Introduction On Creating Good Habits
Every day, your brain receives millions of signals from each of your five senses. Yet, for every 11,000 signals, your brain only processes about 40 of them consciously. This means that thousands of signals, and the actions they produce, are processed without a conscious thought. Whether good or bad, these automatic actions are your habits.
Life is habitual in nature. There are things you do every single day without a second thought, because you’ve been doing them for years. Yet, when the time comes to add a habit to that routine, it can be incredibly difficult.
Take a moment to lace your hands together. Now, unlace them, and try to do it a different way. Stop and think about how this feels. Unless you are unusually ambidextrous, you likely feel uncomfortable and have a nagging sense of unease when you lace your fingers the “incorrect” way.
The way you lace your hands together is a habit. It is a deeply ingrained pattern that you do almost automatically. When you do this routine differently, your brain must stop and think about it. This creates a mental discomfort.
Everyone has hundreds of habits they rely on to get them through the day. Yet, what happens when you need to add a new one? What happens if you need to replace a bad one with a good one. While the habits you have may seem as though they happened automatically, sometimes the habits you need are a little harder to come by.
Whether it’s the desire to start a healthy eating plan, the need to create new habits that will improve your business success or the urge to stop bad habits and replace them with new ones, understanding habits, how they work and how you can create and maintain them, will help you find success.
Chapter 1 – The Science Behind Habits
Repetition of behavior leads to habit formation. While this seems simple, in many cases it ends up being quite a bit more complex. In order to understand a habit, you must first understand what is going on inside your brain when you create one.
The 21-Day Myth Exposed
Anyone who has tried to build a new habit has likely heard from well-meaning friends and family members that it will take 21 days to establish that habit. Yet, researchers have found that this 21-day time frame is little more than a myth, and they don’t even know where it came from.
Psychologists from the University College London decided to tackle this myth and see where it came from and whether or not it was true. In their research, they found a book called Psychocybernetics, written by a plastic surgeon in 1960. In the book, Dr. Maxwell Matlz said:
It usually requires a minimum of about 21 days to effect any perceptible change in a mental image. Following plastic surgery it takes about 21 days for the average patient to get used to his new face. When an arm or leg is amputated, the “phantom limb” persists for about 21 days. People must live in a new house for about three weeks before it begins to “seem like home.” These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old, mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.
The way in which this introduction started the 21-day myth and turned it into common knowledge for the average person is not clear, especially since Dr. Maltz was not discussing habit formation specifically. Regardless, this 21-day cycle has little actual research behind it. Yes, if you do the same thing at the same time using the same cues for 21 days in a row, it may become a habit, but it may not. This depends on you, your level of willpower, the complexity of the task and the amount of current behaviors that have to change in order to embrace the new one.
UCL researchers decided to test this for themselves. They took a group of people and asked them to add a self-chosen healthy habit to their life, such as drinking water or exercising, and to connect that habit to a daily cue, such as a specific time to day or a meal. They then tracked the behaviors for a total of 84 days in order to determine when the habit was formed.
Now, making this determination proved challenging. The researchers had to look at the participant’s own indications of when the habit became “automatic.” Repetitions of the behavior at the outset led to automatic behaviors, which then plateaued at a certain point. The point at which the automatic behaviors plateaued was considered the point that a new habit formed.
So, how long did it take? The various individuals in the study had very different reactions to the process, but the average was a full 66 days. Some peaked in just 18 days, and one did not peak at all. Some had created a very strong habit that would follow them after the study, while others had very weak habit formation.
In the end, these researchers decided that sticking a number of days with the habit formation process was too arbitrary, because it varies so much. If you are serious about adding a new habit to your life, you’re simply going to have to do the behavior consistently until the habit forms, and leave the actual timing up to chance.
The Brain’s Relationship with Habits
A discussion of the science behind habits requires more than just a look at psychology. It also requires a look at how habits affect the brain. Research into patients with Parkinson’s disease may shed some light on this.
The forebrain is filled with structures called basal ganglia. These are responsible for controlling voluntary movements, and thus are the source of a problem in a Parkinson’s patient. These basal ganglia also affect the emotion and mood. They also play a role in the way habits are formed. This may point to a connection between emotions and habits.
