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Building a new habit is to chose to become someone slightly different. To become someone who runs, flosses or someone who is good with money. By making it a habit we take the choice of doing an act out of the equation.
By not having to think about it, by not having to rely on willpower every time we are doing something, we can make the action we want to repeat almost automatic and in time change our life and become someone different.
How to Make a New Habit
There is some great literature on how to make a new habit, Atomic Habits by James Clear, being one of my favorites. What James teaches in that book is that by creating a lot of small, manageable habits we can reach exponentially bigger goals.
The small and manageable part is key here. Say that you want to create and exercise habit. You can set a target to exercise for 30 minutes 4 times a week. A great aim that will certainly get you on the path to better fitness but is it sustainable? Will you be able to do it every week even if you are feeling under the weather or you have a really busy week at work?
How does Mini-Habits Work?
In “Minihabits for weight loss” by Stephen Guise he explains how he started his exercise regime by deciding to do one push-up every day. No matter what he would do one push up. What he found was that when he did this one pushup he started doing another one, and then another.
In time, he started moving more and became a lot fitter and he was able to sustain this habit long term as whatever happened that day, he could always find time for one pushup. If we set goals or try to create habits that are not sustainable we feel like we fail if we don’t manage to do it all and we miss the point that all steps, however small, takes us towards our destination.
Using Mini-Habits to Write The Habitista Blog
When I decided to write this blog I didn’t just write when I felt like it, I didn’t use willpower to push myself into writing but instead I set the, for me, achievable goal to write every weekend morning. I didn’t set a minimum number of posts or words but instead the important thing was that twice a week, Saturday and Sunday, I sit down with my morning tea and write.
Sometimes I write a sentence, sometimes work on several posts, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I write, and that way, the posts gets written.
So, how did I come to the conclusion that this should be my habit? Well, first of all I didn’t want to push myself to write on weekdays. I have a busy job and I want to keep developing my career and I feel that taking time and energy out of a work day to write would impact how well I do my day job.
Ok, so I will write on the weekends. That could work as a habit, but I could see myself spending the whole weekend thinking that I should be writing and it would be a shore or a task that I would put off in light of things that either seemed more urgent or more fun and I would end up tired on a Sunday night, feeling like this was yet another thing that had to be done before the weekend was over.
How to Implement a New Habit
Trigger / Cue
So, what makes a good habit? We have already discussed that it needs to be manageable. Another thing that habits need is a trigger. This can be a certain time of day, a reminder pinging you in your phone, or we can use a concept called “habit stacking” which is when you use a habit to trigger another habit.
Finally, a habit needs a reward. If the habit doesn’t make you feel good in any way you won’t continue doing it. It can be a very direct reward like exercise creating feel good hormones. Or it can be a more subtle rewards, like when you are used to brushing your teeth every morning, and one day you skip it, you go around with a bad feeling in your mouth until you brush them.
Trigger and Reward Writing The Habitista Blog
Going back to my example of my writing. In my house our weekend mornings are quite slow. We are both tired from the week and even though we often wake up early we spend the morning hours having breakfast in bed, cuddling the cats, and then get up, make a cup of tea and do our own thing for a while.
My partner likes to watch YouTube on the telly while I prefer to sit in the garden weather permitting, or in an armchair, reading or simply just playing a game on my phone. Getting this time in the morning gives us a break from the work week and sets us up for the day ahead.
I identified this “alone time” as the perfect time to write. It has a trigger – making the tea. It doesn’t take up time where I feel I should be doing something else, and finally, it gives me a reward in that I start the day feeling like I have accomplished something. It’s mid-morning on a Saturday and I have already been writing on my blog.
When You Decide How to Build Your Habit Follow These Steps:
1. What is the smallest step that you can take that will still lead you towards your goal
2. When should you do it? What would be a good trigger?
3. What is your reward? What is the thing that will make you do it again and again?
How I Started Walking Every Day
A couple of years ago I decided that as a part of my general health goals I would walk every day. To make sure this was manageable I decided that it didn’t matter how far I walked, as long as I put on comfortable shoes and left the house.
Some days I feel really unwell and I only manage to go up and down the street, but it is enough as most days I manage more.
I then considered when I would walk. I realised that it had to be different times on weekends and weekdays. On weekdays I decided that I should walk after work.
Back then I was part time in the office and part time working from home (I’m now completely homebased) but either way, either when I shut down my computer or when I arrived home, before doing anything else, I would walk.
The main reason why I chose this time was that it gave me an additional rewards. In addition to getting the feel-good from taking a walk, it helped me warm up my muscles after sitting a lot during the day and it helped me unwind and process the work-day before enjoying the evening.
After having walked after work for a few weeks I started to feel like I really needed that walk, that otherwise I continued to be stressed and thinking about work in the evenings and the walk was something I wanted, and needed, to do, and the habit was established.
Take Action and Start a New Habit!
Do you have any habits you are trying to create? If so, what’s holding you back?
Is it that you are taking on too much (going to the gym 7 days a week for example) or is it that you don’t have the right trigger? Or is it simply the fact that you don’t have a good reward in place? If the latter, is there anything you could do to associate a reward with the activity?
Say that you are trying to wash the dishes immediately after dinner, but however rewarding a clean kitchen is, it’s not quite getting you off your comfortable chair. Could you listen to some fun music? Save your favorite podcast for when you wash the dishes? Or simply doing it with your partner, child or housemate, while having a good chat?
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