Picture a normal day of a professional athlete or a successful start-upper for a second: Both follow an individual, but highly standardized daily routine. They get up at the same time every day, they brush their teeth, put on the same grey T-shirt, have a healthy breakfast, meditate, work out, do their job, have regular breaks and nutrition intakes, have a standardized sleep hygiene and finally go to bed at the same time and start all over again the next day.
Creating new habits and following them sounds quite boring and not very creative, yet the opposite is the case. Positive habits are an enabler for high performance both mentally and physically. Let’s take a moment and reflect on some of our own, positive habits. Most of the time, they feel good and effortless and give us confidence when executing them. But where does this inner perception come from?
But what’s the science behind this?
Creating new habits to free up mental capacity
Habits save our mind energy and can improve our ability to make important decisions. Studies have shown that “the brain is like a muscle: when it gets depleted, it becomes less effective”. Resisting a delicious piece of cake and choosing a healthy salad instead, or working very focused on a project for many hours are only two examples of thought processes which require conscious effort. We’re flexing our executive function muscles and all these actions use up our mental capacity. When they’ve been emptied completely, we are not able to mentally perform at our very best anymore, which can even lead to taking wrong decisions and actions, because our mind muscle is exhausted and weak.
With the awareness that our mind does not have endless capacity, the importance of creating new habits becomes even clearer. Habits can be seen as high-performance enablers by saving important mental capacity that can be used to perform better, make the right decisions and be mentally fit when it counts.
Mastering the habits challenge
The challenge kicks in when the enthusiasm of the first week fades away and willpower decides our success or defeat.
During a recent Manager Development Program at adidas, I was challenged to learn something completely new in the field of sports or wellbeing and practice it every day over a 30-day period. I challenged myself to meditate every morning for 15 minutes and I’m proud to say that I did it and, even better, I’m still doing it every morning – I managed to create a new habit!
When reflecting on my journey together with my learning buddies who completed the same program, I identified five key factors that helped me to follow through. Check them out below.
Five tips that help you create a new, long-lasting habit
1. Have a plan
The key is to practice your new behavior each and every day for at least 30 days or even longer. I found an interesting article that talked about 66 days to really create a new habit.
Sit down and visualize the perfect scenario for doing your new habit – what time of the day is it, what do I need to do it, how does it make me feel, why am I doing it. Then write down a list you need to follow. To get started, set a recurring alarm clock that reminds you to do your exercise on a daily basis (don’t choose the alarm that you’re using for your wakeup call as this sound can have negative connotations). Use your list to keep track.
2. Be vocal about your goal
Involve your family, friends and colleagues in your challenge. By being vocal about your goal, you hold yourself accountable and you feel more committed. I asked my partner to remind me and also push me in case I’m struggling to keep on track.
3. Find a learning buddy
Ask someone to be your learning buddy who is also trying to create a new habit. Why? For the same reason why individual athletes train in groups: Being in it together feels good and you quickly realize that you share the same challenges and struggles along the way. Benefit from your learning buddy’s experiences and observations and vice versa. Push each other and have someone to talk to whenever you need some motivation.
4. Get your head and your heart in the game
A healthy portion of enthusiasm and motivation is essential to follow through, but these emotional components can be backed up by cognitive impulses. Inform yourself about your new behavior, its advantages and the science behind it. Why does it feel like it feels? Why do I act like I act?
5. Journal and track your progress
I was lucky that my meditation app tracked my progress and I even got virtual badges after a streak of 10 and 30 days. Seeing your journey visualized makes you proud and helps you to stay on track. For me, journaling was also a great companion. Further down the road, you might look back at your notes and realize just how much things change. Feeling and seeing change is the best motivation booster. Notes also help to adjust and fine-tune your new habit once it has become part of your routine.
Your challenge: Give it a shot
Reading through the tips now, it seems an easy gig to create a new habit and I hope you already have something in mind that you want to try, but it’s actually pretty tough to build and sustain a new behavioral pattern. So, keep in mind that it’s the same challenge for everyone and that our minds need time to wire or rewire. Be patient, keep on pushing and follow through.
Here’s my challenge to you: Choose a new sports or well-being exercise and practice it every day for 30 days. Use the tips above and tackle it with a growth mindset.