For many years I have been a goal setter. I love having a challenge, something to work towards.
Thing is, I always seemed to be successful in some goals and not others. I tried to figure out what the difference was, was I not being specific enough? Was I being too specific? I finally realised that the goals I had success with, were usually the goals that I had created lasting habits to achieve.
Writing my books required the habit of writing. Becoming calmer required the habit of daily meditation and bringing more joy into my life was a result of a habit of gratitude.
From drinking more water to cleaning the kitchen after dinner, most tasks that we do each day can be classified as habits. Habitual actions that we carry out each day, these habits are submit to our subconscious mind to automate. This means that your conscious mind no longer has to think and plan what you need to do.
Life becomes easier when habits are created. When we do things on auto pilot we don’t give ourselves time to debate or challenge the way it is. We must go to work each day, have lunch, dinner and go to bed. These are some of the habits we have that we don’t even question. Some of you will have positive habits of exercise, meditation or eating well. Some of you will have negative habits of smoking, over eating or excessive drinking.
The Common approach to creating new habits is to follow some sort of a process.
The Habit Loop
In Charles Duhig, book the Power of Habit he describes the Habit Loop. Based on research done at MIT, The Habit loop consists of a cue, a routine and a reward, the component parts of a habit. The habit of brushing your teeth consists of the cue, tooth film, the routine, brushing your teeth and the reward, a tingling fresh sensation in your mouth.
Duhigg claims that by understanding and tapping into the habit loop we can create our habits more effortlessly.
The unhealthy habit of checking emails hundreds of times a day, first started with the ping. The cue of the email alert initiated a routine of checking email and the reward? Maybe it was some pleasant news in an email or the simple distraction from work that it brings is enough to keep us going there. Removing the alert interrupts the habit loop but for some the addiction continues. The cue may now be every time you crave a break from your work you go check to see what new interesting emails are cluttering up your inbox.
By breaking down the individual parts of a habit, we can think more consciously about what the habit consists of and make more positive choices for creating the new habit.
A cue is a trigger, something that you do every day that you can associate with a new habit to encourage you to complete your new habit. By linking your habit to a trigger it will help you to remember to carry out your daily routine.
If you want to start meditating, get up in the morning, use the bathroom and then start your meditation. Going to the bathroom is your trigger. Something that you do every morning, once it is done your brain knows it is time to start meditating.
If you want to drink more water, every time you go to the bathroom go fill up your glass on the way back. The bathroom can trigger the habit of filling up your glass.
If you want to start running in the morning, prepare your running gear the night before and put it beside the bed. Your trigger for the morning is all of your gear ready to go.
You can create any trigger you want but linking your new habit to a trigger will minimise the resistance to carry it out. Once you have decided on your routine and your trigger, you need to think about the reward.
The routine is the habit itself, running, eating healthy, writing, playing guitar, anything that is a repetitive behaviour that will help you towards reaching your goals.
Some habits give natural rewards in the form increases happy chemicals in the brain from exercise, or the natural weight loss that will occur. But in order for the habit reward to work, the reward must be instant and enough to stimulate you into repeating the action again and again. Rewards can be physical, they can be emotional or they can be little treats such as a cup of coffee or a nice breakfast after your workout.
Whatever the reward your brain must crave the reward. If you get to the stage where craving occurs you have clinched it.
It is the craving that drives our behaviour.
Runners crave the endorphin rush they get from running. I have seen friends get anxious before their nightly run. Incapable of relaxing until they get their craved reward, endorphins. We have learnt to crave the fresh feeling of mint on our breath after brushing our teeth. We crave the distraction of an email or tweet and we pine for the relaxation from the glass of wine on a Friday evening. All of these habits occur because of the reward yearned.
If you can create a cue, and identify a reward that will be satisfying enough, it will be easier to form a new habit.
But there is more to creating a new habit than the habit loop.
If you want to really master a new habit there are other factors you must take into account.
The Habit Method
The Habit Method takes in the different component parts of habit creation. If you have tried and failed before at habit creation it is probably because you have not considered one or more areas in The Habit Method
The first and possibly the most important component of habit creation is desire. You must have a burning need to create the new habit and understand why you want it. What is the goal that you long to reach and why is it so important in your life? Without true desire you will be weak when the going gets tough. Your desire is what will fuel the fire when the light is burning low.
Making the decision to move forward will carry your desire from thought towards action. When you decide that you are going to do something you must make a commitment. Move away from half-hearted decisions and promise yourself that you are going to do what it takes in order to get the goals that you want. Having clarity around what you want and making sure that it’s your priority right now will propel you forward towards success.
Once you know what you want and you have committed to getting it you need to make a plan. This is the part the involves the habit loop, what will be your trigger and your reward. But more than this is required in the design phase. Spending time in advance to get clear about the how, where, what and when will leave less chances for opting out. How are you going to achieve this? What do you need to get going? Who will support you? Thinking through the plan in advance and having tools and techniques will help you move into action.
Although we now know that habit formation is not just about willpower and discipline, the latter always plays an important role. When you make your commitment, you must have the discipline to follow through. Until your habit becomes second nature, it will be necessary to rely on discipline to help you establish the new routines. Once the habit has been formed there will still be days and times when you don’t feel like it or you are too busy. There will also be times when you are sick and fall out of the habit.
Often we fail to acknowledge the role the environment plays in creating a habit. It influences our state of mind and our state of being. Some environments will be harsher than others and your habit will need to be created accordingly. A challenging environment is not an excuse to opt out or to give up, a challenging environment needs more planning and adaptation. A little bit more creative design and discipline may be required to ensure your actions lead you to success. You will need to fill your cupboards with healthy foods if you wish to start eating healthy, if your environment is filled with sweet treats, chances of you succeeding will be substantially reduced.
If you are interested in delving more deeply into The Habit Method and using The Habit Canvas to plan your new habits, you can find out more in my new book Rise Before Your Bull and other Habits of Successful People