Ann Graybiel, a researcher at the McGovern Institution at MIT, has found a connection between these basal ganglia and habit formation. When new habits form the way these basal ganglia communicate with the rest of the brain changes. This means that forming a new habit actually changes the way your brain is hardwired.
When you make a conscious effort to do something, a decision if you will, the prefrontal cortex controls the behavior. This requires work, and you must make the active decision to do the behavior. When the behavior becomes automatic such as it does when you create a habit the basal ganglia take over and allow the behavior to happen without much conscious thought. The prefrontal cortex actually “goes to sleep” concerning that behavior. This is why you can focus on something else while performing your habit. Your brain does not have to think about the behavior.
What is the point of this discussion? The point is that habits take time to develop because they actually change your brain’s structure. Give yourself time if you are ready to build a new habit.
Chapter 2 – Understanding Habit Loops
Habits take time, but giving yourself some time is not enough to build a new habit. In order to establish a habit, you must follow a very specific pattern. Some experts have coined the phrase “behavioral loop” to discuss how this process happens.
The behavioral loop has three steps: cue, routine and reward. Every time you make a habit, you are going to use these three steps to make it stick. Here’s how they work.
Imagine for a moment that you want to drink a glass of water every day before you go to work. Finding time to do so between breakfast, morning coffee and your personal care routines can be challenging. So, you are going to pick a cue.
The cue is the trigger that you link the behavior to to give yourself a signal that it’s time to perform the behavior. For your glass of water the cue can be breakfast. After you eat breakfast, make a mental image of yourself having that glass of water.
The routine is the action. You’ve visualized yourself getting a glass of water after your cue, so get up and get it. You have now performed your routine.
Finally, you need a reward. Now, this can be quite simple. Sometimes, saying “good” to yourself, verbally or mentally, is enough of a reward. In the case of the glass of water, perhaps you could put off your morning coffee until this point, and your reward could be that morning coffee.
This three-step process is one that is repeated day after day in your life. Any habit you have formed, either positive or negative, was formed in this way.
Consider a smoker for example. The smoker likely reaches for a cigarette in response to certain cues. Maybe on his lunch break, he automatically goes out back for a smoke. The routine, taking a break to have a cigarette, offers the reward of calmed nerves and fewer jitters after the tobacco craving has been satisfied.
If you can understand this cycle, you give yourself the power to create new habits, and even break old ones you aren’t happy with. In the next few chapters, we will discuss these in more detail, so you can have the power to create good habits in your life.
Chapter 3 – Understanding the Cue
The cue is the thing that happens that causes your habitual behavior. While this may seem like an easy thing to pinpoint, it’s actually quite complex. We are bombarded with information every single day, and it’s often quite challenging to isolate the specific cue that brings on a behavior.
For example, you likely eat lunch every day at around the same time, either because this is when your family eats or it’s when your workplace offers you a lunch break. Yet, have you ever stopped to think about why you eat lunch at 12:00? Are you hungry, or is it simply “time” to eat? Are you eating because everyone else is, or because you are suffering from low blood sugar?
Consider another example. You are coming home from work and turn right into your subdivision. What specific cue tells you to turn right? Is it a street sign, building or a tree? Did you have a conscious thought about your route, or did something else cause you to bump the turn signal and make the turn?
All of the noise in our lives makes it difficult to pinpoint a cue, or to choose one when establishing a new habit. To begin, you must first learn to pinpoint the cues for habits you already have. According to Charles Duhigg, who first pioneered this three-step habit loop idea, habitual cues will be one of these five types of things:
- Time of day
- Actions preceding the habitual action
In the case of turning right into your neighborhood, it could be the action immediately preceding this, that of turning left onto the street your neighborhood is on, that prompted your behavior. In the case of the time you eat lunch every day, your location or the time is likely the cue.
If you are having trouble pinpointing the cue for a particular action, try asking yourself about these categories. You can ask:
- Where was I?
- What time was it?
- What was my emotional state?
- Who was nearby?
- What action preceded your response?
If you ask yourself this several days in a row while you perform the action, you will be able to see a pattern. That pattern is, therefore, the cue.
Using Cues to Establish New Habits
Pinpointing your cues is one thing, but how can you use this knowledge to help as you establish new habits? In order to create a new, lasting habit, it must be tied to a cue. Choosing a cue that will quickly become routine is the easiest way to make the habit stick.
