How To Create Habits That Stick Using a Foolproof Method
Creating a new habit is difficult because for every new habit you create you are choosing to break an old one. If you’ve decided to reduce sugar intake from unhealthy sources of sugar, it requires that you first break the old pattern of reaching for a piece of licorice or a can of soda from your fridge whenever you need a snack. Even if we do start a new habit, we often give up after a few days because our minds find it difficult to realize the importance of something if the profits gained from it are somewhere in the distant future. So our subconscious refuses to find the willpower to continue practicing the habits.
Before you choose to create a new habit, ask yourself if you see yourself being able to consistently keep up with it for a long period, let’s say, one to three years. If the answer is no for a valid reason, then you might consider finding an alternative practice or adjusting your schedule to accommodate your new habit.
A habit is performed in three stages. The first stage is the cue, then follows the routine. The last and the most desired stage is the reward. This is a formula outline by journalist and author Charles Duhigg’s bestselling book, The Power of Habit. Let’s dissect each of these stages one by one.
The cue is similar to an alarm clock that signals your mind to start the habit. A cue could be a notification on your phone, a quote on the wall, or a nudge from your partner. But the problem is, all these things can be easily ignored.
So I’ve found that the most effective way to convince your mind to respond to your cue is to sandwich the habit that you wish to create between two pre-existing habits. The first pre-existing habit is required to be something you would never skip, which is your primary cue, and the next habit has to be something you truly look forward to. And the rule is that you cannot start the habit that you are longing to do before finishing your new habit.
For example, let’s say you want to start meditating in the morning. Your usual morning routine consists of you getting up to brush your teeth, drinking coffee followed by breakfast. You can choose to insert a 5-minute meditation between brushing your teeth and taking your coffee. You are dying to take a sip of that delicious morning coffee in your cute little mug but you can’t do it until you meditate. Be as strict as possible with yourself about this rule
A habit, like any task, consists of several steps. The first step is the most crucial because usually the most challenging part about a habit is to get yourself to perform this action. You’ll find that once you get to this part, you’ll start to follow the rest of the task on autopilot.
For example, the first step to starting your exercise routine is putting on your gym clothes. After that, you’ll mind will stop having ideas about skipping the routine. But both our body and mind are always looking to conserve energy, so if you can reduce the amount of effort it requires to begin a task then it becomes easier to convince yourself to go through with it. For example, you can lay your clothes beside your bed the night before so you don’t have to waste energy thinking about what you are going to wear before you exercise the next morning.
If you don’t allow yourself to see or feel a tangible reward after performing a habit you are more likely to opt-out of performing it. This is more probable if the benefits of our habits start to appear in the distant future. Research has found that farsightedness is usually not one of humanities greatest strengths. We are more inclined to stick to a habit if it offers rewards in the short term rather than those that offer long term benefits.
It is very important to remind yourself of the huge profit that can be gained from your habit in the long run, even if it’s years from now. But you are more likely to stick to a habit if you if find something that you allow yourself to indulge in, something that you truly enjoy on a weekly or a monthly basis provided that you keep up with your habit consistently over a while.
We are all very different and we prefer different forms of rewards. It is also important to identify what type of indulgences you find the most rewarding based on the kind of person you are. If you are the kind of person who loves to see an A+ on their grade sheets, then it is likely you will get a massive dopamine release out of ticking off a checklist and seeing it displayed someplace you get to regularly see it. If you are an adrenaline junkie consider taking a trip to a scary amusement park. If you are a coffee lover like I am, consider treating yourself to a cup of coffee from a coffee shop where the price and quality is slightly higher than your everyday coffee. Whatever it is, we have to make sure it is not canceling out the profit you’ve gained from your other healthy lifestyle changes.
According to a new study, it takes from 18 to 254 days for a habit to become ingrained in an individual’s lifestyle permanently. So if you can consistently keep up with your habit using the guidelines described above for that period, you’ll find yourself performing your new habits involuntarily. At some point your habit will become so natural to you that it will be difficult for you to break out of the very pattern you once struggled to create.
About The Author
I’m Zarnaz. I’m a self help junkie, caffeine addict, writer, engineer and I’m extremely passionate about the science of people. I want to know what inspires you, motivates you, drives you to make better choices and ultimately, how to help you reach your full potential. This is a blog dedicated to that cause.