Top tip for new habits #5: Be sustainable

1000steps

‘A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step’ – Lao Tzu

I watched a great TED talk about habits this week. In it, the speaker says ‘small changes = sustainable.’ Here ‘sustainable’ means something that will last a long time.

For example:

The idea to learn 500 words a week is very nice, but it is not sustainable. It is not possible to learn that much every week. It is unrealistic. Very soon you will probably want to give up.

However, the idea to learn five words a day is sustainable. It is very possible to learn that many words every day. Plus, you will want to keep the habit. OK it seems small, but let’s do some maths:

5 words a day means 30 words in six days. Revision is a part of being ‘sustainable’ so I would recommend day 7 is a day of revision. 30 words a week = 1560 words a year.

From my point of view, that is A LOT. PLUS, because you have been sustainable and you’ve revised the words, these words will stay with you for a very long time.

How cool is that!

(Answer: Very cool)

When you are thinking about your new habit, think about your goal, then think about how you can make it smaller. Make it small and you can make it possible. They say ‘a journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step.’ One step doesn’t look very big, but it takes you to your goal in the end.

Maybe it’s frustrating sometimes, but that’s OK. That’s just part of the practice.

Be patient, be kind, be sustainable and keep going. Form small habits and the big changes will happen. Believe me, they will.

Top tip for new habits #4: Be flexible

flexible

Sometimes we have a really great idea that doesn’t work.

For example, a month ago, I posted a blog about ‘the importance of self-care.’ In it, I said I would only work for 15 minutes at a time. Did this work? NO! The fact is, I become too interested in what I am doing and sometimes it is an hour before I get up.

I’m glad I tried this habit. It was important for me to learn how to stop and rest when I could. I need to remember to rest. If I didn’t do that then I would probably work all day. However, I cannot work for only 15 minutes. It doesn’t work for me.

My new new habit now is to work until I feel tired or I want a drink or I need the toilet and then I have a 10/15 minute break.

New habits are an experiment. We don’t know if they will work. If you find a new habit doesn’t work for you, that’s fine. It’s easy to change it.

First, think about why it doesn’t work. You could ask questions like these:

  • Is it the wrong learning method for you?
  • Would it be better to learn in a different way?
  • Does it fit into your day?
  • Is it just too much to do?

Write down your thoughts or talk about them with a friend. It’s really worthwhile* to think about why something isn’t working for you.

Once you’ve done that, think about another way you can do it. Change the habit so that it works for you and your learning. Keep changing until you find the right way for you.

 

* ‘Worthwhile’ is a word to describe something that is important, something that is worth spending time and energy on.

Top tip for new habits #3: Find a time and a place

timeplace

One way you can remember new habits is to set a time to do it. You can do this with your phone: set an alarm at 3pm to revise some vocabulary or write a sentence or whatever, then at 3pm your phone rings and you remember.

OR have a place where you will do your new habit. First think of some things you do every day. For example…

  • eat breakfast
  • get on the bus
  • clean your teeth
  • walk to work
  • turn on your computer

Then think of a new habit you want. For example, maybe you want to…

  • listen to more English songs
  • learn new words
  • write your own sentences

Now think how you could add your new practice to these old habits. For example, you could…

  • name the objects around you when you are eating
  • listen to songs in English on the bus
  • put new words on the mirror in the bathroom
  • talk to yourself as you walk (you can always use your phone so that people think you are talking to someone!)
  • write a sentence while you wait for your computer to load

Play with different times and different places where you can make your new habit part of your day. Then choose the time/place which is easiest for you.

It’s not important where or when you do it. It is more important that it is easy for you to remember.

After some time, you brain will see it as a time or place to be learning English and you will do it without thinking.

PS: To start, you can choose ONE time or place to learn English. You don’t need to learn English in every activity, every day. It’s OK to take a break too!

Top tip for new habits #2: Keep repeating

again and

The only way to turn a new practice into a habit is to KEEP DOING IT. That means to repeat the same action again and again until it becomes normal.