When choosing cues for habits you wish to create, start with something obvious, like an action preceding an action or a time of day. If there is something you want to add to your morning routine, tie it to breakfast or your cup of coffee. If there is something you need to add to your office day, tie it to your morning meeting or even your lunch break.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for picking your cue. You simply need to make a mental decision that “when this happens, I will perform this action.” Every time the first thing happens, you must perform the new action. Over time, the action will become infused with the cue in your mind, and the behavior will become automatic.
While there are no rules to choosing your cue, there are ways you can make it more effective. Consider these:
- Make it easy – If you need to start flossing your teeth, your cue could be brushing your teeth, which you (hopefully) already do routinely.
- Give yourself a visual reminder – Tie the action of flossing with brushing by placing the floss right next to your toothbrush. This provides a visual reminder and makes it simple to grab the floss. Notes can also serve as visual reminders for habits you wish to start.
- Tie it to something you already do – Adding in a new habit and choosing a cue that is not part of your routine isn’t going to work. Tie your new behavior to a firmly ingrained habit.
You can start new habits, and you can do so effectively, if you learn to tie them to a cue.
Cue Vs. Anchor
Some people have called the “cue” the “anchor.” This is basically the same thing, but an anchor is a more tangible cue. For example, what do you do every morning after you shower and dry off? Maybe you add some lotion to your skin or get dressed for the day. You do this every single day in the same manner. Drying off after your shower is the anchor to the next behavior.
Finding an anchor, a tangible event you do every day, that you can tie the new habit to is a helpful technique. For example, if you turn on the coffee pot every morning at a precise time, then add your habit after that. The coffee pot will serve as your anchor, eliciting the desired behavior. Over time, the desired behavior will be as natural to you as putting on lotion or getting dressed after your shower.
Chapter 4 – Finding the Routine
The second part of the behavior loop is the routine, or action. Often, the action is the easiest part to spot, but often the most difficult to implement.
To understand this routine, let’s look at a habit someone might already have. Consider someone who has a pastry from the office cafeteria every day on his morning break. This routine adds unnecessary calories to the diet, and may be something that the individual wishes to stop doing. Yet, it is a habit.
Here’s how the pastry scenario works out. It’s time for the first break of the morning, and the worker heads down to the cafeteria. Not only is he looking for a snack, but he’s also looking for some camaraderie. This is where his friends are on their breaks. So, he buys the pastry, sits down and socializes. He enjoys the tasty treat and the companionship of his friends, even though he knows he cannot afford the calories for the day. Still, the routine feels good. He heads back to his cubical with a bit of guilt, but also the positive emotions that spending time with friends causes.
The cue, in this scenario, is the break. It may even be hunger. These are legitimate, and they aren’t able to be controlled. You are going to get a break, and you are going to feel hungry. But the habit of a morning pastry isn’t necessarily a healthy one.
To change this habit into a healthy one, or to create a healthy habit to begin with, the worker is going to need to find a different routine. Going to the cafeteria, even with the intention to get an apple, is likely to create the same result, because of the automatic nature of this habit. Instead, the worker could find new friends to socialize with and take the break at the water cooler or even walking a lap or two around the building.
Choose the Right Habits
It’s easy to think that you need to add something to your routine because others have told you to. This is faulty thinking. Creating a new habit is hard work, and you’re not going to stick to it if the habit isn’t important to you. Only choose new habits that are important to you, and you will increase your chances of successfully creating the habitual behavior.
Tips for Creating the Routine
As you begin adding a new routine, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or to start off too big. Someone who is trying to add healthy habits to their life may see the success of people on weight loss television shows and decide that they, too, need to lose 30 pounds in four weeks. Someone who needs to take better care of their teeth may want to floss twice a day. These are good goals, but they may be too big.
Instead, give yourself a small goal, an easily attainable habit, and work your way up. Make your habit at first to floss just one tooth, or to walk just one mile. Once that’s established, adding another tooth or another mile is much easier. It’s just an extension of the habit you already have.
You can also improve your chances of success by adding accountability. Do you want to add a walk around the building to your lunchtime routine? Find a coworker with similar healthy habit goals to do it with you. The camaraderie can also double as a reward, which we will talk about in the next chapter, but the accountability will help you establish the routine while doubling as a cue.
