Pallavi Pinakin shares her thoughts on ensuring that new habits don’t fail

Whether it’s working out every morning, reading more books, meditating regularly, learning a new language or working on your own startup, we all have things we want to do. But more often than not, such ambitious plans fizzle out within days or weeks, leaving us where we were.

Why is it so difficult to follow through on our aspirations?

Probably because we focus more on the grand goal, and less on consistent habits and day-to-day work that will help us achieve our goals.

The fact is that most dreams can be realised only through consistent effort, be it maintaining good health, greater success at work or a more fulfilling personal life. These aren’t things you can wrap up in a week and cross off your list of things to do; they call for a sustained effort for a long period of time.

In other words, acquiring a new habit is less of a sprint and more of a marathon. It takes time, patience and motivation; and in the end, you will be rewarded with an amazing sense of accomplishment. So here are some suggestions to help you identify new rituals and make them an integral part of your day.

PUZZLE PIECES Many of us see the ultimate objective as a monolith that can be overwhelming and paralysing. A wiser approach is to divide the end goal into smaller segments. For example, take the dream of launching your own business – what does it really entail?

Break it down into subgroups: vision and mission, legalities, a website, a bank account, a business plan, financing and so on. And for each subgroup, come up with tangible actions. This way, you can tackle one piece of the puzzle at a time instead of trying to do everything in one go.

BABY STEPS The secret to transformation lies in starting small. Don’t bite off more than you can chew by diving into four different habits at once or devoting two hours a day from the beginning. Such an overambitious approach practically guarantees failure.

Instead, choose one goal and begin with a small window of time. The one percent method for example, is a great way to kick off – it requires you to assign only one percent of your day (a mere 15 minutes) towards your goal. Instead of wondering endlessly how and where to begin, you can jump right in and tap the power of incremental progress.

Once you’ve managed to stick to the ‘15 minutes a day’ mantra for a few weeks, you can stack another 15 minute block on top of it. For serial procrastinators, some experts suggest beginning on an even smaller scale – i.e. one minute a day. You can gradually increase this to two minutes, then five minutes and so on. Doing a little bit every day creates momentum and enables you to make small gains regularly, which will help you stay motivated and energised.

STAY INSPIRED Speaking of motivation, it’s important to renew yours regularly. Habits are all about the long haul and that means your spirits will definitely flag during the journey.

It may feel like progress is very slow or even nonexistent, making it difficult to keep going. Which is why it’s important to adopt a two-pronged inspiration strategy: keep the big picture in mind at all times, and acknowledge and celebrate the little milestones.

For instance, if you’re learning a new language, remind yourself why you’re making the effort – whether it’s to be eligible for a particular job or converse while travelling through certain countries.

Additionally, recognise and reward your everyday victories, be it nailing a tough vocabulary list, being able to introduce yourself fluently or understanding a song in a new language without subtitles. Together, these actions will add a sense of meaning to your daily efforts and leave you feeling inspired.

30 DAY CHALLENGE Some people claim that three weeks is more than sufficient to form a habit while others believe it can take over two months. But most experts recommend committing to at least 30 days. During this time, the new habit should be a priority and the rest of your schedule must be adapted accordingly.

Remember that if you make a mistake, don’t wallow in self-pity or give up. Simply get back on the saddle again. An all or nothing approach does more harm than good because nearly everyone fails at least a few times along the way – that’s par for the course. So accept that you are imperfect and learn to put the occasional stumble in perspective. In short, be practical.

PIGGYBACK POWER A pragmatic way of ensuring that your new habit sticks is to anchor it to an existing chore. For example, if you drink a cup of tea at 7 a.m. every day, you could make it a point to meditate immediately thereafter.

By linking the two rituals, you can use the first habit as a trigger for the second. This would make it easier to integrate the new behaviour into your daily schedule.