“Habits are not a finish line to be crossed. They are a lifestyle to be lived.” James Clear
How we spend our time each day and how we feel doing our regular behaviours forms the person we are. It shapes our personality and the direction of our lives.
To improve ourselves and keep moving forward, we should strive to make changes to our daily practices. After all, effective habits are the key to achieving almost anything. They are the stepping stones that support us on our journey to accomplishing bigger things.
Many of us know this, and some of us can even pinpoint exactly what we need to do. However, not many people understand how to action the long-lasting change we crave.
No one teaches us how to introduce good behaviours that eventually become as automatic as brushing our teeth. An action so much a part of who we are, and what we do, that we no longer require motivation or willpower to do them.
This is often a big area of my work and there are many techniques to help. However, for this article, I want to focus on habit stacking and tracking, two of the most effective strategies that I recommend to my clients:
A HABIT ‘SANDWICH’
Habit stacking is essentially introducing the new action on top of an existing - and longstanding - behaviour. This approach was introduced by behavioural scientist professor BJ Fogg at Stanford University who calls it the “tiny habits recipe”.
It utilises the fact that all habits need a ‘cue’, a prompt. By habit stacking, our established action becomes the cue for our new one and we will find it easier to remember to do it.
For example, we do not think to open our curtains in the middle of the night. We do it when we wake up, when our cue is getting out of bed. And we would not randomly start brushing our teeth during a work meeting. Our cue is when we go into the bathroom and we see our toothbrush.
Here are a couple of other points to consider when starting to ‘habit stack’. Firstly, it is more beneficial if we add the new habit onto something we do daily. E.g. “I will eat an apple every day with my morning coffee”. And be sure to choose a cue that makes sense and fits with the best time of day to do the new action. For example, “Before my morning shower, I will do five minutes of stretching”.
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
In addition to the tips already mentioned, many of my clients also like to practice 'habit tracking' which is making a note of when we have actioned a new habit. For example, if my new routine is to get outside for a walk (short or long) every day after lunch, I would write an tick on the days I did this in my diary. If your aim is to do 10 minutes of meditation before logging onto your computer, you could tick off the days on your calendar when you achieved this. Alternatively, you could keep a habit journal which gives you more space to make notes and jot down your thoughts.
Habit tracking is such a simple, yet effective method because it supports - and illustrates - behaviour change. As the months tick by, your calendar or journal becomes a record of your continued habit success, and it can boost feelings of accountability.
HOW LONG UNTIL A NEW ACTION BECOME A HABIT?
There has been plenty of study on this very subject. The most recent - and generally accepted - findings are by researcher Phillippa Lally and her team at University College London who discovered that we must commit to doing a new behaviour or activity for at least 66 days in a row before it becomes second nature. Although Professor Susan Peirce Thompson states it can sometimes take more than 200 days to form a habit. Either way, it does happen.
After this point, it becomes automatic - and therefore, a habit. You will do it without thinking, without making the conscious effort to do it each time.
You will know when you have reached this point when your day is incomplete if you don’t do it. When this happens, take notice - and celebrate! - your commitment and success. You are now positively moving forward, toward your goals.
Additional Quick Tips for Success:
1. Be clear on the habit you want to establish and keep it simple. For example: Swap the vague statement “I want to eat healthier” to “l will increase my vegetable servings at lunchtime and dinner to 10 a day”.
2. List the benefits of the new habit. Why do you want to instill this new behaviour? What are the benefits to you? This is crucial if you are going to commit the time and ongoing effort.
3. Commit to repeating the behaviour regularly to establish it as part of your routine. Be consistent. Inconsistency will not lead to automatic behaviour - i.e a habit.
4. Start to identify and become the person who does the habit as part of who they are. For example, “I want to be a runner” should be “I am a runner.” Or “I want to be a writer” should shift to “I am a writer who is creative every day.”
5. Understand there will be obstacles and distractions. You will slip up, it is inevitable. So, think ahead and have a plan in place to get back on track.
*I passionately believe we all deserve to achieve our goals and have a brilliant, healthy, happy life full of meaning and love. To find out more about how I can help you to thrive, CLICK HERE or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org to book a FREE consultation today.
And If you would to learn more about creating habits, and the positive psychology around it, then please do take a look at the following articles by James Clear:
© Kate Gare, everylife 2021