What is a Habit?
Where you are IN THIS VERY MOMENT of your life is because of YOUR HABITS. Habits can help you make more money, be more productive, stay in better health, and feel less stress. Habits are solutions to recurring problems in your environment. They are repeated behaviors. Some of your habits are healthy. Some are not. Collectively your habits create your daily routine and lifestyle.
“Every action you take is really a vote for the type of person you’d like to become.”
James Clear, speaker and author, says habits should be small and easy to do. He actually titled his #1 New York Times Bestseller, Atomic Habits, because “atomic” means tiny or small. ”Atomic” also means the fundamental element in a larger system. James Clear believes that your habits are part of the systems you run.
The effects of your small habits and tiny actions can multiply overtime. Habits can compound for you or against you. You may dismiss small changes because they don’t seem to matter in the moment, however if you compound your choices over 3 or 5 years, your quality of life has a very different outcome.
Your goals are your desired outcomes and what you want to achieve. Goals have a purpose and provide direction. Your systems are your daily habits which carry you to your goals. James Clear also says, “You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.” This means it is your habits that determine if you are making progress or not toward the life you desire.
Think about setting a goal of cleaning your garage. The goal is achieved when the garage is clean. However, you most likely will have to clean it again in a few weeks because your process and habits have not changed. Cleaning your garage is like treating a symptom without treating the cause.
Here is something to think about …People who focus only on results win ONE time. People who focus on systems win AGAIN and AGAIN. (James Clear) It is your habits that you need to change if you want any sort of desired change in your life. The place you want to focus on is building better systems and developing better habits.
So here is the big question … What habits are you feeding? What daily actions are you taking part in?
Good Habits vs Bad Habits
Think about this … the cost of your good habits are in the present, while the cost of your bad habits are in the future. Here’s why … your good habits serve you in the long run. Your good habits have positive emotional, psychological or physical outcomes. Your bad habits have negative impacts. Some of your negative behaviors come with a cost immediately while others have delayed consequences.
There are four main stages to a habit and how it works
Every habit and possibly every human behavior cycle through these four stages as well.
Stage One is the CUE. Habits are preceded by some sort of cue. The cue is the thing that gets your attention – like a bag of cookies, seeing your gym shoes or walking into your house after work.
Stage Two is the CRAVING. The craving is what you predict your cue means and how you interpret it. The craving actually explains why people have different habits. Different people can have different cravings even if it is the same cue.
Stage Three is the RESPONSE. The response is the actual habit you perform – your thought or action. Your response depends on your motivation, ability and desire.
Stage Four is the REWARD. The response delivers the reward. The faster you can get a positive reward, the more likely you are to continue the habit.
Create a New Habit
The best way to create a new habit is to start very small and then layer up from there. Starting small gives you a sense of control. Your new habit must be established before you can improve it. Choose the version of the habit that you are most excited about. Find a time and space for the habit to live. It is easier for you to adopt a habit if the reward is attractive. The book, Atomic Habits, states the best place to start is to make your habits as easy and convenient as possible. It is about feeling successful at the end of the habit. Small changes can produce big results.
When you are in the process of building a habit, you are actually banking your work. You work hard to create a new healthy habit, but you may not always feel like you have something to show for it, which can be frustrating. You may be thinking, “I’ve been running for two months, why hasn’t my body changed?” But here is what you need to remember, your work isn’t being wasted, it is just being stored. You must be willing to stick with it to break that plateau to transformation and releasing the results. The more you perform your habits, the more your story will slowly shift in that direction. With your habits you don’t always see the results right away. You do the work for a while and eventually if you keep it up, you will start to see change.
Create a New Habit with these Steps
- Step One – THE CUE. Make the cue visible and obvious. Want to begin flossing? Keep the floss out on your counter to see it as a reminder. If it is in a drawer, it becomes invisible. Interested in using an app more? Put it on the home screen of your phone. It sounds so easy but taking this small extra step will trigger the craving.
