Habits are the Key
Failing to meet a goal you have set for yourself is one of the most demotivating experiences imaginable. However, failure on this part can easily be avoided by following some simple steps to allow yourself to introduce new habits to your daily life. By introducing habits, you are essentially rewriting how you tackle obstacles, and in a larger sense, giving yourself a greater chance at achieving any goals you set yourself
In this article, we have set up a quick guide to help you establish positive habits and reap the results. If you want to learn more about habits and how they work, we recommend you read How Habits Work
What are Habits?
Our life is built up of a collection of habits, which influence our levels of success, happiness and everything else. When you set yourself a new goal, whether related to fitness, work or anything else, you usually require to change some of your habits in order to achieve this.
Paying attention to your habits in order to influence them will show you just how big of an impact even the smallest habits on your life. They form the person you are, your beliefs and your personality – so no wonder some habits can prove a little tricky to change, but sometimes the challenges that take the most effort are those that offer the greatest reward.
So, where do we go from here?
In The 3 R's of Habit Change, James Clear suggests a framework to help understand and achieve habits.
Every habit you have, whether it’s good or bad has a three-step pattern:
- Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behaviour)
- Routine (the behaviour itself; the action)
- Reward (the benefit you gain from this)
- Phone rings (reminder – trigger)
- You answer your phone (routine)
- You find out who is calling (reward – hopefully!)
If the reward is positive you will repeat the routine the next time the reminder happens. When this is repeated, it is then a ‘habit’.
This can now be used to help repeat a habit and work it toward being a natural reaction
Step 1: Set a Reminder for Your New Habit
A good reminder does not rely on motivation and does not require you to remember your new habit. It makes it easy to encode your new behaviour into something you already do. Visual reminders in particular are ideal for habit introductions.
For example, flossing after brushing your teeth. Brushing your teeth is the reminder for your new behaviour. To make this easier you can put the floss next to your toothbrush so that you see the floss when you brush.
It doesn’t matter if it’s working out, or eating healthy or reading a book, you can’t expect yourself to automatically stick to a new habit without setting up a system that makes it easier to start.
How to Choose your Reminder
First, write down a list of the things you do daily, without fail. For example:
- Have a shower
- Brush teeth
- Turn off the lights
- Go to bed
The above can act like health reminders e.g. after getting your shower you can moisturise.
Other examples that could serve well but are out of your control include:
- Traffic light turns red
- You get a text
- A commercial comes on TV
- A song ends
Your list can be extensive. Meaning there are hundreds of opportunities to add in new habits. Your goal may be to feel happier. Your reminder could be sitting down for dinner. Your new action could be to recap on something you are grateful for today.
Step 2: Choose a Habit That’s Incredibly Easy to Start
“Make itso easy you can’t say no”
Aiming for a huge goal, such as taking part in the next Olympics 100m sprint is a HUGE transformation. Though the enthusiasm is admirable, the aim is to think realistically.
Your first step here could be to join a club and attend once a week. Once your behaviour becomes habit and consistent, then your performance can be the goal.
- Cue: Packing your bag in the morning. Action: put your gym kit in there.
- Cue: Driving home from work. Action: drive to the gym.
- Cue: Eating breakfast. Action: take your vitamins after with a pint of water.
- Cue: Getting into bed: Action: Reading for 20 minutes and turning your phone off.
What is the Reward?
You need to give yourself recognition for small successes. Rewarding yourself for your efforts is more important than you might think.
The emotional section of your brain requires positive feedback and stimulation. Consider congratulating yourself out loud to satisfy this more primitive section of the brain. Simple things like a quick “victory” or “well done” after you have completed the new behaviour will go a long way (Peters and Peters, 2012)
Where to Go from Here
- Think of your goals.
- Break them down into actions.
- What actions do you need to turn into a habit in order to achieve this goal?
- Where do they fit in?
- What cues will work with the new behaviours you need to reinforce into your routine?
- Make them so easy you cannot say no
- Reward yourself
It may take some time to practice and experiment to see what cues work with what behaviour. However, if this goal is important you will take the time to figure this out.
It is also important to ask for external help and opinions when you feel like you require these. Others may have experienced what you want to change. Most importantly, do not give up.
Clear, J. (2013) The 3 R’s of habit change: How to start new habits that actually stick. Available at: http://jamesclear.com/three-steps-habit-change (Accessed: 11 January 2017).
Duhigg, C. (2012) How habits work. Available at: http://charlesduhigg.com/how-habits-work/ (Accessed: 11 January 2017).
Peters, S. and Peters, M. (2012) The chimp paradox: The acclaimed mind management Programme to help you achieve success, confidence and happiness [Paperback]. London: Vermilion (5 Jan 2012).