Make Everything Easier with Good Habits

How do you form good habits? Most of us say “I want a new habit, guess I just have to work out for a few weeks. If I stick with it, eventually it will become second nature.” Nope! Habits don’t magically appear out of repetition.

 

Here’s an example: Let’s say your New Year’s resolution for 2016, you wake up, and smack yourself in the face with a frying pan. It’s character building. You knuckle down, and keep doing it every.single.day. For 365 mornings in a row, you diligently whack yourself to uphold your yearly promise.

 

On January 1st, 2017, will you smack yourself again? I’m betting not.

 

You had only done it so long out of sheer willpower, not easy habit. The same thing happens with so many diets or exercise programs.

 

You do a Whole30, and a month later you’re eating a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Finish the 30 Day Shred, and you never want to see Jillian Michaels toned face again. Having reached the deadline, you leave the routine behind.


Where did your habit building go wrong?

 

I absolutely love Habits by Charles Duhigg. He breaks the construction and purpose of habits down to an exact science. Here’s the big secret: you cannot muscle through on willpower alone.

 

Habits have a distinct beginning and end point. The framework of habit building goes cue -> routine -> reward.

 

Most of us zero in on only the middle part, routine. You didn’t hang the routine on a cue, or finish it with a reward!
How do you form good habits? Habits don't magically appear out of repetition. Bad habits and good habits alike are built in three simple steps.

To form good habits, find your cue

Rather than trying to create a new habit from scratch, hook it onto an existing cue.

 

As an example, I struggle with late-night snacking. Almost every night, I sink into the couch at the end of a long tiring day. I laugh with my husband at our favorite show. Then I mindlessly, habitually, get myself a little treat.

 

My cue is relaxing on the couch at night. Until recently, my routine was to get an unhealthy after-dinner treat.

Insert your new routine

Instead of snacks like popcorn or ice cream, I’ve switched to a nice tea. Now I have special caffeine-free teas and a mug, all on a delicate tray on the counter.

 

I look forward to my tea time. As I pass the tea tray with a basket of laundry (or hungry toddler), I envision the ritual of making tea in the coming evening. The anticipation makes it 10x more satisfying.

Finish your good habit with a natural reward

Ideally this will be the same reward as you had originally in your bad habit. So if the exhilaration of victory enticed you to endless hours of video games, the reward of a cozy scarf will not take you from MMORPG champ to crochet queen.

 

The tea time reward is a very particular feeling of indulgence and self-care. I feel the warmth of the cup. Inhale the fragrant steam. Sink down into the couch cushions beside my hubby. Much as I did with a bowl of ice cream, only I consume far fewer calories now.

By keeping the reward and cue the same, you can focus all your efforts on changing the routine. What are some bad habits you’d like to improve? Or good habits you’ve been meaning to implement?

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12 comments

  1. I’ve never heard habit-forming broken down this way before, but this makes a lot of sense. I think I’m actually going to “steal” your tea idea for my own evening bing-a-thons! Thanks for an insightful post.

  2. I too enjoy the Habits book. I agree that we usually only think of the habit and not tie it to a cue which helps our brains, not have to think about it. Also the reward is important, and it doesn’t have to be a big reward…just a smile to yourself can be a reward. Great post.
    Karen recently posted…Let’s Get Real Friday Party – #142My Profile

    1. Habit is such a great book. The framework for habits was just one of many light bulb moments for me while reading it.
      I agree, Karen. Small rewards are still valid, and the best rewards come from within 🙂

  3. Habits is such a great book and you did a great job breaking it down into one post. I think the method works particularly well when you are trying to stop a bad habit. Like you, I’ve replaced evening snacking with a nice cup of tea. It’s amazing how easy it was.

  4. Hi Lorelei, I agree that we have to find the source (particularly of a bad habit) to be able to change a habit. We need to really think of why we have developed that habit (or why we want to) and how we can change things.

    Your idea of replacing your habit of snacking with really enjoying a cup of tea is excellent. Making a mental note of how habits make us feel it also a great help.

    xx
    Debbie recently posted…How To Colour Code Your Dog’s Poop And When You May Have ToMy Profile

  5. So true, “Here’s the big secret: you cannot muscle through on willpower alone.” Ugh if I had a dollar for every time I tried to do that I would be broke! I hadn’t heard about this book before, but wow what a great resource.Thanks for sharing!

    Thanks for sharing this at the Happy Now Link-up! I hope you join again tomorrow 🙂

    Have a great week!
    Jen recently posted…The Happy Now Blog Link- Up # 9My Profile

  6. This is really insightful. I have never really thought about making good habits in this way before. I know I usually try through sheer will power and routine (and typically fail). I need to work on my prayer time and getting up at a decent time in the morning. I need to sit down and think about the cues and rewards now so I can start working on these! Thank you!

    I’m sharing this as a feature for Tuesday Talk and on Pinterest and Facebook this week! Thank you for linking up with us this week!

    -Jessica, Sweet Little Ones

  7. Any thoughts on applying this to exercise? I like the benefits but not the thing…so sometimes that gets me moving, but not as much as I wish it did.

    1. Honestly Desiree, I wish I had an immediate reward for exercising!

      Right now I’m doing Bikini Body Mommy with a group of friends. I’ve only made it this far because of the stick, not the carrot. I don’t want to have to post in the group chat “Skipped today again, because lazy.” 🙂

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