Chapter 5 – Finding the Reward
What is the main key to making a new habit stick? Finding the right reward. Almost all behaviors we engage in automatically have some sort of reward. We eat breakfast every morning and the reward is a stomach that is not hungry. We engage in small talk with the people at the office and the reward is camaraderie and friendship. If you stop and look at your daily habits, you will quickly see the long history of rewards associated with them.
As you consider these rewards, remember that they can be small. Your reward for brushing your teeth every day may be little more than the minty fresh feeling in your mouth and the knowledge that your dentist will tell you “good job” at your regular visit. Your reward for working hard on the job may be nothing more than the intrinsic feeling of accomplishment. Still, in the habit forming behavior loop. These are considered rewards.
Many habits have their own built in rewards, but some do not. If you are looking to add a new habit to your life, and it doesn’t have an intrinsic reward, then you will need to attach a reward to it. Here are some types of rewards you might choose.
Many of our habits are preformed because they make us feel good. We habitually eat in the cafeteria, rather than our desk, because it feels like a break from work and gives us the chance to socialize. This makes us feel good and offers an emotional reward.
If you aren’t already getting an emotional boost from a behavior, it may be time to create a mental connection between the behavior and your feelings. Tell yourself, “I will work out before breakfast because it makes me feel good.” The more you tell yourself this, the more likely it is that you will believe what you are hearing. This internal dialogue can start connecting the positive emotions to the behavior.
Tangible rewards can work well in establishing a habit. For example, if you love your morning coffee and want to work a workout in the in the morning, make your reward that cup of joe. If you normally eat a tasty smoothie for breakfast, start your morning with something lighter, and have your smoothie as your reward after performing your morning workout.
There is a danger with tangible rewards, however, and that is the cost. Whether the cost is monetary or, in the case of a food reward, caloric, continually rewarding yourself with something tangible can get expensive. So, if you find you respond best to a tangible reward, consider either something that you already do (like the morning coffee or smoothie) or something small (like a piece of gum). Remember, the reward doesn’t have to be gigantic to be effective. In fact, the smaller the reward, the more automatic it can seem, and thus the more conducive to forming a habit.
Give Yourself a Pat on the Back
So, if your behavior isn’t one conducive to a tangible reward, what can you do? Sometimes, all it takes is a simple “good job” said in your mind to serve as your reward. This boosts your mood, which can serve as its own motivator to continue the behavior and create your habit. If you need to, say, “I’ve done a good job” or “success!” verbally after performing the behavior. By giving yourself a pat on the back, you create the type of reward that will cause you to perform the behavior the next time your cue comes around.
Celebrate the Tiniest Success
Celebration brings feelings of joy and happiness, so take every opportunity you are given to celebrate. Even a small success along the way of reaching your goal is a reason to celebrate, so go ahead and launch into a grand celebration of your accomplishment. No, don’t throw a party, but sing a little song to yourself when you complete the habit after the cue. You will feel empowered as you give yourself the reward of a celebration.
Chapter 6 – Creating a Plan
Now that you are able to identify the cue, routine, reward cycle it’s time to make a plan. Habits are entirely mental to begin with, so you need a mental strategy to get started. Here are some tips to help you create a plan that will work.
Have a Set Start Date
When do you want to implement the new behavior? Give yourself a set start date, and make it soon. Even if it’s tomorrow, you have to tell yourself mentally that you are starting the new habit on this date and at this time.
However, with a habit, there won’t be a set end date. Habits are different than goals. With a goal, you need to have a measurable result you are aiming for. Habits, on the other hand, are supposed to become automatic behaviors. So instead of telling yourself you are going to try to lose a certain amount of weight by a certain date, tell yourself that you are going to start eating a healthy snack at a certain time of day.
Part of your plan should be a measure of accountability. Maybe for you it’s a journal outlining the times you did or did not complete your new habit. Maybe outside accountability in the form of a friend asking how you are doing is the answer. Regardless, you need a way to hold yourself accountable and ensure that the task is, in fact, getting done.
Choose a Daily Habit
Think about some of your most deeply ingrained habits. How often do you do them? Chances are these are daily routines. Brushing your teeth, eating your meals, showering and making your bed are all commendable habits that likely take place on a daily basis.
As you are implementing a habit, try to make it something you do daily. If your new habit is working out, you may not want to do the same workout daily, but you can go to the gym daily or take a daily walk. If you are doing something every single day, the consistency will help the habit form and stick.
