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Whether you realise it or not habits are the foundation of your life.
They are the things you do repeatedly, every day, over and over. They run in the background and determine the path you take and the progress you make.
They contribute to your successes and underpin your failures.
Now imagine crushing your workout at the gym instead of sitting on the couch playing video games or binging on the latest Netflix sensation thinking "I'll go tomorrow."
How would that feel?
What about sticking to your diet plan with ease without binge eating every weekend?
How would that feel?
It would feel great, wouldn't it? Good habits can give you the power to go further and do more than you thought possible, but bad habits can drag you down and keep you firmly at square one.
So, what is a habit and how do you make one?
A habit is best described as a regular pattern of behaviour, performed automatically and almost involuntarily, formed over time through consistent and repeated behaviour.
To create a new habit you have to adapt or change your behaviour to create the desired outcome.
Stanford University Behavioural Psychologist B.J. Fogg presents 3 steps for making this behavioural change.
- Step 1 - Be specific about the behaviour you want to have
- Step 2 - Make it easy
- Step 3 - Trigger the behaviour
Step 1 - Be specific about the behaviour you want to have
This means you must dig deeper into why you want to create a new habit. Without having authentic motivation to create a new habit you'll struggle to make it happen. To avoid setting yourself up to fail you need to understand your motivations for building a new habit.
The 5 whys method
Originally developed by the Toyota Motor Corporation as a problem-solving method the idea is to ask why 5 times to understand both the problem and discover a solution.
To use the 5 whys, you need to identify the habit you want create and then ask yourself why 5 times.
By doing this you arrive at your authentic motivation for creating the new habit.
Step 2 - Make it easy
No one ever climbed a mountain in one step so don't expect to create a new habit in full overnight. To help you adjust to the new behaviour you may need to make changes to your environment, the behaviour or even yourself.
If your goal is to start working out at the gym your environmental change could be keeping a gym kit under your desk at the office, packed and ready to go. This removes a potential barrier and makes it easier for you to follow through.
As for the behaviour, you could start with one workout a week and slowly build it up or do several shorter workouts a week and increase it from there.
When it comes to yourself you might alter your route to and from work to take you past the gym. Whatever you need to do to make the new habit fit better with your lifestyle and feel less like an alien behaviour.
Step 3 - Trigger the behaviour
The next step is to create a trigger than prompts you to perform the new habit.
One of the most effective ways to create a trigger is to anchor the behaviour to something you do every day. Do this by creating a list of things you do every day, this gives you a list to draw from when trying to anchor a habit to a current behaviour.
For example, if you wanted to start weighing yourself daily to keep track of your progress you could anchor the new behaviour (weighing yourself) to your current behaviour of using the toilet first thing in the morning (the trigger).
Making your new habit stick
Now we have everything set up, it's time to ask "how do we make it stick?"
This is where your trigger comes into play as part of a dynamic sequence; trigger, action, reward.
It's this sequence that will help you stick to your new habit. It's a positive feedback loop that helps not only signal the behaviour but reinforce it by providing a reward for completing the action.
Charles Duhigg a Pulitzer prize winning New York Times reporter and author of The Power of Habit presents this sequence as;
Cue - Commonly referred to as a trigger, this is the behaviour or action that will prompt you to perform the behaviour you want to make a habit i.e. going to the toilet.
Routine - This is the physical act of performing the behaviour you wish to become a habit i.e. weighting yourself.
Reward - As it sounds, this is your reward for completing the behaviour i.e. drink your first coffee of the day.
Think about the role habits play in your life, the way they happen near automatically, shaping your day to day life and the direction you're heading. Undoubtedly there are some you take for granted, some you love and some you want to change.
With the methods and framework set out in this post you can begin to shape the habits you want and reform the ones you don't.