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!
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?