I am writing this post because I know how hard it is to commit to learning a new language. Just like any new habit you are trying to start (exercising, eating better, or learning some other new skill) learning a language requires consistent time and effort: it is a habit. But it is not easy to start a new habit, and I have seen how difficult it is for so many students to get into the habit of learning the language they say they have always wanted to learn. So what can you do to make sure you stay on track?
I think it is safe to say that many of us are creatures of habit. Whether they are good habits or bad habits, we get into a routine and we don’t like it to be disrupted. A lot of us start our day with a cup of coffee, for example, and it is not something we are willing to stop doing. Our day just wouldn’t seem right without that cup of coffee. Think about your own routine and what habits you have picked up over the years. Do you need that daily cup of coffee; go out with your friends every Friday; or maybe go for a walk every evening after supper?
Most of us don’t really think about starting a new habit. It is just something that happens. But what if you want to purposely start one? If you follow these 7 steps, you will increase your chances of successfully creating a new habit in your life.
7 Steps to Starting a New Habit That Sticks
1. One habit at a time
It is tempting to want to try to change a whole bunch of things at once, but you will be setting yourself up for failure. Instead, choose just one thing to work on. This way you can put all of your focus on it, and it won’t be too painful trying to incorporate it into your already busy life.
2. Be specific
Next, you want to make sure that your new habit is specific. The more specific the goal is, the more likely you are to achieve it. For example, you may want to ‘be happier’ but that is too general. Think of one thing you can do that will make you feel happier. Make that your goal for the new habit.
Public sociologist Christine Whelan from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, states, “research shows the best way to make a resolution, stick with it, and change is a system called SMART: The resolution needs to be:
Reward for sticking to it
So when you resolve to establish your new habit, keep this in mind. For example, if my goal is to start a language learning habit, I might decide that I will devote 30 minutes each day to it, either with a teacher or on my own. I can measure my progress by how close to 3.5 hours of learning I came at the end of the week. If I met my goal, I would reward myself. I can also track my progress by how much I am able to read, speak, and understand my new language at the end of each week..
3. Make sure your heart is in it
Nothing makes it harder to start a new habit than feeling like you are doing it to please someone else. Take a few minutes to ask yourself if you are making this change for yourself or to live up to someone else’s expectations of you.
4. Add it to your schedule
Now you need to decide where and how to fit this new activity into your day. You may find that have to move another activity or even eliminate something less important in order to make time for your new habit. Whatever you need to do to make time, do it. And then make sure to add it to your calendar. That way, you have no excuses for not doing it.
5. Do it every day
We often sabotage ourselves by being inconsistent when we are trying to start to do something new. The truth is that repetition is vital and so we have to commit to doing it everyday if we want it to stick. When you are adding your new habit to your schedule, make sure that you add it everyday. It doesn’t have to be much, even just 10 minutes a day can be enough. If you are learning a new language, for example, you will be farther along if you practice it for 10 minutes a day, everyday, than if you try to practice for 70 minutes once a week. The daily repetition is crucial for making a new habit form.
6. Stick with it for one whole month
The old wisdom says that it takes 21 days to create a new habit, and that after 21 days, it becomes second nature to us. But modern wisdom is much more realistic. It’s true that if you can maintain your new habit for 21 days, you are on your way to making it stick. If you can make it an entire month, you are well on your way!
Christine Whedon believes that after 90 days, your change has become a habit and part of your lifestyle. And in his book, Outliers, The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell poses the idea of the 10,000-hour rule, stating that it takes 10,000 hours of practicing something for a person to get good at it. I will say that in my experience this is true. When I first started teaching, I wasn’t really good at it. I thought I was good at it at the time, but after many more hours of practice, I see that I am good at it now, and wasn’t that great back then! I am sure that in two years from now, I will be even better at it!
7. Don’t start slacking!
After you have made it past the 21 day mark, the one month mark, the 90 day or the 10,000 hour mark, don’t start slacking off just because you have made it to that mini-goal point. Now is the time to keep up your momentum so that it truly does become a part of your lifestyle and a real habit.
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