What if developing a new habit was easy?

How many times have you made a list of new habits (or heck, even just ONE) and not been able to follow through? What if you could make it easier? What if it was a no-brainer that required very little self-control or willpower?

I’ll admit it — keeping up with habits is not my strong suit. I’m married to a highly driven and disciplined man, so I know what it probably SHOULD look like to really just get after it. My days tend to be more flexible and fluid. That’s nice for a lot of situations, but it also makes it difficult to attack a new habit with steely-eyed determination.

I recently became a Certified Online Trainer with the Online Trainer Academy (highly recommended if you serve clients online in virtually any capacity — more on that at the end of this post). One of my favorite questions posed by my mentor and friend Jon Goodman is this:

What would it look like if it were easy?

It’s a variation on the theme of starting with the end goal and working backward. Research shows that self-control and willpower are limited resources, and you can exhaust your supply without even realizing it. So how can we structure new habits in a way that requires less raw grit and determination?

Here’s a great strategy: Tie habits to something you already do regularly.

Think through the things you do in your life already out of habit or necessity. Here are a few examples:

  • Wake up, turn off the alarm, and reach for the phone
  • Make coffee (or pour yourself a cup if your amazing spouse has already made it)
  • Drop the kids off at school/bus stop
  • Feed the dogs

Now think of some habits you want to work on. Again, a few examples:

  • Read more
  • Take vitamins/supplements (for me it’s fish oil, Vitamin D and a greens supplement at the moment)
  • Move every day
  • Get a handle on laundry

Now find ways to combine the things you ALREADY do out of habit with the things you WANT to do out of habit.

My phone’s alarm has a setting where it will automatically open an app when I hit “Dismiss” on the alarm. I’ve set it to open my Kindle app. When my alarm goes off, and before I have a chance to get sucked into email and Facebook, I’ve got my current book open and waiting for me. I have expended virtually zero energy WILLING myself to go pick up the book, and I’ve eliminated the distractions that often derail my best intentions. No time in the morning? You can set that alarm for any time of the day where you’d like to get a few minutes of reading in.

The next one’s an easy one – set the vitamins next to the coffee pot. Done.

Our kiddos usually walk or ride to school, but on the days when the weather is not great, I’ll drop them and immediately head to the gym or my favorite trail for a walk/run. Once I’m out the door and moving, it’s much easier to use that momentum. On the days when they leave from the house, I make sure I’m dressed and ready to go as I walk them out the door, and I immedately head out for my run, walk or to the gym.

Laundry. Eek. It is never ending and I hate when it piles up. I may or may not hold the Guiness world record for the number of times I have re-started the wash because I forgot to move it to the dryer and now it stinks. Guess what I never forget to do? Feed the dogs. They will NOT let me forget. They eat in the laundry room, so as soon as I feed them, I check to see what needs to be moved from washer to dryer, dryer to couch, couch to be folded. [Disclaimer: I am not great at the “actual folding” part yet, but I’m working on it!]

What’s one habit you’ve been itching to master that you can tie to something you already do on the regular? You might just be surprised at how easy it can become.

** The Online Trainer Academy is the brainchild of Jon Goodman, and helps in-person trainers transition to online training. If you are a personal trainer or you serve clients online in virtually any capacity, I highly recommend his course.