The quality of our lives is an accumulation of our good habits.
Want to get in shape? Master your habits.
Want to learn a new language? Master your habits.
Want to build a successful business? Master your habits.
What you do everyday results in what you can achieve. What you read shapes what you believe. Who you hang out with determines who you are.
So how do we successfully form good habits?
Let’s start by talking about the habit framework.
Understanding how habits work
In the bestselling book, The Power of Habit, Charle Duhigg describes how every habit follows the same 3-step pattern: cue, routine, reward.
If you find yourself getting confused on the 3 terminologies, just remember “The 3 R’s”, introduced by James Clear:
- Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behavior)
- Routine (the behavior itself; the action you take)
- Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior)
To give you some context, let’s break down an example of a typical habit, like going to the gym.
- Your body is low on energy (reminder). This is the trigger that acts as a reminder to trigger the behavior.
- You head to the gym for a workout (routine). This is the actual behavior. You go to the gym to generate more energy in the morning or to offset your extra energy.
- You feel more energetic/happier (reward). This is the reward for completing the behavior (routine), which in this case is more energy after going to the gym.
Once you complete the 3-step process, you’ll want to repeat the habit over again once the same reminder is triggered to your brain. Repeat the same routine enough times, and it will soon become a formed habit.
How long will it take to form a habit?
There have been previous studies that have claimed that habits can be formed in 21 days, but that has been disproved. In a more recent study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, the findings show that it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact.
So now that we understand (on a high-level) how we form habits, what can we do to start building good habits and sticking with them?
Make it easy on yourself
Habits are no different than Newton’s Law of Motion. The hardest part is getting started, but once you’ve gained momentum, it becomes a snowball effect. You can probably think of habits you’ve formed in your life that required some mental effort initially, but is now routinely done without effort.
If the hardest part is getting started, why not make it easy on yourself? By making the first step incredibly easy, you minimize the inner obstacles that we all face when starting anything new.
How easy should it be?
BJ Fogg suggests that people who want to start flossing should begin by only flossing one tooth. Just one. Or as Leo Babauta quotes, “make it so easy that you can’t say no.”
Here’s how I’ve been using this rule in various areas of my life:
- Going to the gym: put my gym bag and a fresh outfit in my car, so I don’t have to worry about getting prepared.
- Practicing gratitude: purchased the five-minute journal, which has already outlined questions I need to ask myself in the morning and at night.
- Learning Spanish: schedule my lessons on Rype 30-days ahead of time, instead of waiting until the last minute.
Stack your good habits with reminders
We talked about how the “Reminder” is the first of the three steps that will form your habits. It acts as the compass for any habit you want to build, so we want to make it easy as possible to remind ourselves of the activity. People often talk about willpower and self-control being the single driver to forming better habits, but I disagree. No matter how much willpower you think you have, we’re all human at the end of the day, and losing motivation is inevitable.
To set reminders that we won’t miss, James Clear recommends that we make a list of activities that we do on a daily basis without fail.
Here are a few things on my list:
- Get in the shower
- Work on my Mac book
- Flush the toilet
- Brush my teeth
- Look at my calendar to schedule my day (a new habit I’ve formed to increase productivity)
- Sit down to eat dinner
The list of activities above are embedded into my daily practice, which makes them the perfect reminders because it’s something I don’t have to think about.
Now all I have to do is set up a positive “Routine” that follows each time I have these reminders during the day.
- If I want to floss more, brushing my teeth can act as my reminder.
- If I want to practice gratitude, I can fill in my five-minute journal when I sit down to eat dinner.
- If I want to learn Spanish, I can schedule my lessons when I look at my calendar.
Once you’ve formed these new habits (i.e. flossing more, practicing gratitude, learning Spanish), you can now use these new habits as reminders and stack more good habits on top of each other.
For example, every time you floss, you can gargle with mouthwash. When you practice gratitude, you can send a message to someone you care about and share what you’re grateful for. After your regular Spanish lessons, you can attend a conversation exchange in your local city and practice in real-life situations.
Stacking good habits can be one of the most powerful things to start transforming any aspect of your life, because one positive habit leads to another, and another. Before you know it, you’ve replaced your negative habits with positive ones, and you’ve gained momentum that makes it easier to keep going, rather than stop.
What do you get in return?
The last piece of the puzzle to build good habits is rewarding yourself.
Without the reward of celebrating your wins, no matter how small, it’s hard to sustain the level of consistency that’s required in order to build a habit that lasts.
That’s why scientists have confirmed that for people starting a brand new diet, having a cheat day can be an important part of the dieting process, because it’s nearly impossible for someone to suddenly eat healthy every single day, when they’re used to eating junk food.
Sometimes, a reward can simply be a pat on the shoulders or a positive affirmation, such as “Great work today. You’re making real progress!”, to tell yourself that you’re on the right path.
This has been a struggle of mine for some time now, because I tend to be particularly hard on myself. With so many pieces moving in the puzzle of running a startup, there are small wins and losses every single day, and that can make it more difficult to set up a process for rewarding yourself regularly. I also used to have the mindset that celebrating small wins can potentially slow me down. Boy, was I wrong…
In the past few months, going from nearly zero rewards to scheduling small celebrations during my day have made a huge impact on my productivity, consistency, and most importantly, my overall happiness.
For anyone in the same boat that I’m in, give yourself some credit and prioritize your happiness with small rewards.
In a future post, we’ll talk about how to break bad habits and dive deeper on how you can stick to your newly formed habits.
In the meanwhile, go ahead and try out this 3-step framework: making it easy by starting small, stacking new good habits on top of each other, and rewarding yourself. To maximize for impact, I would choose a habit that you’ve been putting off for awhile or one that didn’t stick in the past, and apply this framework to your daily lifestyle.
And don’t worry if it doesn’t work out like you expected the first time, the second time, or even the third time. Each of us form new habits differently, and you’ll just have to experiment with what works best for you. The good news is, once you figure this process out for yourself, there will be no stopping you from forming any habit moving forward and you can start to transform your life, one positive habit at a time.
I hope you enjoyed this post, as much as I enjoyed sharing it with you. If this benefited you in any way, I’d love it if you could share it with a friend by using this one-click tweet link or sharing it out anywhere else online.
We’ll see you on the next post!
If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also enjoy checking out our Complete Guide to Being More Persistent (And Never Quitting Again) and 7 Research-Backed Ways to Stop Procrastinating (And Get More Done).
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