Much has been said about creating habits through practice. And yes, habits are formed through practice—good and bad habits alike. Here’s a look at developing the right kind of practice to get the results you want.
Let’s take a sprinter, a budding track star. Put yourself in his position—you’re in the blocks at the starting line. Ready. Set. BANG! The gun goes off and so do you, running madly for 100 meters. Let’s slow down the vision of you running: In slow motion, what are your arms doing? At what angle are they pumping? How long is your stride? Is it choppy? too elongated? What about your feet? Are you running on your heels or the balls of your feet? Is your head cocked back, or are you leaning slightly forward? Are you breathing frantically or in smooth, measured breaths?
You could go out and just run every day to prepare for a race. Your daily habit could be:
Wake up at 6 a.m.
Run 100-meter dashes until tired.
That would make you faster and create the habit of running. But it would reinforce all the other bad habits you have in form, gait, breathing, and starting position—to say nothing of other factors that impact success like nutrition, flexibility, and recovery. And getting those habits right makes the difference between doing OK in a race versus actually competing.
The same is true in our lives. We may feel like we have the habit of working hard, but are we working efficiently? When problems arise, have we developed behavioral habits that solve those problems effectively, or do we just stew over them the same way every time, wasting time until the problem kind of works itself out or even gets worse?
Take our personal relationships. We see ourselves as loving and kind, but do we have the habit of responding to our spouse or children when we sense their emotional needs, or are we distracted by thoughts of work and just giving them a quick word of encouragement so we feel like we did the right thing?
Habits are formed by doing something over and over. Good habits are formed by deliberately doing the right thing over and over. Let’s go back to your training habits. Top sprinters spend hours upon hours just getting their arms moving right. And more hours getting the angle and position of their start right. And hours upon hours of getting their steps right. Each of these small habits, deliberately formed, adds up to a successful race—a race that lasts less than 10 seconds!
Here are a few tips on using deliberate practice to develop the right habits:
Identify the right habit. This may take some self-evaluation and prayer.
Break down the habit into parts. For example, if the habit you are working on is being early to work every morning, you might have to attack the habits you have the night before (such as going to bed earlier, planning your day in the night, and so on).
Create physical cues to remind you. Use sticky notes, note cards, and so on to create physical reminders. If you are trying to spend less on lunch every day, put a note card in your wallet next to your money that reads, “Spend Less!” You’d be surprised how well this works.
Tell somebody. Tell someone you can trust (Such as a friend or spouse) about your new habits. Support helps, and so does accountability.
Identify why you want to create the new habit. Write your motivation down where you can see it, and remind yourself of it often. If you are trying to lose weight, write down why (for example, “I want to be around to play with the grandkids, so I am adopting a healthy lifestyle for them”).
Now practice getting every detail just right. Take pride in accomplishing it every day. When you “prepare every needful thing” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:119), you can be confident that the Lord will help you improve. He “will be on your right hand and on your left” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:88) as you work to change. But most importantly, He promises, “My Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:88). Be persistent, and before you know it, you won’t even be aware of your new habit—only the positive change.