Top Tips To Create A Habit
When I was growing up in the 1980’s my understanding of the word habit was around doing something you shouldn’t… Smoking, drug taking, swearing and probably doing too much or too little of many things was considered a bad, filthy, or dirty habit. I don’t remember any positive associations linked to habits and was aware my nail-biting needed to stop!
Today, developing positive, healthful habits is now, for many people the way forward. Why? Well, every day we perform hundreds of actions, many of which we do on autopilot. We’re often in a routine, we perform tasks in a particular order and manage to arrive at work, without having thought about all of the actions which constitute our morning routine. It’s a good job! If we actively had to make decisions about every aspect of getting up, dressed and out many of us would never arrive!
So what’s all that got to do with habits?
Our brains form habits in order to free up our minds to make decisions about other things. Usually, habits are formed following the response to a “cue”, which could be visual, audible, emotional, time/location based. The cue leads to an “action” which is followed by a result or reward. Our brains can’t differentiate between helpful and harmful habits so unfortunately, it’s easy to form habits which may be detrimental to our well being.
Fortunately, there are many different strategies you can use to formulate habits you feel would be of benefit to you. Perhaps you want to become a regular exerciser, to drink 2 litres of water daily, to journal every day or restrict your time on social media. Read on to discover our top tips for creating a habit.
1. Introduce a cue
Take some time to consider any cues, which you currently consciously or subconsciously act upon. Is that action a response to a visual or audible cue or an emotional response following a feeling of joy, frustration or upset? Are your cues associated with a specific time or location? Perhaps being with a particular person is your cue. Understanding the type of cues you respond to will help you decide how best to use cues to your advantage.
Are you the sort of person who responds to a visual prompt or will setting an audible alarm or reminder on your phone help? Perhaps working towards doing something at a specific time will work for you or when you’re in a particular place. Use your existing cues to your advantage, make them work for you!
2. Link a new habit to something you already do
Some people find that their new action works well when they perform it before or after something they already do. Consider your existing habits, then try to slot new habits around them. Perhaps you might decide to do 10 squats before you eat your breakfast or drink a glass of water when you arrive home from work.
3. Create a rule
Creating a rule that encourages you to develop a new habit, or ditch an old one, can be helpful. Make it clear, specific and if appropriate incorporate a “cue” or “link.” For example,
“I will make my bed immediately upon getting out of it.” Apparently, this habit in itself encourages people to be tidier generally. Most bedrooms are dominated by the bed, so if that is made and looks neat you might then pick up your socks…
“My first drink of the day will be a large glass of water.” Good hydration is essential for clear thinking, this is a positive habit to develop. Placing a glass next to your kettle or coffee machine might serve as a cue.
4. Swap one thing for another
For some people, swapping something they usually do, with something else can be helpful in their formation of a new habit. For example,
Swap one daily tea/coffee for one glass of water
Swap lifts and escalators for stairs
Half an hour before bed, exchange a “screen” for a book/audiobook
Swap 10 minutes “research” on the internet (houses, holidays, jobs, clothes…) for 10 minutes of mindfulness/meditation or journaling.
The key is to make the swap relatively straightforward and seemingly fair.
5. Make it easy to succeed
Our brains are hardwired to choose the easy option, that’s why it is often difficult to motivate ourselves to do something. Often we know we’ll feel better as a result of performing a particular action but actually doing it is often tough, even when you like the result.
Many habit gurus advocate, in one way or another, making a new habit so easy, you won’t be able to “not” do it. Making something easy might take the form of, for example,
Perform 1 sit up, press up or jumping jack
Walk for 20 seconds
Sit on your yoga mat for 10 seconds
Learn Spanish, 1 word each day
Write 3 sentences daily
The emphasis is on creating the habit of doing the action by removing common barriers like; “it’s too hard…” or “I’m not in the mood,” or “I haven’t got time…” Making something easy sounds and is achievable and doable. Upon completion, you may experience a feeling of success and achievement. Crucially, you will prove to yourself that you can commit to doing something and follow through with it. The idea is to make something so easy, you won’t fail.
6. Or too difficult to carry on
Essentially, making something difficult to do is employing the opposite principle of the easy technique. This might be useful if you are trying to break a habit you feel is negatively impacting your life. By making that habit harder to fulfil, it might be easier to disconnect from it. Too much time on your phone? Put it out of sight in a difficult place to access. Or, If, for example, you are aware that much of your free time is dominated by perusing social media, you could instal an app which limits the amount of time “allowed.” Get someone else to set any passwords required so there is less temptation to cheat. Similarly, if you are trying to eat less chocolate, avoid bulk buying, particularly multipacks. Keeping tempting treats in the house is more likely to result in you eating them than if you have to walk/drive to a local shop.
7. Follow the 2-minute rule
Anything you can do in 2 minutes, just do it, or set a timer to do 2 minutes of something. This could be running up and down the stairs, clearing out the fridge, unsubscribing from unwanted email correspondence, researching something specific or cleaning the toilet. By setting yourself a time limit, will you do it faster? Or, if you don’t really want to start something, will committing 2 minutes to the task motivate you to get started?
8. Track your system – be accountable
You might find it useful to track your progress towards developing a particular habit. Developing new habits takes time and it is usually the system that lets us down rather than our desire to perform the action. Your system may need tweaking/refining multiple times before you get it right. Don’t worry about this, time spent perfecting the system that will allow a new habit to take root is time well spent! There are lots of habit tracking apps available, or you might prefer to draw/download a simple chart. Charts are also helpful in that they serve as a visual reminder, an additional cue. Encouraging yourself to be accountable by producing evidence of your growing habit may motivate you to keep up with it.
Creating a habit takes time, using a combination of different strategies may support you in your habit development. If something doesn’t work, ask yourself why. It’s important to look at your system then tweak and personalise it to suit you. If, in the past, you have successfully developed or eliminated particular habits, what worked then? Can you employ a similar approach to help you now? Perhaps your friends and family can help, or an online community. Discover what works for you and take steps towards achieving the best version of you.
Seek specialist support if you are trying to overcome an addiction.
Take a look at our 10 minute walking routine blog to get you started.