How to sustain habits?

In 2009, when I quit McKinsey, I was at my unhealthiest.

For the previous 10 years, through various jobs and my MBA, I had worked long back-breaking hours and had stopped exercising. On top of that, I was chronically sleep-deprived.

I was so unfit then that I couldn’t run even half a kilometer.

Finally, I was so sick of that life that when I left McKinsey to move back to India, I promised myself – I will sleep 7-8 hrs and no matter what happened, I would not go to work without going to the gym.

Having maintained these habits for more than a decade, here is what I learned about habit-building:

1. You CAN’T sustain a habit indefinitely with sheer willpower, no matter how cool it sounds. I have maintained the gym habit for more than a decade only because I love it. You have to love the activity for its own sake, not for some derivative benefits.

2. Initially, gymming was hard – but I was so desperate to change my life that it did not matter. However, once I crossed the 6-month mark, I started loving it – the habit then became permanent.

If you are trying to build a habit, you better be desperate – a soft intention is not enough. While willpower can help in the beginning, you can make things easier by roping in your friends.

But by hook or by crook, cross that barrier of the first few months.

3. Don’t aim for perfection – all you need is to not quit. I have had innumerable breaks, e.g., when I changed cities or due to sickness, injuries, and travel.

But no matter how many times the habit breaks, I restart as soon as possible without overanalyzing it.

That’s all it takes to sustain habits indefinitely. Don’t overthink it.

– Rajan

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