6 Techniques for Creating New Habits That Stick
Our lives are simply a series of habits, habits in what we do but also habits in our thinking. In fact, about 40% of what you do everyday comes down to these repeated actions. Creating new habits, though, can be difficult. Often, we need to make room in an overcrowded schedule or replace an undesirable habit with a positive one. With a little bit of brain hacking, anyone can make a new habit stick. The key is repetition of the new desired thought or action until it becomes a habit. Here’s how.
1: Habit Stacking
When you practice an action over and over again, your brain builds a network of neurons to support that behavior. All of your existing habits have this network that drive your behavior, allowing you to run on autopilot. You can take advantage of this knowledge and connect new habits to existing ones. This ensures that everytime you do something you already do – like brushing your teeth – you’ll also do the new habit.
Per James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, the habit stacking formula is:
“After/before [current habit], I will [new habit].”
For example. Before I take my evening shower, I will read for 10 minutes. Or, after I get out of bed in the morning, I will immediately put on my workout clothes.” Your existing habits act as the cue to launch into action, thus creating the new habit and new network of neurones.
2: The 3 R’s
Years of research on habits has revealed that every habit follows the same pattern: reminder, routine, and reward. Every habit you have has a trigger (reminder) that makes you act on the behavior itself (routine). When the action is complete, you’re left with the benefit of the action (reward). For example, let’s say you go for a walk each morning. Your dog whining at the door is the reminder, the routine is the path you take, and the reward is the mental clarity you feel afterward.
Break down your new habit into these three steps. What cue will tell you to act? What is the behavior itself? How will you reward yourself, or is the behavior itself rewarding? Pro tip: you can use habit stacking to help determine the “reminder” for your new habit.
3: Habit Reflection
A 2-year study of over 500 participants found that people who used habit reflection had a 140% improvement in creating new habits than those who used other habit-forming techniques. Habit reflection has just three steps:
- Think of a past situation in which you successfully implemented a new habit.
- Write down what you learned from the event – what made the habit stick? What tactics helped you stick to the change?
- Write down a plan for applying these lessons to your new habit.
4: Habit Tracking
Like the name suggests, this technique involves tracking how often you do a desired action. James Clear calls this the “Paper Clip Strategy” because it relies on visual triggers. You can do this a couple of ways. The first option is to get a calendar or make your own calendar for the current month. Then, mark off each day you complete the new habit.
Alternatively, you can get two jars and fill one with paperclips. Each day you do the habit, move a paperclip from the full jar into the other. Eventually, you’ll move all of your paperclips over. This visual cue triggers action because you don’t want to “break the chain” of good behaviour.
5: Start Small and Build
Having an all-or-nothing mentality can be really demotivating, especially after the initial inspiration cools off. Instead, create small habits that you can build on. Having small goals each day that you can actually accomplish will make you feel like you’re succeeding. This creates momentum and eventually turns into the giant leaps forward that you desire.
For example, if you’ve never worked out before it wouldn’t make sense to immediately start training for two hours a day, seven days a week. Instead, start with 30 minutes per day, three times a week. You could start even smaller by simply going for a 30 minute walk or doing a 20-minute at home workout twice a week. Over time, those wins build your confidence and you can set bigger goals.
6: Don’t go it alone
A major component of creating a new positive habit is having support. Starting a new habit is a lot easier when we start it with someone else or have someone who we are accountable to. If you have struggled to create new lasting positive change why not start a new habit with someone else.
I also have a great option for creating lasting change in your life. If you need help to have your life on your terms then let me tell you all about Tribe. My monthly mentoring support group. You can learn all about it HERE – I’m here to help you build a life that makes you smile.