The bottle on the left is mouthwash. So is the bottle on the right.
The difference is that the bottle on the left tastes like it’s trying to kill me.
I’m trying to use mouthwash more consistently. Whenever it’s time to rinse, all I can think of is the impending flavor of doom and sadness.
This did not make using mouthwash a pleasant experience. I could make myself do it, but it used way too much willpower. It caused friction.
Friction isn’t good unless you’re trying to keep things from sliding around. Friction will keep you from installing a new habit.
Instead, you need traction. Traction moves you forward. Traction lets you move around obstacles and get back on track.
To develop a new habit, it needs to be:
- Repeatable. According to a 2009 study study conducted at University College London, it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to learn a new habit. Exactly how long depends on the habit and on the person.
- Enjoyable. Ever been so busy having fun that you didn’t want to be responsible and get to bed? Habits should be like that. (True, you sometimes you need to put up with something unpleasant for a while; this is when you need to borrow some enjoyment from anticipating the outcome.)
- Achievable. We often install new habits in order to achieve an end result: for example, exercising regularly and improving our diet to lose weight. That final win is built by adding up all the little achievements we accumulate along the way.
- Doable. Your capabilities will increase if you stick with it, but you need to start where you are. Just don’t stay there.
- Yessable. (Okay, I made that word up—I wanted a y word that ended with -able.) We can only fit so much into our day. The more we say yes to good habits that bring us closer to our goals (Q2), the less time we have for wasteful activities that take us further away (Q4). (There are also negative habits—an action that we’re not going to take—which would make this… yeetable?)
When we identify a new habit, it’s easy to get carried away imagining what our new life is going to be like. We forget that growth takes time. We get excited and try changing too much, too quickly.
- “I’m going to read a book a week this year.” Reading is one of the best investments you can make in yourself, but a new book, every week for a year? Even if you’re reading as you drive around, that’s a lot. Try a book a month. If you have less time (or like longer books), how about a book a quarter? Or just a page a day?
- “I’m going to run a 5K! Every morning—before breakfast!” If you’re not a runner, you may not realize how far five miles is. Try a couch-to–5K program that starts small and grows with you. Start off by spending five minutes on the treadmill. Try letting the ritual of getting on the treadmill be the win, no matter how short the run is.
- “I’m going to lose 50 lbs in six weeks!” That’s not sustainable—or healthy. Let go of the idea of showing up at the 20-year reunion wearing the tux you wore to prom. Figure out a healthy, sustainable rate and set the target date from there. (And be sure to celebrate your progress along the way!)
It’s good to be excited about your goals. If you aren’t excited, you’re probably going to lose interest. Stack the deck in your favor. Pick small goals that will point you in the right direction. Read a page a day. Run five minutes on the treadmill. Lose one pound a week (taking December off).
Success could be as simple as changing your mouthwash.