How to Nurture a Positive Habit

file1431243434522You and I both understand the power of habit. As humans we are wired to repeat behaviors over and over again. Sometimes those habits are “good” in that they lead to excellent outcomes. Other times those habits are “bad,” leading to poor or even deadly outcomes.

I am assuming you can do a quick survey of your life and pick a few bad habits you would like to kick and a few good habits you would like to establish.

Me, too.

Lately through reading, conversation, and experimentation I have learned some helpful things about nurturing positive habits. I will leave kicking bad habits for another day.

There are two methods I have proven (to myself) to work, and there is one that I am eager to try soon. Here they are:

1. Seinfeld’s Red-X

Some experts disagree on how long a behavior has to be repeated until it becomes a habit, but a good number to shoot for is two weeks. If I can do something for two weeks, I will usually incorporate it into my life. Jerry Seinfeld’s method has really worked for me. It is a simple idea. You print a calendar and draw a red X on each day in which you do the behavior. Then string them together with the goal of “Don’t break the chain.” Doing this small practice can lead to big things. It is how I finished writing my book. It can be the way you finally accomplish that thing you have been wanting to do.

2. Write a Journal

This one requires only that you keep some kind of notebook or journal where you date each day and make an entry related to your desired behavior. If the goal is to excercise thirty minutes each day, the entry for today as I write this might be:

April, 22, 2015

Exercise Journal

Today I walked 35 minutes at 6 a.m.

Keeping a log or journal like this helps keep me accountable. It also provides a record which I can review to draw inspiration from.

3. Clear’s Paper Clip Trick

James Clear writes often (and well) on habits and behavior. While I regularly practice the first two ideas above, I have not yet tried this one. However, I will be trying it soon. The idea is that you start with two jars. One contains paper clips (or push pins or pennies, etc.) and the other is empty. When you complete the desired behavior, you move a paper clip from the starting jar into the empty jar. There is some strategy to choosing how many clips to start with. In my case I will use it to help me stay on track with some of the more mundane aspects of my daily work. If I need to make fifteen phone calls, I will start with fifteen paper clips. For more on this strategy, please read Clear’s excellent article here.

How do you nurture good habits? What works for you?