Building Anticipation for Habit Change

Many people, when they want to create a new habit, will want to start today. Or tomorrow.

Don’t give in to this urge.

Build anticipation.

Set a start date that’s ideally at least a week away from now. So if today is December 22, set your start date for January 1. If today is December 31, set the start date for January 7 or later — it’s OK if it doesn’t start on the first of the month.

And yes, it’s OK to start your first habit change any time of the year — not just on New Year.

Why it’s important

When you build anticipation, you send a message that this habit change is important. It’s serious, and you’re going to take it seriously. It’s not just something you wake up and do one day, like putting on an outfit. It’s a long-lasting change that’s going to have a serious impact on your life.

Take it seriously, and treat it with importance, by not starting right this moment. Start in a week (or more), and set a date.

How to build anticipation

Mark that start date on your calendar. You’ll find yourself looking forward to people.

Create a plan (more on that in another post). Write it down.

Tell people about it. Tell them how excited you are. Ask them for their support, their help keeping you on track, their encouragement. Ask them to check on you, daily, so you don’t fall off the wagon.

Plan out each step, each week, so you’ll know what’s coming up.

Get excited!

Why Only 6 Changes?

One of the most common questions people ask is, “Why only 6 changes?”

Many people want to make more than 6 changes in their lives, and so limiting to 6 seems … well, limiting. It forces them to make choices.

This is a good thing.

Limiting yourself and forcing yourself to make choices means you must decide what’s most important, and focus all of your energies on the important stuff. (More on this in my book, The Power of Less.)

Six is not a magic number. I simply decided that 6 changes in a year divides neatly — 2 months per habit. And two months is not a magic number either — it happens to divide fairly neatly into (about) 8 weeks, which from my experience is a good amount of time to form a new habit that will stick with you for a long time.

So if you’d like to do 10 habits … well, you can. But I think it would be less effective, if you’re doing those 10 habits in 12 months, because you’re giving yourself less time to adopt each habit.

If you’d like to do 5 habits (or fewer), that’s totally fine. Give yourself longer for each habit. You’ll probably have even better chances of success.

Fewer habits (such as 6) is better than more (such as 10), because you’re able to focus on fewer better, and you give yourself more time to adopt each habit.

Try my method. I think you’ll be happy with the results.

Quick Start Guide

New to this site? So is everyone else – I just launched it today. Hi, I’m Leo, and I’m the author of the Zen Habits blog and The Power of Less.

Here’s a quick overview of this site and how it will help you.

  1. About this site. What is 6Changes.com? Choose 6 habits for 2010, and I’ll help you form them.
  2. The 6 Changes Method. Here’s the method that you’ll use to form each of the 6 habits.
  3. Suggest habits. Which six will you choose? Some recommendations.
  4. The Importance of Public Accountability. Why it’s one of the foundations of the method, and how to do it.
  5. What’s a Trigger & Why Is It So Important? Another key to the method.
  6. Why You Should Do Only One Habit at a Time. Answers one of the most common questions people have about the method.
  7. How to Be Patient as Your Habit Develops. It’s not easy to do it this slowly, but here’s how it works and how to do it.
  8. The Problem With New Year’s Resolutions. Actually, a number of problems. And how this method will solve them.
  9. The Art of the Start of a Habit. Why starting is so hard and how this method overcomes it.
  10. How to Kick a Bad Habit. Suggested method that has worked for me in the past.
  11. How to Form the Exercise Habit. One of a series of planned posts about how to apply the method.
  12. Key to Habit Change: Enjoy the Activity. Don’t force yourself to do something you hate. Find ways to enjoy it instead.
  13. Make Your Habit Change a Priority. How not to let it drop by the wayside.
  14. Don’t Worry So Much About Long-term Goals. Focus on the process, not the end point.
  15. Why Daily Frequency of Habits is Important. Daily habits are better than ones you do once a week, or even 2-3 times a week.

I will put these articles and others together into a free ebook soon, for your downloading pleasure.

For more on successful habit change technique, as well as ways to simplify your life and become more effective, check out my book, The Power of Less.