- Step Two – THE CRAVING. Make it attractive. The more you view a habit as attractive, the more motivated you are to doing it.
- Step Three – THE RESPONSE. Make it easy to do. Keep it so simple that you can’t say no.
- Step Four – THE REWARD. Make it satisfying. Not all behaviors in life are rewarding. Some have a consequence. If your action is not rewarding, it is unlikely to become a habit because your brain learns, “Why would I do that again? It didn’t feel good. It wasn’t enjoyable and it didn’t serve me.” Behaviors that are immediately rewarded, get repeated.
Be creative about finding ways to make an unattractive behavior attractive. Here is an example. You may only watch your favorite tv show while on the treadmill. You may only listen to your favorite podcast while walking the dog.
Continuing a new habit is about feeling immediate successful at the end of the habit. Here is an example … did you know there is no reason for toothpaste to be minty to get your teeth clean? The minty flavoring, however, leads to a clean feeling mouth and makes this habit more satisfying.
It is important to remember when starting a new healthy habit, you may not see a change or achieve results immediately. Here are a few ideas to help your brain feel the satisfaction it needs to repeat your new desired healthy habit. Remember, the faster you can get a positive reward, the more likely you are to continue the habit
1. Use a habit tracker app or your planner to track immediate results. Seeing your daily accomplishments will inspire and motivate you to do more of the same.
2. Choose external rewards that align with the internal identity you want to create. Example – if you work out, treating yourself to ice cream is not a good choice. Instead reward yourself with more self-care like a bubble bath, a manicure or buying yourself a book about health. Reward yourself with an action that aligns to the type of person you want to become.
Goals create an artificial finish line. You may think, once you hit your goal, then you will be happy. Once you achieve this milestone, then you will be successful. However, it is important to remember that there is no single event, or meal that will make or break you. It is really about your long-term processes and habits that you maintain that determines how far you walk along a path.
Human Behavior and Habits
BJ Fogg, social scientist and author of Tiny Habits, says there are 3 things to creating and maintaining a habit.
- 1. Motivation
- 2. Ability
- 3. A Prompt
BJ Fogg suggests focusing on your ability by making the desired behavior very easy to do. He says repetition is not the key to creating habits. Here’s why … on a day you miss doing a habit you probably beat yourself up. Fogg believes that habits are wired into your brain if it feels good and there is a feeling of success.
The 2 Minute Rule Strategy
Practice the two-minute rule to create a good habit. Here is how it works (spoiler alert…it may sound a bit crazy – but the point is to practice being present) Take whatever habit you’re trying to build and scale it down to just the first two minutes of the habit. You are scaling the habit down. Why? You first need to master the idea of showing up and laying a foundation. This will give you the success and momentum to move you in the right direction.
Here are some examples – If you would like to do 30 minutes of yoga, take out your yoga mat and do 1 pose (and that’s it!) If you would like to read 25 books a year, read one page. Writing a book becomes – write just one sentence. The point is to practice setting up and doing the new habit for two minutes or less.
Why try the 2 Minute Rule? One of the most motivating things for your brain is to feel progress and success. Pour your energy into building up momentum. A habit must be established before you can improve it. Remember, you need to optimize for the starting line rather than the finish line.
Strategy : Try the 1% Technique
Get 1% better every day. Making tiny improvements daily can compound over time to lead to a successful change. Mastering your small habits day in and day out will produce remarkable and powerful results in the long run. Can you think of a way to get just 1% better each day?
Strategy : Prime Your Physical Environment
Your physical environment can play an important role in your habits. Many of your habits are a response to the physical cues that are in your environment. It is much easier to stick to good habits when the area around you supports you. Look around your home and workplace. How can you structure your physical environment to produce success and support your habits? Can you think of a way to create an environment that will naturally bring about your desired change?
