Every change I've made started with learning to make my bed everyday. I don't remember how old I was when I learned that actions have to be repeated 26 days in a row to become habit. (I've since heard other variations starting at 21 days and up.) At that point in my childhood, I wasn't making my bed everyday, and I often didn't do so until later in the day when I needed a clean place in my room to sit.
So, I decided to start making my bed every morning as soon as I got out of it. My feet hit the floor, and I quickly fixed my covers, before going on to showering and breakfast and off to school. The first week, I didn't always remember until later in my routine or when I got home from school in the afternoon. By the second week, I was gaining consistency, and by the third week my new habit was formed. Now, twenty-some years later, I simply cannot leave my room in the morning without making my bed. It's maybe a little bit compulsive, but it's mostly just habit.
This habit seems simple enough, and almost arbitrary. It goes so much further than making beds, though. This single habit taught me how simple it can be to set and follow healthy habits for years to come. It's happened in so many other areas of my life. Habits that helped simplify our home and helped me lose the 15 pounds I gained from bad habits formed in college.
It goes both ways. We can train ourselves in good habits within 21 days, and we can teach ourselves to rely on unhealthy habits in the same amount of time. The good habits might be harder at first, but they'll make our lives easier in the future, which makes doing hard things worth it.
Big transformations happen one simple habit or change at a time. And it can all start today. Here's how...
Look at where you're headed.If there's a bigger change you want to make in your life, start with working backwards. What's the big picture goal? Are you needing simplicity in your home? Have you been resolving to lose weight and get healthy for years? Now, work backwards from that big, overwhelming goal. What changes will help you get there? A starting point for simplifying your home might be stopping the needless Target trips or scheduling regular times to go through your belongings and get rid of the excess. A starting point for your health might be eating better breakfasts or taking at least 5,000 steps each day or taking healthier snacks to work so you don't reach for the office candy or donuts. Consider where your habits are leading and whether you'll be happy with that in a month or a year or more.
Choose one specific change.There are lots of little daily habits that make up our lives. Instead of choosing vague goals like "get rid of some stuff" or "eat better and exercise more," try narrowing down your goals to a specific habit to work on changing. What one change can you maintain daily starting today? If you're not sure what habit to start with, you could start with something relatively arbitrary and basic like making your bed every morning or doing the dishes before you go to bed each night. Or addressing a specific problem area might be a good place to start. In my aiming to get healthier, my daily dessert-like coffee habit was something I knew needed to go. Instead of dropping cold turkey, I decided to start drinking green tea instead. It might seem as unlikely a swap as an apple for a cupcake, but it's specific and doable and a better daily alternative.
Set reminders or cues for better routines.When I resolved to make my bed everyday, my feet hitting the floor was my cue to do it. Otherwise, I would walk away and get distracted and forget about it. You can set a reminder on your phone or anchor into a specific part of your daily routine. My simple daily exercises are done along with my shower routine in the morning, and I'm adjusting my evening routine to include stretching and reading and better alternatives to push out the Netflix-binging.
Use your new willpower for more good.Making my bed wasn't a stand-alone habit change. Once that habit was set, I was able to move forward in keeping my room clean and getting my homework done. Now, years later, making my bed isn't even something I think about. Now I'm working on improving other habits like exercising every morning, stretching every night, or exchanging my food vices for healthier alternatives. And each time one becomes habit (like buying dark chocolate squares instead of ice cream and cookies), I don't have to think about it anymore and I can work on more specific changes for the better. Making those hard choices flexes that little willpower muscle and gives us motivation for other positive life changes, so our good habits produce more good habits.
The life we dream of starts today. And as we get older, it won't get any easier to make healthy choices. Choose a small habit, decide how you'll work it into your daily routine, and commit to doing it everyday for at least 3 weeks. Big transformations happen one simple habit or change at a time. You can do it!