, nurturing bedtime routine for at least 30 days.
  • Since bedtime leads to sleep, you’ll be well-rested. Your immune system gets a boost. You’re more emotionally stable. Sleep is the free cure-all.
  • Bedtime is a time to practice all those things that have been proven to make us happier. Connection, kindness, gratitude, reflection, and self care such as baths and reading good books.

An intentional bedtime will make you and your family happier and healthier.

Need support anchoring in the first, best habit? I’ll be hosting a webinar called The Bedtime Blueprint. It’s free. And it will change your life without you having to do anything extra. No special diet, no massive decluttering, no white-knuckling through a workout. In The Bedtime Blueprint webinar you will learn how what you’re already doing ever single night can banish overwhelm, get better sleep, and have a happier, more harmonious family.

Sign up now to get notified when The Bedtime Blueprint webinar goes live.