Here is an example – How is your living room set up? Are the couch and chairs facing the tv? If so, you have designed that room to watch television. Reading might be challenging in this room because you may be tempted to turn on a movie or your favorite reality show. You may be fighting against al the habits that are already built in that room. If you want to create a new habit of reading, you may need to start fresh and design a peaceful and quiet nook in your home. Carve out a space for that habit to live.
Put the objects that prompt your good behaviors in a more obvious location and put the objects that distract you in less obvious locations. For example, leave out your facial cleanser, favorite water bottle, journal or weights to remind you to take action for your healthy habits .
Another thing to think about is the timing of your new habit. When is the right time during your day to insert your new habit? Early mornings is often a great time because there are less distractions. Having a sense of accomplishment and a successful morning will give you a positive way to start the day. Set an intention and include the time, place and day. “I meditate on Tuesdays at 8 am on my bedroom floor”.
The best way to set up yourself for success is to live and work in an environment that has fewer temptations. Research shows that the people that exhibit the highest self-control, actually operate, live and work in an environment that has fewer temptations. They are able to exhibit more willpower, simply because they are being tempted less. Redesign your environment so you are tempted less!!
What about Your Tribe?
It is not only important to create a physical environment to support new habits but a social environment as well. If you really want to get a habit to stick, your social environment plays a huge role. Human connection is one of the deepest needs we all have. It is important to feel a sense of community. We all belong to multiple tribes. Some are big and some are small. An example of a tribe you may belong to includes being an American, a neighbor on your street or a member at your gym … just to name a few. All of these tribes have shared expectations and behaviors.
When your habits go with the expectation of the group, they are very attractive because they help you fit in and belong. You may even get praise and approval. When your habits go against the tribe, it is unattractive.
Your motivation can also be linked to the people you are surrounded with. Your family and friends have a big impact on you. Their support and reinforcement could get a habit to stick and nudge you toward your desired outcome. Also reflect on who you are following on social media. When you choosing who to follow on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, you are actually choosing your future thoughts.
You can also pick up new habits from your tribe.
Finally, when you’re changing your habits, there is a chance you may need to change your tribe and support system. You want to join groups where your desired behavior is the normal behavior so it is almost natural that you are moving in the right direction. You may need to create the tribe rather than stumble into one. Look for other people who are like minded to reinforce the type of person you would like to become. One way to find a common group is through the Internet. A Facebook Group will not as good as connecting with people in real life but you still can get support and guidance from the Internet and find a tribe.
Mindset and Identity
Your identity is your self image and the way you think about yourself. Identities can work for you or against you. You act in alignment with the type of person you already believe yourself to be. Any time you have a behavior, that reinforces the story you tell yourself.
Consciously or unconsciously, you make statements about yourself and your identity. You may say “I’m the type of person who doesn’t miss a workout.” “I am clean.” “I am organized.” These are positive identities. There are negative as well. “I am terrible at directions.” “I am bad at math.” “I have a sweet tooth, I can’t help it.” These are stories that people tell themselves again and again. You may not even notice that you are saying these statements out loud or in your head. Habits are the best method we have to reshape our identities over time.
Strategy : Habit Stacking from BJ Fogg
Habit Stacking is another strategy you can try when creating a new habit. Habit Stacking is stacking a new habit on top of an old one. You will want to anchor this new habit to a previous one you have. When describing the new habit you want to adopt, remember to be specific when describing the . The formula for habit stacking is … “After ___, I will ____”
For example, if you wanted to build the habit of meditation, you could say, “After I make my cup of coffee, I will meditate for 60 seconds.” Here is another example, “After I take off my shoes I will do some stretches.” or “After I come home from work, I will place the dog’s leash in the middle of the living room – which is priming your environment for taking the effective action. Habit Stacking is helpful because you don’t get thrown off if the timing of your day is little off – it flows with you. You are choosing every day triggers to connect new behaviors into your daily lifestyle.
