In the previous article, I discussed that, contrary to popular belief, it isn’t the number of days that affects habit formation but how often you repeat the action/behaviour as well as the setting/environment.
To create a new habit, we have to do the behaviour or action so often that we create a deep neural pathway in our brain. Our conscious mind is designed to deal with only one thing at a time (with up to 4 periphery items). Therefore, our brains have developed an ingenious way of automating tasks or behaviours that we do repeatedly, moving them from the conscious to the unconscious mind through practise.
All habits – good and bad – are created in the same way, i.e. through repetition.
However, many of us start on a positive path to creating a new habit, only to completely give up, often without even realising it. With that in mind, here are some of my top tips to ensure that you repeat them frequently enough to create the strong neural pathway necessary for them to become automatic.
To create new habits that stick
1. Habit Stacking
The quickest way to create a new habit is to tag it onto something that you already do as a matter of routine. This is called ‘habit stacking’. For example:
- To build a ‘running’ habit, as soon as you’ve brushed your teeth in the morning, put on your clothes and running shoes (plus anything else you need) and get yourself out of the door.
- To develop a habit of walking each day, do it immediately before eating at lunchtime (I’d advise putting the time in your diary as you would any other important meeting and setting an alarm).
- To read more, make reading a chapter the first thing you do when you first get in bed after brushing your teeth at night.
- To start a journaling practice, make your breakfast, sit down at the table/desk and write for 10 minutes instead of mindlessly scrolling through your phone.
- To drink more water, consume 500mls half an hour before each meal. Again, it may be helpful to put a reminder on your phone.
2. Start Small with Tiny Habits
Many of us tend to run at our new habit at a million miles an hour, especially if we identify as having an ‘all or nothing’ personality type. However, when we do this, our nervous system is likely to perceive a threat and will take action to stop us, which is, in fact, self-sabotage. As a result, we end up either procrastinating or giving up altogether without realising why.
However, if we start small with ‘tiny habits’ and build on our achievements each day, we avoid overwhelming our nervous system. The compound effect of taking small but consistent action will ultimately result in long-lasting success.
Although tiny habits, at first sight, may seem too small to have any real beneficial effects, the opposite couldn’t be more accurate. Here are some examples:
- Write a book – If you write just one page a day, you’ll have written an entire book within 365 days (or fewer).
- Reading more – Aim to read for just ten pages a day or, at most, a chapter.
- Journaling – Start by writing for just 10 minutes a day.
- Eating healthily – Begin by replacing one meal a day with a healthy option or changing sugary/fatty snacks for wholesome ones.
- Running 5K – Start by walking for 15 minutes 3 times a week, and build up slowly.
3. Make it Easy
As I’ve discussed in previous articles, our brain’s primary goal is to move us away from pain and towards pleasure. So, until your new habit becomes embedded, it is incredibly easy for your subconscious to get in the way (trying to stop perceived pain), causing you to self-sabotage. For example, you forgo your early morning run to stay in bed. You stop working on your ‘project’ to clean your kitchen cupboards, or instead of reading a chapter of your book, you scroll mindlessly through social media.
Until your new habit becomes automatic, it’s critical to remove potential obstacles and make any ‘perceived’ pain as small as possible.
- Morning exercise – Before you go to bed, lay out your gym kit ready for the next morning so that you don’t have to track everything down, making it feel too much like hard work.
- Reading more – Leave your book in the place where you intend to read. Alternatively, download the Kindle App so that you can read anytime, anywhere.
- Eating Healthily – Meal prep is essential! Batch cooking and freezing healthy meals is critical for healthy eating; it will help minimise reaching for a takeaway if you haven’t got any food in or are too busy to cook.
- Writing a book – Put your phone on ‘Airplane’ mode and put the ‘Do Not Disturb’ on your laptop to avoid any unnecessary interruptions (our brains love those!).
- Creating a gym routine – Have your gym kit in the back of your car so that you don’t have to drive home to get changed after work. Alternatively, if you’re working from home, lay your gym kit out in the morning and set an alarm.
In summary, anything that you can do to make the actions required to create your new routine as simple and easy as possible will likely pay dividends.
For more on this topic, I have a ‘Quick Course’ over on my newly launched Etsy shop. Click here for more information. I’ve created a ‘shop’ to bring the content usually only available within my corporate training or one to one coaching to a broader audience at an affordable price.
If there are any topics that you’d like me to cover in upcoming articles, I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me a firstname.lastname@example.org.