Creating habits and breaking bad habits aren’t as hard as you think. In fact, it’s quite simple.
What is a habit?
A habit is something you do so often that it’s automatic. It is something you do, that you don’t even think about it.
Some examples of habits:
- Brushing your teeth.
- Morning cup of coffee.
- Looking over your shoulder when backing up the car.
- Putting on your seat belt.
- When you hear your name, you turn your head.
- You scroll endlessly.
Why do habits matter so much?
- Habits are the way you achieve your goals.
- Learning new habits is the only way to go from what your day to day life looks like now to something different.
- Habits make your life easier, lessening stress, worry. Habits let you know that you can count on YOU to do the things you promise yourself.
- Habits are the evidence that you are becoming a different person. Habits change how you see yourself. In the beginning, habits are just something you and I do. But overtime habits change who you are. And that shows up before you achieve the goal you set. Change doesn’t happen overnight.
- Habits help you realize that little change, compounds daily.
Let’s say you have a goal to run your first marathon this year. You’re going to train for it and finish the race. It’s going to take you time to achieve that goal. But if you make it a habit to wake up every day and go for that training run, within a matter of days, you experience this massive change because you start to see yourself differently. You start to see yourself as a runner.
We always resist making new habits. Willpower does not create habits or break bad habits.
According to all the research, there are 3 Steps that have been proven to make a habit stick.
Maybe you’ve heard these before. If so, look at these with new eyes, with new intention. Take it all in and think about how you can use it to create new habits to support your goals.
And, if you’ve never heard of this, you’re going to be so relieved that habits aren’t as hard as you thought.
3 Steps to Making a Habit Stick
Let’s use training a dog to sit as the habit we want to create.
Step #1 Identify the Trigger – also known as the cue or signal. A trigger is something that signals to your brain that it’s time for you to engage in this pattern of behavior.
Trigger or cue is to say “Sit” telling the dog it’s time to do the behavior.
There are six types of triggers for behavior change.
- Sound – verbal cue, whistle, Netflix “dun dun dun” when you turn it on – It says sit down relax and watch.
- Time of day – the morning triggers you to take a shower, brush your teeth. The evening triggers you to have a glass of wine or start making dinner.
- Location – It’s so much easier to stick to your habits when you’re at home. When you travel you find you drop habits and then you get back home and you feel like you gotta restart. You’ll notice that when you’re not home for 3-4 days you start to feel off. You’ve been pulled out of your routine. That’s why when we go somewhere to workout like a gym, it triggers you to workout. But if you’re home it’s easy to not be motivated & procrastinate.
- Emotions – When you’re sad, you eat. When you’re frustrated you snap at others. When you’re happy, you smile. Yes, smiling is a habit!
- People – Surround yourself with people who support that change. If you don’t have those people, then the people you are around will get in the way of you making that change.
- Things in your environment– Post-It Note says keep door closed or turn off lights – to signal the new habit to close the door or turn off lights.
Triggers make the thing you want to do easier. It makes it obvious. When you set the right triggers for yourself, you can hack habits.
On the flip side, triggers are also why bad habits are so hard to break.
The best way to get rid of a bad habit is to replace it with a good one. New habits allow you to change your response to existing triggers.
Maybe you hear someone getting a snack in the kitchen, now you’re thinking you’re hungry, but you’re not.
If you drink a glass of wine at 6pm every night, 6pm is the trigger. You have to replace the wine with a different habit at 6pm like going for a walk.
Step #2: Do the behavior – For the dog – he sits.
Step #3: Reward the behavior – This is the part that locks the behavior into your brain and encodes it. You have to treat the behavior immediately – science says within 2 minutes of doing the behavior.
For training the dog to sit, a treat is the reward. The dog is associating the sitting with the treat (they need the reward within seconds.) The dog will always sit, not because he wants to sit but because he wants the reward.
The reward is the thing that gives you a hit of dopamine that feels great and creates the habit loop.
When you text someone and they text back? Boom dopamine.
Get a like on social media? Boom! Dopamine.
Eat that piece of chocolate? Boom! Dopamine.
Laugh at funny memes and reels? Boom! Dopamine.
Let’s set-up a common habit people want to create – exercising 3 days a week.
Let’s face it for some of us the endorphins we get post workout may not be enough..
Step 1: Identify the trigger(s)
Sign up for class the night before.
Lay out workout clothes the night before.
Now you’ll get a text reminder in the morning from the class to remind you that you signed up for class.
Step 2: Do – Go to the class thinking about the reward in step 3..
Step 3: Reward
Grab a cup of your favorite coffee post workout.
See friends at class or the gym.
The trigger and the reward are the most important part of a habit. The behavior or doing the thing is the least of it.
Some surprising facts about habits?
Surprising Fact 1:
The whole “It takes 21 days to form a habit” is a myth. It takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit, according to new research by Phillippa Lally and colleagues from the University College London. You know you’ve formed a habit when you do it without resistance, no complaining. You do it without even thinking about it.
Surprising Fact 2:
Missing a day of doing the behavior does not change the habit formation period. It does not materially affect the habit formation process.
Maybe you want to start drinking 64 oz of water everyday. You did great for 5 out of 7 days. But the negative bias kicks in and you focus on the 2 days you missed.
Stop doing that!
You’ve already got 5 days of neuroplasticity change, so what if you missed 2 days? You’re not at day one anymore. You’ve got 5 days in to creating those neural pathways that will eventually make that habit run on auto-pilot. Keep going and stop beating yourself up for missing a day or two and not being perfect.
Recognize that if you are in the cycle of start, stop, give-up you have created the habit of quitting.
You need to reward yourself for getting up, walking the dog. No matter how big or small you gotta start celebrating your wins to get out of the cycle. Every step forwarded – deleted 3 emails – 1500 to go – celebrate the small progress. Every win moves you forward to the person you want to be.
Wrapping it up.
No trigger, no habit.
No reward, no habit.
You can create new habits. When you think about the next leg of the journey called life, what kind of person do you want to be?
You want to be a runner? A happier person? An organized person? A musician? An entrepreneur? An author?…..
…Then you have to start behaving like that. And the way you do that is by creating habits – and that, friend, you can do!