How to Stay Consistent With a Habit

consistency in habits

This is the 2nd in a 4-part series about building sustainable habits. The first article breaks down the components of a habit and how to build one. This article will show you how to make them stick. 

Starting a habit is the easy part. Habits are hard because you have to maintain them. In perpetuity. The most important part of a habit is getting in your reps. But that also poses the biggest challenge: doing an action consistently. 

You’re probably at a point where you brush your teeth everyday without thinking. And you likely shower everyday (pre-quarantine anyways). There are lots of other habits you have, but might not realize it, like watching tv after work or reading before bed. So, how did you get to the point where you can do these things with no effort?

Automaticity is the reason you do certain behaviors without thinking. Once an action is automatic, you have one less decision to make in a day and your brain is grateful. Without our habits, the brain would be overwhelmed with all the decisions we are faced with in a day. The goal of every habit is to shift it past the line of automaticity. Once a behavior is automatic, doing the habit will require minimal conscious effort from you! 

minimum action
Photo by John Fornander

The most effective way to make a behavior automatic is to have a Minimum Viable Routine. A Minimum Viable Routine (MVR) is the absolute smallest action you can do to maintain a habit. Similar to the two minute rule, all you should require of yourself is a ridiculously easy version of the behavior you want to solidify. 

Some examples of what I mean:

Desired Daily BehaviorMVR
Stretch for 20 minutes Touch your toes for 15 seconds
Practice piano for 1 hourPlay one scale, or practice for 60 seconds
Exercise for 20 minutesDo 3 push ups

Let’s face it, it’s rarely the patient, motivated version of yourself who has to maintain your habit. In the beginning stages of a habit, you are actively fighting your brain to change your practiced behavior. By using a MVR, you make the decision to change too easy to pass up. 

Imagine this: you just got into bed and you realize you forgot to exercise for the day. For me, there is absolutely no way I’m going to do 20 minutes of exercise now that I’ve already gotten cozy. But, if all I have to do is 3 pushups, I can get out of bed for that. In fact, I’d feel too disappointed in myself if I didn’t.  

getting in the reps
Photo by Jaco Pretorious

Remember the point of this is to get in the reps. Once a behavior is automatic, then you can worry about improving the actual skill. The main goal of a MVR is to take the decision making out of the process. Of course there will be days when you surpass your MVR because you have the energy and the will. Sometimes you’ll even surprise yourself by building on the momentum to do more when you didn’t think you had it in you that day.

The Minimum Viable Routine ensures that you can still make progress towards your goal on those difficult days.   

Next week, we’ll talk about creating an environment around yourself that encourages your habit. Subscribe so you don’t miss out!

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