Kick a Habit
Sometimes in life, you will find yourself in a natural drift. You are doing things that you know are not healthy and good for your well being. If you want a better life, it is your habits that you need to change. Think about it … all your behaviors play a role in your life. Behaviors that are immediately punished get avoided and behaviors that are immediately rewarded get repeated. If it is not rewarding, it is unlikely to become a habit. Your brain learns not to do something again if it doesn’t feel good or isn’t enjoyable.
When kicking a Bad Habit, there are 3 different tactics you can try.
- 1. Eliminate the habit completely
- 2. Reduce your intake or the amount of time you do the habit
- 3. Replace the habit with a different habit so you still get a reward
Here is another thing to try – Increase the steps between you and the bad behaviors. For many bad habits, the immediate outcome is satisfying – eating a donut, hitting the snooze etc… Bad habits serve you in the moment, however in 6 months or a year the ultimate outcome will lead to being unfavorable.
If you want to BREAK a BAD habit there are 4 different points of intervention
Take the 4 Main Stages of a Habit and DO THE OPPOSITE.
- The CUE – Make your cue INVISIBLE. If you are trying to watch less tv -put the remote control in a drawer so you don’t see it or unplug the tv. Sometimes when reducing the exposure to negative cues, the bad habit could naturally fade away. Here is another example – You love cookies? Wrap them up in foil and hide them on the highest shelf.
- The CRAVING – Make it UNATTRACTIVE. Reframe your mindset
- The RESPONSE – Make it DIFFICULT. Add some friction to slow you down. The more friction there is between you and a bad habit, the less likely you are to do it. For example, take the batteries out your tv remote controller. This will add 5 additional seconds which could be enough time for you to change your response “Do I really want this right now?” The more friction and step there are between you and a bad habit, the less likely you are to do it.
- The REWARD – Make it UNSATISFYING
Here is great idea to feel satisfaction when breaking a bad habit that you don’t see an immediate result – You want to give up your daily Starbucks Coffee run – create a bank account with the money you usually spend at Starbucks for a new pair of earrings or a fun trip then transfer the money over weekly which will create immediate satisfaction. It will be a visual measurement of the progress you’re making.
Your habits are decisions that you repeat day in and day out. They have carried you to where you are right now. Life is dynamic. It is not static. It is always changing so your goals and desires may also change when you face different problems. A question to ask yourself is if the activities you do daily fill you with energy or drain your energy. If your current habits can carry you to your desired future, then all you need is patience. If they can’t, something needs to change in your life. Your habits are a lifestyle to live, not a finish line to cross.
It is your emotions that reinforce the behavior and make it a habit. The pleasure you feel will sustain the behavior.
Finally, your bad days are more important than your good days. Even if you show up less, you are still maintaining the habit. It is better to have a small accomplishment than nothing at all. Keep Moving Forward to your desired life! You’ve got this!
Questions to Reflect or Journal
- Who do you want to become? Ask yourself what are you trying to achieve. Can your current habits carry you to your desired future. What habits can you create today to support your new vision?
- What do you want to build into your lifestyle and make permanent?
- What are you doing on the days that go well? Can you incorporate more of those habits and routines into life?
- Do your habits fill you with energy or drain your energy?
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- Ten Percent Happier podcast with Dan Harris Atomic Habits by James Clear #194 July 3, 2019
- The One You Feed # 562 and #563 December 2, 2022 How to Create Atomic Habits for a Better Life
- Feel Better, Live More with Dr. Rangan Chatterjee #321 How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones with James Clear December 27, 2022
- Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg
- BJ Fogg TED Talk
When establishing new healthy habits, it’s important to have a coach or teacher that is motivating, supportive and monitoring your progress. With anything that is powerful and effective, you want to make sure you are doing it right.
If you need a HABIT Accountability Partner, I AM HERE to support you.
Bringing a fresh loving and supportive perspective, I can help you set goals, create healthy routines, or help you become the most loving and confident woman you have always dreamed of to be.