Cultivating and Maintaining Good Habits

Written by Andrea Williams, HR Organization and Professional Development

You’ve likely heard more and more talk about the next phase of our personal and professional lives — be it resuming our pre-COVID routines or creating new ones going forward. Although none of us know exactly what the future looks like, now is an excellent time to consider the changes we may have made over the past year that we’d like to carry forward — perhaps prioritizing our health, creating new family traditions, or learning new skills.

As we navigate the next phase of our lives, University of Southern California research psychologist, Wendy Wood, points out, “We’re going to be faced with two sets of habits: pre-pandemic and during the pandemic. And we’ll have to choose which to repeat.”

Don’t leave your habits to chance. Take this opportunity to make deliberate choices about which habits you want to maintain going forward and any new habits you want to form. Here are some tips to help you cultivate and continue the habits that best serve you and others.

Take it one at a time

Focus on one habit or goal at a time to reap the most reward. When you have the foundations for the first goal in place, you can then move to the next one. When you have integrated the second goal into your schedule, you can then work on the third goal and so on. Set yourself up for success and remember that slow progress is better than no progress.

Understand your habit’s function

Our habits typically meet an underlying need, such as the need for comfort, to feel safe, or to feel cared for. Understanding the significance behind our habits can help us better evaluate whether these habits still serve a real need. We can then opt to further cultivate a habit or design a new, healthier one.

Compare likely outcomes

When you’re faced with a moment of choice, ask yourself, “If I perform this habit, how will I feel? Where will it put me?” Pause, envision yourself and the outcomes, and notice how you feel. Then ask yourself, “If I instead choose to perform this other habit, how will I feel? What will it get me?” Pause, envision, and notice. Set an intention for what you’ll do and then follow through.  

Be consistent and kind

Strive for consistency in your habits rather than perfection. Many habits take time to integrate to the point that you no longer need to think about them. Until then, when you deviate from your plan, kindly redirect yourself toward the results you want without punishment or judgment. There is debate over whether there is an actual causation or rather a correlation between repetition and the formation and enforcement of habits, but research shows positivity combined with consistency is key. Reinforce the positive and focus on your progress and victories, no matter how small.

Share the experience

Cultivating and maintaining habits happens faster and easier when they’re shared. Friends, family, and colleagues can provide support in the form of accountability, reinforcement, and celebration. If you don’t have a circle you can count on, reach out to a therapist or an organization that fosters community in a particular area. MSU faculty, staff, and their families have access to resources including the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), Health4U, and the MSU WorkLife Office that can help.

Don’t get discouraged if your first (or fourth) attempt doesn’t stick. Nobody is perfect in forming and sticking with good habits. Focus not on perfection, but rather on the process of trying things, redesigning your approach as necessary, and trying again.

Sources

Chua, Celestine. 21 Days to Cultivate Life Transforming Habits Retrieved April 2, 2021 from https://personalexcellence.co/blog/21-day-trial/

Fitzgerald, Sunny (2021, April 5). Pandemic habits: How to hang on to the good ones and get rid of the bad. Retrieved April 5, 2021 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/habits-covid-good-bad-how/2021/04/03/5a229796-93c0-11eb-a74e-1f4cf89fd948_story.html Forbes Coaches Council (2020, July 1). 16 Unique Ways to Cultivate Good Habits and Cut the Bad Ones. Retrieved April 2, 2021 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2020/07/01/16-unique-ways-to-cultivate-good-habits-and-cut-the-bad-ones/?sh=3860e7155606