Several years ago, I owned an old silver 1999 Honda Civic. It seldom broke down and when it did the repairs were extremely inexpensive. However, I often forgot to have the oil changed.  One day I heard a clunking sound in the engine and watched as smoke began to billow out from under the hood.

The engine had seized. My mechanic later chided me that I was 3,000 miles past the recommended oil change schedule. This mistake cost me a couple thousand dollars.

I wish I could say that I have never missed an oil change since.  However, I continue to often find myself long overdue for the simple preventative maintenance that would avoid this kind of catastrophe.

Have you ever been drawn into the same mistakes and habits time and time again? We seldom take the time to think about our patterns and their impact.  Typically it is only when the pain is so great that it hurts, that we pay attention.

So how do we break free from less then optimal patterns before our engines seize and the cost is unbearable?

4 Steps to Establishing New Patterns

  1. Reflect – Without taking time to think about our patterns nothing will ever change.
  2. Write – We must pen to paper and call out our patterns.  Once a habit is written down and named, we will recognize it when it rears its ugly head. When we declare the potential cost of the pattern, our motivation to change will grow.
  3. Choose – Decide on a behavior that will take the place of the pattern we want to address. Be reasonable.  We don’t always need to make massive changes to break a pattern.
  4. Trigger – Wanting to change will accomplish nothing.  We have to trigger our new actions or the old habits will rule our lives.

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One key to implementing new habits is finding the triggers that work best for our rhythms and personalities.  For years I have desired to exercise a few mornings each week rather then always in the afternoon and evening.  No matter how hard I tried, the old pattern of sleeping in reigned supreme.  A couple months ago I decided on two triggers to help establish the new habit. First, I go to sleep by 10 the night before a morning run.  Second, the first thing I do in the morning is put on my running clothes.  These two triggers changed my pattern.

Ideas for Triggering New Patterns:

  • Calendarize – Put new habits in your calendar so you actually carve out the time for them.
  • Phone Reminder – My wife Jenny has phone reminders that trigger her to drink more water.
  • Push Notifications – Use an app that sends you specific notifications around the particular behavior you want to establish.
  • Sleep Earlier – If you want to wake up earlier, force yourself to go to bed earlier.
  • Put on Exercise Clothes – If I want to run in the morning, I put on my running clothes as soon as I get out of bed.  This triggers my mind to accept that my body will be running soon.
  • Meet a Friend – Find a buddy who wants to establish the same behaviors and schedule a weekly coffee meeting to talk about how its going.
  • Impose a Penalty – Financial institutions force us to break habits by imposing huge penalties.  Set up personal consequences when you fall into old patterns.
  • Reward Yourself – Set a goal and reward yourself with some kind of treat at the end of a month of practicing the new pattern

We all get to choose the patterns that dictate our lives. Unfortunately all too often we allow life to happen to us, accepting our patterns.

Life is too important to allow the current patterns to rule our world without reflection.  We just might find our lives seized up like my 1999 Honda Civic.

I’d love to hear other ideas you have that help you trigger new patterns in life… leave a comment below!


5 thoughts on “4 Simple Steps to Establishing Great Habits

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