Like when you start to go to the gym every day. On the first day, it’s hard. On the second day, it’s hard. On the fifth day, it’s a bit easier. And so on, until it becomes normal to go to the gym every day.

It’s the same with language learning: you do it again and again and again until it is normal.

Plus, like any muscle, when you exercise it, it gets stronger. When it gets stronger, it becomes easier. So keep practicing. As I read this week ‘the only way to get to day 500 is to start with day 1.’ There is no way you will form a new lifetime habit if you give up on day 3. It does get easier, I promise.

So understand that it is hard and be kind to yourself… but keep going!

BONUS TIP: If you are finding it really really hard and you really really REALLY want to give up, get some help!

Tell someone you know about your new habit and call/message/email them every time you want to give up.

For example:
Me: Urgh I find it so hard to learn five new words EVERY DAY. It’s too hard, I think I’ll give up.
Friend: But you told me ‘I really want to improve my German and so I’m going to learn five new words a day.’
Me: Oh yeah… well, I still want to improve my German… so I guess I’ll keep doing that…

I find if I do this, I remember why I started the new habit and that helps me to continue practicing. Also it’s nice to have someone to talk to when I’m finding it really hard.

Top tip for new habits #1: Be kind

be kind

Kindness is key in building new habits.

New habits are HARD. Why? Because they are new! They are not normal for us so they might feel uncomfortable and difficult in the beginning.

I think that is the most important thing to remember when we start a new habit.

We can be a little bit strict with ourselves – so that we learn new things. However, if we are TOO strict, we will hate the new habit and soon give up.

Which way do you think is better when you are learning?

To be kind to yourself and understand that it can be difficult?

OR

To be angry or impatient when you aren’t perfect at your new habits NOW?

I prefer the first, don’t you?

It’s not possible to be perfect at something in the beginning, that’s why we practice. Remember that and you can remember to be kind.

I also find that I forget that I have a new habit in the beginning. My new vocabulary book was in my bag for a week before I started to write in it. Then maybe I looked at it once a week, then twice, then three times. Finally, after a month, I had formed my new habit: I was learning five words every day.

It is important to be real with ourselves. New habits don’t form overnight. They take time. So if you forget, don’t be annoyed with yourself. Just say ‘oops I forgot about that, but I’ll remember next time.’ Then very slowly you will remember more and more, and do it more and more.

Which leads me to my next tip

 

New habits

new

Habits are an important part of any learning process.

If we want to change what we learn, how we learn, how much we learn or how quickly we learn, we also need to change what we are doing now. And change always means we have to form a new habit.

A habit is something we do often without thinking.

So, for example, I clean my teeth twice a day, when I get up and before I go to bed. I don’t think about this too much. I just do it. It is a habit.

If my dentist says to me ‘hey Victoria, your teeth look really bad, I think it’s a good idea to floss too,’ then I need to change my habit. So I would clean my teeth AND floss them.

It’s the same with language learning.

I studied German once or twice a week. One day, my teacher said to me ‘hey Victoria, your German would be so much better if you knew some more vocabulary.’ I thought ‘ok I do want my German to improve, so how can I learn some more vocabulary?’ After that I decided to keep a vocabulary book and learn five words a day for the rest of the year.

I love new habits, because forming a new habit feels great. Why?

  1. When you have a new habit, you can see the positive changes in your life.
  2. You see the amazing things you can do when you practice.

When you see these two things, you always feel more confident.

…The thing is: forming new habits can be hard. In the beginning, you might want to give up.

This is where I want to help you.

I have five top tips about forming new habits.

  1. Be kind
  2. Keep repeating
  3. Find a time and a place
  4. Be flexible
  5. Be sustainable

Look at a new tip every day and think about how you can use them.

And be slow. Sometimes if you do things too quickly, your brain panics and you remember nothing at all.

If a tip doesn’t work for you, that’s fine. Ignore it and read the next one.

Plus, if you have any tips, please share them in the comments. We are all learners and the best way to learn is from each other. I look forward to hearing from you!