Suggested Habits: Which 6 Should You Pick for 2018?

Which 6 habits you choose for 2018 is a highly personal issue – it depends on what you want in life, where you’re at, what you’ve done already, what kind of a person you want to be.

Are you unhealthy or overweight? You might want to choose habits related to eating healthier and exercising regularly.

Are you stressed out and in debt? You might choose habits dealing with decluttering, simplifying your schedule, becoming more frugal.

Are you looking for a career change? You could choose things like waking early, so you can have more time to work on a new career, and creating something amazing every day.

Tired of smoking or drinking or procrastinating? Replace your old habits with new triggers.

But for most people, here are some great habits you could choose from that I believe will make the most difference:

  1. Daily exercise. Choose an activity you enjoy.
  2. Eating healthier. Choose real, unprocessed foods that you love.
  3. Waking earlier. This isn’t completely necessary for anything, other than it gives you some quiet time where you can relax and find peace, or create something amazing in quiet.
  4. Decluttering. Simplifying your schedule and possessions is an amazing way to find the focus you’re looking for.
  5. Focus on creating. Every day, set aside time at the beginning of the day to clear away distractions and just create that something amazing.
  6. Stopping impulse spending. This could make a great difference to your finances and help get you out of debt.

There are many other great choices, of course, including but not limited to:

  • Reading novels.
  • Taking photographs.
  • Flossing.
  • Quitting smoking or drinking.
  • Scrapbooking.
  • Spending quality time with spouse or kids.
  • Hiking.
  • Cooking.
  • Getting organized.
  • Keeping your house clean.
  • Saving or making debt payments.

And many more. What six will you choose?

Make Your Habit Change a Priority

One thing I like to say to friends who stumble in their habit changes is “Life gets in the way.”

And it undoubtedly does. Emergencies come up, work gets crazy and hectic, vacations happen, routines change, priorities change. Habits become less of a priority when many of these things happen, and often it’s enough of a change in priority for the habit to die altogether.

But don’t let that happen without a fight.

Make your habit change a top priority in your life, or it will likely fail.

If you want to make exercise a new habit, for example, but you let other priorities push the exercise back and back until you just decide not to do it for today, you’re going to fail.

If instead, you do the exercise first, because it’s important to you, and let the other stuff (including work) come after the exercise, then you’ll likely succeed.

This is one of the reasons it’s important to do just one habit change at a time — you can’t have very many priorities in your life. It just doesn’t work that way. At any given time, only one or two things is really important to you.

If you want the habit to stick, the change to actually last, you’ll need to make the habit change one of those really important things. That means, every day, you wake up thinking about how you’re going to make it work today. It means every day, you really want to not only get it done, but to log it and let others know how you succeeded.

Every day, your habit change needs to be the top thing you do. When you go on vacation, it should still be your priority. When your work gets intense, it can’t fall by the wayside, but you need to figure out how you’re going to make the work fit in around the habit. When your routine changes, you need to figure out how the routine will work around the habit.

Don’t let the habit be a lower priority.

How to Kick a Bad Habit

Many of you will be looking not to create a new habit, but to break an old, bad habit — smoking, drinking, procrastinating, checking email too often, watching television, driving too fast, eating too many sweets, drinking coffee, etc.

Here’s the secret: replace the bad habit with good ones.

You’ll notice the plural there — in most cases you’ll be creating several new habits to replace one bad habit. And in fact, you might make those several new habits a good part of the six habits you choose.

1. Triggers. What you need to do first is make a list of all the triggers you have for your bad habit. What things trigger the urge to do the bad habit? To answer this, I recommend you do an exercise for a day or two: every time you do the habit, just make a tally mark on a small piece of paper that you carry around with you everywhere. This will help you become more aware of your habit.

Once you’ve done that, take a day or two to write down your triggers each time you do the bad habit. There will be several, or perhaps many.

Example: when I quit smoking, here were some of my triggers (these are from memory – it’s not a complete list): waking up and using the bathroom, drinking coffee, drinking soda, eating, socializing with other smokers, meetings, driving, stress, going out and drinking.

