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Habits aren't all bad - 3-step process to creating new habits

Updated: Oct 4, 2022

2018 started on a Monday. That's pretty handy given that a new year means new year's resolutions and a Monday means it's time to start afresh... right?

Please please say "no that is not right"!

If you are not screaming "no that is not right", then read on, because here's why we all struggle to succeed with our new years resolutions.

These are your typical new year's resolutions (they have been mine for years and I know I am not that different to many others):

  • stop eating sugar

  • get more exercise

  • lose weight

  • spend less time glued to my phone

  • work less crazy hours

New years resolutions are too fuzzy

The problem with new years resolutions is that they are generally rather fuzzy and we try to implement them by doing the exact opposite of what we were doing before. If we weren't doing any exercise, we launch into an extreme exercise regime (been thee got the t-shirt). If we were eating lots of sugar, we deny ourselves any sugar (caffeine, carbs etc).

Within a day or two of completely cutting out whatever we have decided to deny ourselves our old habits are getting the better of us. That's because habits are unconscious behaviours and it's way easier to retreat into old habits when things get hard, than continue with significant behavioural changes.

So what's the answer?

So habits tend to get a bad rap. But actually there is a lot of power in habits - if you know how to form. Actually we have all formed hundreds of habits, but we do so unconsciously and so often are not aware that so much of what we do is habitual.

In The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change, Charles Duhigg goes into fascinating detail about habits.

To change a habit you need to replace it with a new one. We all fixate on doing the opposite of whatever our "bad habit" was, but for the most part we miss out on the process that helps us establish a new replacement habit.

To successfully create a new habit Duhigg argues based on scientific research, there are three things you need to do.

Pick a small and very specific action to get started with. What action can you take that is achievable for you?

Rather than going from no exercise, to 10 000 steps a day, start off with a smaller target that you can achieve. When you achieve the target, it builds confidence. When you have confidence in yourself you an increase the goal. I am trying to increase my steps this year in a bid to get fitter.

My specific goal is to be doing 10 000 steps a day by the end of March. I have a series off additional milestone goals as part of my journey towards focussing on my health and fitness this year - but getting to 10 000 steps is my focus for now. I have broken that down further: 5000 steps a day by the end of January, 7500 by the end of February and 10 000 by the end of March. To some that may sound trivial, but to me this is a meaningful journey from being exceptionally sedentary in 2017, to building my physical health and resilience in 2018.

Attach your small new action to an existing cue. What is going to remind you to take the action?

The cue acts as a reminder to do something. In my example, I am trying to increase my daily steps.

My cue is the moment I open the front door to let the dogs out in the morning. Instead of letting them out and going straight to make myself a cup of coffee, I have replaced that action with going outside with the dogs and spending 10 minutes playing with them. One average that has added 1500 steps without too much thought. I have several other cues that I have added throughout the day. My watch reminds me to move every hour. When I get a glass of water to drink, I have to take 500 steps in the process, and when I am cooking instead of watching the proverbial pot boil, I walk up and down the kitchen to get in more steps.

Reward yourself!! What is going to motivate you to take the action?

My reward is a cup of coffee once I have spent 10 minutes playing with the dogs. 10 minutes of social media time is attached to other cues and an episode of my favourite TV show is attached as a reward to achieving my step goal for the day.

I have been doing this for a few days now and am starting to look forward to rewarding myself for achieving my actions. A new habit is well on the way to being formed.

What new habits do you need to form to achieve your goals?


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