Create Tangible Steps
As you create your plan for adding your new habit, add some tangible steps to it. Make it as easy as possible to follow through with your goal.
For example, if you are trying to add exercise to your morning routine, you will want to set the alarm earlier. Then, set out your workout clothes so getting them on is simple. Prepare your breakfast the night before, so you can grab a bite when you get back. These are simple, but tangible, steps you can make to ensure that you actually perform the action necessary to establish the habit.
Start Small and Build
We already touched on this in an earlier chapter, but one of the keys to building a habit is to start small. If your habit is small, you’re unlikely to break it with much frequency. So start small and give yourself success from the beginning.
Work hard at your small habit, until it has clearly become an integral part of your life. Then, add a minute detail to it. For instance, in the example of flossing your teeth, floss just one tooth daily until you do it without thinking. Then add two more teeth. Eventually, flossing your entire mouth will be simply part of your morning or evening routine.
As you chose your small habit, make sure you start small enough. Dr. B.J. Fogg of Stanford University said, “The number one mistake people make (when starting new habits) is not going tiny enough.” He went on to tell someone who is trying to start the habit of running every day to start with putting on her shoes. For five days, simply put on your running shoes. Then, walk to the door and go outside to stretch, then come back in. Next, jog around the block. Eventually you may be jogging a marathon, or you may not, but the key is to lace up your shoes for those first five days.
If you start with a habit so small that it’s almost impossible to fail at it, then add to it bit by bit, in the end you will end up with an amazing, positive habit that feels as though it is a natural extension of yourself. If you start with a lofty habit and fail time and time again, you will end up without a habit and with discouragement. The difference is substantial.
Make a Plan for Failure
No matter how careful you are at establishing your new habits, you will occasionally fail. That’s fine. You simply need to know how you will respond to that failure. Make a plan that will keep you from facing extreme discouragement when you fail.
Know Your Motivation
Ultimately, as you create your plan, you need to know your motivation, and that motivation needs to be for you. If you are trying to add a habit for anyone else’s sake, you’re going to struggle. You need to do this for yourself. This will make you more motivated, and increase your chances of success.
Know What’s at Stake
As you create your plan, know what’s at stake. This includes both benefits and drawbacks of your new habit. For example, if you are going to start a new habit of going to the gym in the morning before work, the benefits will be better health and increased energy. They may even include weight loss. However, you are going to be more tired at the beginning as you adjust to an earlier morning. You also may find that you lack time for other parts of your morning routine. Make sure your plan accounts for these.
Chapter 7 – Dealing with Bad Habits
Creating good habits is often necessary because of bad habits that already exist in your life. Since so much of life is habitual, you’ll need to not only add a new, positive habit, but also remove the negative ones that are derailing your goals. This will bring a two-fold reward, as you eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive.
Find a Suitable Replacement
Your brain works much like a computer. If you take out a component, the computer isn’t going to function well, if at all. Similarly, if you take out a habit in your life, you have to replace it with something, or your brain isn’t going to accept the change. “Out with the old, in with the new” may be cliché, but when it comes to habits, it’s actually sage advice. If you are trying to get rid of a bad habit, you are going to have to replace it with something healthy and positive.
For instance, if you are in the habit of watching T.V. after a long, hard day at work, but you feel that you need to cut the ties with your television for a bit, you’re going to find it difficult to simply unplug. After all, you are used to filling that time with your favorite characters. Instead, consider using that time to pursue a new habit, like jogging. Instead of plopping down in front of the T.V., lace up your shoes and head outside. Eventually, jogging will be your stress relief, and your habit.
As you look for a replacement behavior, try to find something that you cannot do while you are engaging in the negative behavior. You can’t run while you watch T.V. You can’t clear your throat while you are exhaling deeply. You can’t smoke while sucking on a lollipop. By replacing the bad habit with something that can’t be done at the same time, you make it impossible to perform the negative behavior while performing your new one.
The point is that you can’t simply remove the bad habit and expect to find success. You also have to fill that void with something positive.
Bribe Yourself to Gain Leverage
Leverage is important as you seek to change negative habits into positive ones. Here’s an easy way to give yourself leverage: Give a friend some money. Ask her to hold it for a period of 30 days, giving it back to you if you complete your routine consistently for that entire period of time. The motivation to get that money back will help you stick with your habit, even when it gets hard. On those days when you simply want to give up, that leverage will help you stick with it.
