If you’re struggling to build one new habit, try starting multiple. It sounds counterintuitive, but new research from the University of California shows that a “kitchen sink” approach — taking on a group of new habits — is more effective than a one-habit-at-a-time approach.
In the study, college students adopted a “multifaceted intervention.” They learned meditation in the morning and stress management in the afternoon, along with pilates, yoga, and body-weight training. They also limited alcohol, slept for 8-10 hours each night, ate whole foods, and kept a daily journal.
After six weeks, brain scans showed that the students had better focus, reading comprehension, memory, and they were happier and fitter. In contrast, results from students who adopted “narrowly-focused interventions” (learning one new habit) were 2.5 times less. And follow-up tests showed that improvements had lasting effects; students still scored high on mental and physical tests even with less training.
The success of the multi-habit approach is explained by the domino-like effect—the momentum of succeeding in one habit affects the rest of your habits.
The research challenges the quick condemnation of multitasking. A jack-of-all-trades doesn’t mean being a master of none.
Here are 7 key strategies for successful habit change:
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1. Use “Head-Heart-Hands”
In the study, the holistic approach for building new habits was the key for success. The students took on lifestyle changes that appealed to the mind, emotions, and body. When you are starting new habits, make sure you exercise these three key areas.
2. Make a Pre-commitment
There’s always a slump following the initial excitement and progress of learning a new habit. A pre-commitment is a ‘agreement’ with yourself to push through the slump — when you are mentally primed and aware of an impending obstacle, you’ll be less likely to quit. Successful people understand that mastery and competency comes from pushing through the slump.
3. Tap into Your ‘Flow’ State
There’s a special zone where your performance is maximized. When you’re taking on new habits, make sure you’re challenged beyond your ability, but not quite overwhelmed. This is the zone known as “flow.” Don’t bite off more than you can chew, but don’t starve yourself either.
Pushing yourself too far leads to over-exposure to new information and creates anxiety and stress. Not pushing yourself far enough means you will be under-stimulated and lose motivation.
4. Reframe Your Stress
Lifestyle changes can create stress. Reframe your stress response to master new habits. A Harvard study found that reframing your stress response as helpful rather than harmful changes your biological response. Typically during a stressful experience, your heart rate goes up, your blood vessels constrict, and you feel anxious. However, if you view this response as if your body is preparing you for battle, your blood vessels stay relaxed and you will feel courageous.
Reframe the stress that may arise from learning new habits.
5. Track Your Progress and Celebrate
Celebrating your little wins is crucial for keeping your motivation levels high. Your brain will release dopamine when you consciously celebrate a victory. Dopamine is fuel for motivation and making new habits stick.
6. Include Intentional Rest Times
Rest is a key ingredient for productivity, creativity, and to consolidate the new information you’ve learned from new habits. Schedule weekly times or days where you relax and disengage. Try to get 7-9 hours sleep each night.
7. Inject Novelty
Don’t let your routine turn into monotony. Make slight adjustments to your habits — change the time, order, or location where you do your exercises.
But, only do this if you’re becoming stagnant and disengaged. Some personality types gravitate toward routine, others need novelty. If you’re a creature of habit, and you’re making good progress, do not fix what aint’ broke.
Infographic created by Visme: