Why is it so hard to keep a habit going after it is started? Is there any way to increase the likelihood a new habit will stick?
Like so many ventures in life, success or failure in maintaining a habit can be set in place before you start. Good planning, and particularly a rigorous cost/benefit analysis, can help select habits that you will be able to integrate into your life.
Before implementing a new habit, consider first the following:
- What is the cost to start and maintain the habit?
- What is the benefit to be reaped from this habit?
- Does the benefit far outweigh the cost?
When selecting a habit, minimizing the cost and maximizing the benefit will be a helpful aid to your continued successful implementation.
Cost of a habit:
The first cost to consider is time. A habit is something you plan to do every day or at least most days. Over the months or years you implement the habit, this will add up to significant amount of time. The more time you invest each day in your habit, the more it will impact the other things you have time for. This lost opportunity cost can put pressure on your schedule and your freedom to do other things. Therefore, selecting habits that require minimal amounts of time to implement can significantly reduce the cost of a habit.
For example, reading the Bible for 10 minutes a day takes a lot less time than starting an an hour long Bible Study program. If your schedule is already full, consistently investing 10 minutes per day, for example when you first rise up or right before bedtime, is easier than trying to find a place in your schedule for a daily hour commitment.
Another cost to consider is the relative amount of pain verses pleasure a habit will bring. If a habit you select is painful, it will cost more effort to invest in the habit. It costs will power to make ourself engage in things that are difficult for us. On the other hand, if a habit brings pleasure, then we have motivation to follow through. If we really doing enjoy something, then the cost in pain can be negative as pleasure is a great motivator to do things.
It is instructive to note that the things that are most essential to life, such as eating and procreation, the Lord made pleasurable. This assures they get done. Structuring our habits to include pleasure can be a significant motivator.
For example, if you have a great deal of trouble getting up early in the morning, and a new Bible reading program requires you to do so, the cost in will power may already set in motion the eventual demise of the habit even before you begin. If, on the other hand, you enjoy reading before going to bed, reading the Bible for 10 minutes (instead of some other material), may be easy for you and even bring you some pleasure. Taking into account your natural inclinations often is the difference between success and failure in establishing a new habit.
Benefit of a habit:
The benefit you reap from a habit should be significantly greater than your cost of investment in the habit. We only have time to engage in limited number of habits, so you have the luxury of implementing only those habits where you will definitely reap great rewards for effort spent.
Some habits cost little, but also reward little. For some, spending each evening watching TV each evening has little pain involved. In fact, for many it is a pleasure, which is a negative cost. Some who spend time this way may believe that the pleasure received outweighs the cost of their time. So for them, this may be a very low cost investment of time.
But now consider what is the reward that is being reaped. Perhaps a new habit may result in a little less pleasure (at least in the short run), but may be very rewarding in results of improving your character, your peace of mind, your relationships and so on. If you structure the new habit so that it costs little in time, gives a little pleasure, and has the promise of great reward, this can motivate you to restructure the way you currently spend your time to now include a new habit.