Use the SWISH Technique
SWISH is a mental technique that can help you take control of your bad habits and insert good ones. It may feel awkward at first, and it certainly takes practice, but once you have mastered it, you’ll find it to be highly effective, and maybe even fun!
To begin, find the trigger that started the negative habit. Then, visualize the trigger through your own eyes. If the trigger is a set time, visualize the clock set to that time.
Once you have this mental image, do something to make it less appealing. This could be mentally turning it to black-and-white, or making it appear distant. This will lessen its power over you.
Then, create a positive image of yourself without the negative behavior in your life. Make this image as realistic as possible. Are you self-assured and standing tall? What would your breathing sound like? Take some time to mentally visualize this until it is clear. Then, do something to make it more compelling. Add music in your mind or increase the color of the image.
Now, you are ready to visualize the two together in the same image. Intensify the positive image and fade the unpleasant image while saying “swiiisshh.” End the session by staring at a blank screen so you do not revert to the undesirable image.
Repeat this about four times until the undesirable cue is no longer bringing images of the old behavior, but rather bringing images of the desired outcome.
Yes, the SWISH technique sounds strange, but it can work quite well at breaking the internal hold that certain triggers have over you.
Make One Change at a Time
As you work on removing bad habits from your life, go slowly. You aren’t going to change multiple habits all at once. You have to start with one, and then successfully replace it with something positive. Then, it’s time to move to the next one. Eventually, you will have made multiple changes, without creating a situation where failure is inevitable.
By focusing on one change at a time, you can devote all of your energy to making that one change. This improves your chances of success, because you are able to pour more of yourself into reaching the one habitual goal you have in mind. Once it’s tackled, you can make a new change.
Chapter 8 – Dealing with Failure
One reason many people are unable to successfully create new habits is the fear of failure. When they fail, they quit. The fact is, failure is practically inevitable as you seek to build positive habits in your life. If you can teach yourself to expect failure, and even embrace it when it occurs, then you will prevent it from derailing your efforts.
Don’t Set Yourself up for Failure
While on one hand failure is an inevitable part of the process, don’t set yourself up for it. Anticipate it, but make sure you aren’t making it a certainty.
For instance, if you want to start the habit of exercising, don’t tell yourself that you’re going to start running five miles a day. Even if you are fit enough to tackle this job, you’re going to find quickly that you don’t have enough time to run five miles every single day. You’re busy. So one day you are unable to run five miles, if you run at all.
When you fail to run five miles the first day, you chalk it up to your busy schedule. Yet when you fail the second time and then the third time, you suddenly realize that you can’t do this. And you give up. The end result is that you failed to make the healthy habit you were trying to make.
Instead, make the habit something you can attain daily, such as running a mile. On days you have extra time, push yourself further, but don’t be afraid to make the habit something more attainable. By doing so, you will be biting off something you can actually find the time to chew.
View Failure Through Checkpoints
Most habitual changes go through a series of checkpoints. At about 30 days, you no longer require willpower to continue performing the new behavior. However, this is still a difficult time, because any change to your routine could complicate your commitment to your new habit and put you back at square one.
Another checkpoint comes at about 90 days. If you’ve been performing a daily habit for a period of 90 days, you’ll find yourself in a position where it’s not hard to continue the habit, but it’s not hard to drop it either. This is a neutral point.
When does the habit really become automatic? Give it a year. After a year, you’ll find that the habit is something you do without thinking.
By paying attention to these checkpoints, you’ll be less tempted to loose hope when you fail. Failure is going to happen, often within those first 30- and 90-day periods. Give yourself the room to fail, and you’ll improve your chances of success.
Learning from Failures
You will fail, and failure can help you find success later if you can learn from it. Figure out what caused you to fail. Did you change something about your cue or anchor? Did you have a life change that limited you from maintaining your habit? Did you try to take on too much too quickly, and thus make success difficult to attain?
Don’t fear failure. Making a new habit means you will eventually break it. That’s ok. You simply need to learn what you need to learn from this, and move on.
Make Failure Hurt
If all else fails and you find that you are still failing more often than you would like, then it may be time to add some accountability in the form of pain. Let’s say you are serious about exercising daily. Make yourself a promise that you will pay your friend $10 every time you don’t exercise. With a promise like this, you’ll be highly motivated to avoid failure, ad your friend will be motivated to ask you to keep you accountable. After all, if you fail, he’s going to get a payout!
