Multiple studies suggest that around 40% of the actions we perform every day aren’t due to decision-making but habits. It means habits shape our attitudes and actions, influencing the trajectory of our lives. At the end of the day, happiness, health, and career achievements we have are just the sum of our daily choices.
But, despite the myth of 21 days, building a new habit is not an easy and quick process. You probably know this if you’ve ever tried to start exercising or reading more and lost motivation after a few days.
This article will provide you with a step-by-step scientific-based approach to building new habits effectively and making them stick.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to build a new habit is setting overly ambitious goals. For example, to work out every day for 60 minutes to lose weight or to read 100 pages per day. Sound overwhelming and daunting, does not it? Therefore, it’s not surprising that the majority of people, who set goals like these, will lose motivation and give up after a couple of days.
The more reasonable and effective approach is to start with an «easy mode». Focus on creating a small habit first, and then you can optimize it. For example, don’t try to make a habit of running for 1 hour every morning, but rather start with a habit of going outside in a sports outfit after waking up. When you can do this effortlessly, so leaving your warm cozy bed in the morning will not be a big deal for you anymore, you can improve this habit by adding specific running goals.
Define your triggers
Our brains go through the three-step process when forming and executing habits. This process is called the habit loop and consists of three components: cue, routine, and reward.
Cues or triggers are reminders that prompt you to engage in a particular habit. The trigger could be a time of day, a particular place, or a different activity. For example, walking into a certain room, such as a living room with a television, may trigger the habit of spending hours watching television shows or mindlessly scrolling through social media.
To build a new habit, successfully, identify a trigger that will serve as a reminder for you to perform the desired behavior. It could be something as simple as putting a book on a nightstand to remind you to read before sleeping. Another example is placing your workout clothes next to your bed so that when you wake up, you are immediately reminded to exercise.
Choose a trigger that is linked to your daily routine or environment, making it easier to integrate the habit into your life.
Stick it to another habit
Here is a life hack for you: one of the best triggers is another habit. It means you can adopt a new habit by tying it to an existing one. For example, you can tie listening to a podcast to your daily commune or writing in your journal to your evening shower.
Identify a well-established habit in your daily routine and use it as an anchor for your new habit. You can also use this approach to change your bad habits, as the easier way for it is to replace one habit with another one. For instance, if you have a habit to eat sweets after dinner, you can replace it with eating fruits, having a cup of cocoa, etc.
As you can remember, the last component of a habit loop is a reward. Think about habits you have already. They all bring you something. Brushing teeth gives you a feeling of freshness and cleanliness, and checking your phone every time you’re bored gives you relief from anxiety, stress, or your own thoughts.
A habit itself can be a reward for some people, for example, «runner’s high». But for most of us, it is better to plan a specific reward in advance and make it a part of the routine, so the brain will connect a habit with something pleasant. For example, if you are working on a writing habit, reward yourself with a small healthy treat or a break to do something enjoyable after completing a writing session. Also, you can use the Habits Tracker, because putting check marks will bring a joy of accomplishment to you.
Action plan for building a habit
It’s better to start with one small habit and after sticking to it start working on the next one. Don’t try to adapt too many habits at once, because it will be too overwhelming and a gigantic task. Here is a step-by-step algorithm for building a habit:
- Choose what habit you want to build (e.g. running in the morning);
- Make this habit more effortless by choosing «easy mode» (e.g. walking for 5 minutes);
- Determine what will trigger you to do a desirable action (e.g. seeing a sports outfit next to your bed);
- Decide if you can stick a desirable habit to an existing one (e.g. brushing your teeth);
- Choose a reward you will get after performing this habit (e.g. a tasty breakfast).
And the most essential step: don’t give up or judge yourself if you miss a day. Building habits is a challenging process that requires time, patience, and persistence. Study by mistakes and believe in yourself and your ability to create lasting change.