2. Replacement habits. Now that you know your triggers, you need to select positive replacement habits for each trigger. Sometimes one habit can cover two or more triggers, but in many cases you’ll be finding one new habit for each trigger.

As an example, here’s a list of the replacement habits I formed when I quit smoking:

  • waking up and using the bathroom – instead of smoking, I would read.
  • drinking coffee – also read.
  • make a list of all the triggers drinking soda – I drank water instead, as it’s healthier.
  • eating – drinking water, going for a walk.
  • socializing with other smokers – I ended up socializing with smokers less.
  • meetings – type notes and send any necessary emails right after meeting.
  • driving – focus on driving slower and being more present.
  • stress – exercise, deep breathing, walking.
  • going out and drinking – I ended up going out less.

3. All at once, or one at a time. This is a tough question. When I quit smoking, I decided to go cold turkey and quit all at once. It wasn’t easy and took a massive effort.

However, I’ve kicked other bad habits (sweets, procrastination) by changing one trigger at a time, creating one positive habit at a time. I recommend this method, as it’s easier and less likely to fail.

If you do this, focus on one new good habit for one or more triggers. Running to burn off stress, or first thing in the morning, is a good example.

Eventually, you’ll have conquered all your triggers, and the bad habit will be erased.

Key to Habit Change: Enjoy the Activity

Many people try to form habits that they don’t enjoy, because they think it’s virtuous, or because it will lead to a goal they want (flatter stomach, losing weight, financial wealth, etc.).

But this is a recipe for failure. When you try to exercise “discipline”, what that really means is forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do. This will only last for a little while, and then you’ll inevitably give up.

Trust me. I’ve fought this battle too many times to count.

So what’s the answer? Enjoy the activity.

If one person does an exercise activity he loves, and another an exercise she hates, guess who will stay with it the longest?

If you look forward to the activity, no matter what it is, you’re going to have a huge advantage in making the activity into a habit. You’ll still need to follow the steps in the method, but if you ignore the enjoyment aspect, the method won’t work very well at all.

What if you want to form a habit that you don’t particularly enjoy? Again, like exercise, or waking early, or flossing, or whatever? You’re going to need to find ways to enjoy the activity.

Some ideas:

  • Find exercise you enjoy, and focus on the enjoyable aspects as you do it. Don’t think about how difficult it is.
  • Play! Whether it’s playing a sport as exercise or going outside with your kids and running and jumping around, find a way to turn something you don’t normally find fun into a game or into some kind of play.
  • Set up a competition — with whatever your goal activity is, whether that be saving money or writing every day — between you and others, or just against yourself.
  • Create an enjoyable experience. Play nice music when you meditate, get some coffee for when you write, drink tea as you read a novel, and so on.
  • If you’re trying to eat healthy, choose healthy foods you love. Focus on how lovely the foods are, not on what you’re sacrificing.
  • If you’re trying to quit a habit you find pleasurable (smoking, for example), don’t focus on how you’re giving up pleasure. Instead, think of the negative aspects of the activity (the bad taste smoking gives you afterward, or how it makes your clothes stink, or what it’s doing to your lungs and the rest of your body, or the cancer it causes) … and then replace it with something that you find pleasurable. For example, going outside for a refreshing walk, or spending time with a loved one.

There are many other ways to make something enjoyable, but however you do it, don’t ignore this advice. Your new habit depends on it.

The Problems With New Year’s Resolutions

What I love about the New Year is the hope that we all seem to have, every year, at this fresh start.

We believe we can change our lives.

Unfortunately, that enthusiasm and hope often fades within weeks, and our efforts at self improvement come to a whimpering end. That’s not great, but it’s also not inevitable.