Chapter 9 – Habit Building Tips and Strategies
Thus far we’ve discussed the science behind habits and the cycle that creates habits. You’ve been given tools to break bad habits and deal with failure. Now, it’s time to discuss the practical side. Here are some strategies and tips you can use to build, and keep, positive habits in your life.
Habit Building Strategies
As you seek to create habits, consider these strategies:
- Use actionable steps – In your habit-building planning, make sure the steps are actionable. Your habit needs to be an action that you take every day, not a vague, hard-to-reach goal.
- Envision the future – Envision your future with your habit firmly entrenched in your life. This can be highly motivating.
- Track progress – If your habit is something you are using to reach a goal, find a way to track your progress. Seeing success will motivate you to keep tackling the habit.
- Schedule mental checkups – Schedule times to do an internal checkup. This will help you evaluate your progress and prevent the temptation to slack off.
These strategies will help you get started on the path towards establishing a new habit pattern. Once you have established the pattern, you will want to take steps to make sure it sticks.
Tips for Making Habits Stick
Choosing your habit and making a plan is the starting point. Once you’ve decided the habit you want, and started implementing it into your life, how can you ensure that it sticks? Making your habits “sticky” is almost as important as choosing them in the first place. Here are some tricks that might help.
- Make a short-term commitment – Yes, true habits aren’t going to be established in three weeks, but if you’re having trouble sticking with it, set a short-term goal. If you can commit to making the change for, say, a month, chances are you will enjoy the rewards and connect the routine to the cue in that time, and you’ll have a greater chance of having success in the long term.
- Find a way to remind yourself – Set your alarm on your phone. Post sticky notes in key places in your home. Ask a friend to call you at a certain time. Whatever you do, find ways to remind yourself about your commitment.
- Create a trigger – If your habit is challenging, create a trigger. This is different than your cue. For example, if you are going to create a habit of eating an apple instead of a cookie at your snack break, clap your hands before you go on break. This simple action, although it may look strange, will trigger the thought of the apple in your mind. Since habits are largely mental in nature, it just might be the key you need to create a lasting habit.
- Be as consistent as possible – Swap out your cookie for fruit, not a generic “healthy snack.” Work out at the same place every day, rather than shopping around for a favorite workout location. Switch your smoke break for a walk around the office building, not a variety of activities. If you are able to be consistent, your habit will become routine more quickly.
- Use the word “but” – The word “but” may sound like an excuse, but it can be highly motivating. For example, if you want to start the habit of taking a daily run, but you aren’t good at running, you can tell yourself, “I’m not a good runner but if I do this every day I will get better.”
- Put good role models in your life – Someone who is successful at the habit you are trying to form is going to motivate you to stick with it. Get some good role models in your life to help.
- Consider it an experiment – Many people fail to make changes because they fear failure. If you view your new habit as an experiment, rather than a life change, you remove this risk. Sometimes, experiments work. Sometimes, they don’t. In the end, you will have a different perspective about your habit, and it just might be this change in perspective that helps you succeed.
- Remove obstacles – Obstacles and temptations can derail your habit-building goal. Remove them. If your goal is to start eating more fruits and vegetables, throw out the chips and candy that are easier to reach for. Make your road to success as obstacle-free as possible.
- Make yourself a promise – Finally, make yourself a promise of some reward when you’ve created your new habit, and write it down. It’s easy to put off a new behavior if there are few rewards, but if you see that promise to yourself posted somewhere visible in your home, it’s much harder to ignore.
Remember, you have a lot of obstacles in your way as you seek to add a new, positive habit to your life. You must do all you can to make the habit stick. These tricks will help.
No matter what your reason, you are going to face times in your life when you want to add a new habit. Maybe you need to create some healthy lifestyle changes. Maybe you need to streamline your routine to make the most use out of your time. Regardless, if you are serious about starting a new habit, you are in for the long haul.
Starting new habits does not happen instantly. It takes time, consistency and patience. It also requires you to prepare for failure, because you will make mistakes. In the end, if you have a good plan and stick with it, you will have established a new, healthy, positive habit.
So go ahead, take a risk and add a new habit to your life. Down the road, when the habit is automatic, you’ll be glad you did!