Simple Habit Formation | Part One
This is part one in a two-part series discussing the steps needed in order to form solid positive habits and break bad ones. This content is also available as a free ebook. Click here to download.
Habits are the inevitable architecture of everyday life – Gretchen Rubin
It stands to reason that if you change your habits, you can change your life. Afterall, your life today is a sum of your habits.
But what is a habit, exactly?
A habit is a regular tendency or practice that comes naturally to you. It is routine. Second nature. Habits don’t require thought. They make things automatic, which makes them extremely powerful.
Gretchen Rubin, the preeminent habits expert, explains, “Habits make change possible by freeing us from decision making and from using self control.”
Habits are part of a psychological pattern of reminder, routine, and reward. In behavioral psychology terms, reinforcement is a consequence (reward) that will strengthen an individual’s future behavior (routine) whenever that behavior is preceded by a specific antecedent stimulus (reminder). Eventually the behavior becomes automatic, and you don’t even need to think about it anymore.
SO, HOW DO I CHANGE MY HABITS?
Simply put, any habit can be changed by creating a plan, tracking your progress, and remaining consistent. However, the degree of ease will depend on how deeply entrenched your habits are and what sort of behaviors you replace your habits with. This guide will take you through the principles of successful habit formation that lead to lasting change (and if you’d prefer to read through this information as an ebook, click here!).
KNOW YOUR DESIRED OUTCOME
What are your goals?
Are you changing a habit, or creating a new one?
What purpose does it serve?
How will your life be different?
Be specific. Write it down.
Consider not just what you want, but why you want it. And here’s a tip: intrinsic motivation usually trumps extrinsic in the long term. In other words, if you motivated by how you feel internally (rather than receiving external validation), you are much more likely to see your goals through to the end.
Self-awareness is a value with far reaching benefits, not least of which is being able to more effectively change your behavior (in fact, I have a whole post written just about self-awareness – you can read it here).
Are you a morning person or a night person? Are you a moderator or abstainer?
The more you are in tune with yourself and your needs, the more effective your plan will be. Are you someone that prefers small, manageable baby steps? Or do you get a rush of motivation from big, sweeping changes? This is an individual preference, so be sure to pick the right approach for you. What kind of personality do you have when it comes to habits? Are you an upholder, or do you require accountability? Take this test at gretchenrubin.com to learn about your habits type.
Being honest and in tune with yourself is an indispensable part of any plan to bring about change.
MAKE A PLAN
Utilizing what you know about habit formation, combined with your self knowledge, you can now put together a plan for changing your habits. I suggest beginning by breaking your habit into three steps:
What is the triggering event? What events precede the habit?
What is the behavior? What are the specific steps you need to take?
What is the reward? What outcome will you experience, both short and long term?
Once you’ve figured out the different components of the new habit you are trying to develop, it is time to figure out what else you need to consider in order to be successful. Consider the following when coming up with your plan:
Do you have any pre-established habits that you can piggyback this new habit onto?
How can you make it stupidly easy for you to stick to the habit? Think accessibility, effort, cost, etc. Set reminders on your phone. Literally schedule in the time to do it. Prep your meals in advance. Take the TV out of the bedroom. Don’t bring sweets into the house. And so on.
Do you need someone to hold you accountable?
Can you make any changes to your environment?
What challenges are you likely to face? Reflect on past failures. What triggers your behavior (good and bad!)? Be prepared for sabotagers.
Commit to it and write it down. In your phone, on post-it, in your journal, in a blog post or on Facebook. Wherever. Just make it real.
Identify and designate your support system for when shit gets hard.
Bad habits are easier to abandon today than tomorrow – Yiddish Proverb
Once you have a very clear idea of what you specifically want to accomplish and how you will accomplish it, imagine what it would be like to successfully incorporate this habit into your routine.
I encourage you to literally sit down and engage in visualization to accomplish this – especially if the habit you are hoping to instill or change is a large one.
Sit or lay down in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply and slowly, relaxing into the moment. Fully imagine yourself performing the habit with ease. This vision version of yourself has already completely adopted the new habit and it is now automatic. Watch her closely and fill in all of the details of the scene.
What are you wearing? Where are you? What smells, sounds, or sights are available to you? How do you feel as you engage in the habit? What are your specific thoughts? What emotions do you feel?
Fully feel every sensation – physical and emotional.
It is important to engage all of the senses, and to view the scene from your perspective – not as if you are watching yourself in a movie.
If you want to take it even further, you’re invited to imagine various scenarios in which your likelihood to adhere to your habit would be challenged. For instance, if the habit you are trying to form is going to the gym in the morning,visualize a scenario in which you wake up late. Does the vision version of yourself just give up and go about her normal morning routine? Or does she remain calm and focused on her goal, quickly getting out of the door and making her way to the gym. Allow yourself to encounter obstacles and envision how you would respond to these obstacles in a constructive, conscious manner.
Don’t skip over any steps; fully imagine each one in real time.
This practice works in the other direction to. In addition to visualizing yourself adopting a new habit, you can visualize yourself living without a bad habit.
You can further reinforce these visualizations by writing them down in your journal when you are done.
This visualization practice will be extremely helpful for you to follow through on your habits (and other desired life changes). Repeated visualization conditions your neural pathways so that the behaviors feel more natural and familiar when it is time to actually perform them; these practices also help to increase confidence and self efficacy.
Additionally, studies have shown that visualization can help reduce stress and anxiety, and is even an important part of professional athlete training. In one notable study that appeared in the North American Journal of Psychology in 2007, athletes who mentally practiced a hip-flexor exercise had strength gains that were almost as significant as those in people who actually did the exercise on a weight machine.
If you’d like to read about these steps in an ebook format, click here for a free download.
If you found this article helpful, or if you know someone that can be benefit from this advice be sure to share!