New Year’s Resolutions usually fail because of a combination of some of these reasons:

  1. We try to do too many resolutions at once, and that spreads our focus and energies too thin. It’s much less effective to do many habits at once (read more).
  2. We only have a certain amount of enthusiasm and motivation, and it runs out because we try to do too much, too soon. We spend all that energy in the beginning and then run out of steam.
  3. We try to do really tough habits right away, which means it’s difficult and we become overwhelmed or intimidated by the difficulty and quit.
  4. We try to be “disciplined” and do very unpleasant habits, but our nature won’t allow that to last for long. If we really don’t want to do something, we won’t be able to force ourselves to do it for long.
  5. Life gets in the way. Things come up unexpectedly that get in the way of us sticking with a habit.
  6. Resolutions are often vague — I’m going to exercise! — but don’t contain a concrete action plan and don’t use proven habit techniques. That’s a recipe for failure.

There are other reasons, but the ones above are easily sufficient to stop resolutions from succeeding.

So what are we to do? The 6 Changes Method solves these problems:

  1. We only focus on one habit change at a time, so our focus and energies aren’t spread thinly.
  2. We implement the habit changes gradually, so we don’t run out of steam.
  3. We start out really, really easily, so it isn’t intimidating.
  4. We focus on enjoyable activities, so we don’t need “discipline”.
  5. We have two months to do the habit change, so if something comes up, it’s but a small bump in the road. And because we’re publicly committed, we’re going to get back on track.
  6. We have a very specific plan with actions built in, using proven habit change techniques.

If you stick with the method, you’ll do much better than you’ve done in the past with New Year’s Resolutions.

‘Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.’

~ Mark Twain

The 6 Changes Method

So how does the 6 Changes method work?

It’s simple:

  1. Pick 6 habits for 2010.
  2. Pick 1 of the 6 habits to start with.
  3. Commit as publicly as possible to creating this new habit in 2 months.
  4. Break the habit into 8 baby steps, starting with a ridiculously easy step. Example: if you want to floss, the first step is just to get out a piece of floss at the same time each night.
  5. Choose a trigger for your habit – something already in your routine that will immediately precede the habit. Examples: eating breakfast, brushing your teeth, showering, waking up, arriving at the office, leaving the office, getting home in the evening.
  6. Do the 1st, really easy baby step for one week, right after the trigger. Post your progress publicly. (Read more.)
  7. Each week, move on to a slightly harder step. You’ll want to progress faster, but don’t. You’re building a new habit. Repeat this until you’ve done 8 weeks.
  8. You now have a new habit! Commit to Habit No. 2 and repeat the process.

I go more into this method in the free ebook – you’ll be able to download it soon.

What is 6Changes.com?

It’s a new site by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits and author of The Power of Less.

It’s the antidote to the failure of New Year’s Resolutions.

It’s simple:

  1. Pick 6 habits you’d like to form in 2010. Yes, just six.
  2. Read this blog and the free ebook that comes with it.
  3. Commit to following the steps I outline for creating your 6 new habits.
  4. Follow the simple steps, and you’ll have 6 amazing new habits.

Why Only 6 Habits?

Most people choose 10-12 habits they’d like to form, and fail. It’s as common as obesity these days, because while enthusiasm can be at an all-time high at around New Year’s, the knowledge of how to stick with the new habits is always elusive.

But I’ve solved that problem.

The 6 Habits method makes it extremely easy to start, build, and stick with new habits. All you have to do is follow the method.

You’ll form a new, long-term habit every 2 months, for a total of 6 new habits in 12 months.

How Habits Will Change Your Life

Think of it: what if you had done this at the beginning of 2009? You’d have 6 habits, such as:

  • Daily exercise.
  • Healthy eating.
  • Waking early.
  • Decluttering and simplifying.
  • Reading.
  • Creating each day.

With those 6 new habits, you’d be well on your way to being fitter than ever, more productive, more at peace, happier than ever.

In fact, I’ve created all of those habits and more, over the last several years, and using those habits I’ve accomplished a lot: ran 3 marathons and a couple of triathlons, lost 40 lbs. and most of my gut, become a vegan and an early riser, eliminated my debt and tripled my income, became a top blogger with 150K subscribers, and much more.

That’s not meant to be bragging, but to show you that it’s possible.

And I’ll show you how.

So pick just 6 changes to make this year. It’ll be your most amazing year ever.