Have you ever wondered what is hiding behind every success you see around you? Science has the answer: good habits.
Yes! A research by Galla, B., & Duckworth A. (2015) proved that in order to achieve a desired goal you only need to build beneficials habits around it. Willpower is a hallmark of habit. This means that even the person that aims to have a lean body full of abs, has the need to lay on the couch, to eat unhealthy food or to postpone the workout, the only difference is that this person resists all these temptations (at least most of the times).
Another research in Duke University has found that 40% of our behaviors lie in our habits. You are now convinced that we’re all creatures of habit, right? Then, why do most people start a new habit but then give up? Behavioral scientists who study habit formation claim that usually we try to create healthy habits the wrong way. For example, you make bold resolutions to start exercising (excessively) or lose weight (very quickly), but without taking some steps previously, that are needed to set yourself up for success. A book, from Katy Milkman, “How to Change” is a great guide for all beginners on how to set successful resolutions, and how to start the journey of good habits. She claims that the best way to start building good habits is to tackle your impulsivity by using gamification and temptation bundling as a strategy
Let’s take a look at how to build good habits, including the science behind them and how you can set yourself up to successfully form new, better ones.
What is a habit?
A habit is a tendency to do something, whether harmful or health-promoting.
Habits are driven by reward-seeking mechanisms in the brain. They’re often triggered by something specific. For instance, when you come home from a high stress workday, you drink a glass of wine. When you feel sad, you eat a sugary food.
After a while, habits become a repetitive part of your lifestyle. The reason why the brain needs to form habits is to become more efficient, to not waste time in thinking if it knows what act to perform.
Habit-forming is the process in which behaviors become automatic. When you were a child, you learned that after eating you need to brush your teeth, after a while, brushing your teeth after food became automatic. This is proof of how easy it can become to change your habits. You need consistency.
How long does it take to develop a new habit?
The time period can be any length, it can be a single second to a more extended time-period. The speed of new habit development is largely determined by the intensity of the emotion that accompanies the decision to begin acting in a particular way. For example, in case of a serious illness the intensity of emotion might be so shocking that a new pattern starts immediately, for instance quit smoking.
It is commonly known that habit needs at least 3 weeks of consistent behavior and repetition for the habit to be formed. You may wonder why? The new brain pathways neuro synapsis need a specific time to be formed. So unlike the instant quitting of smoking - because of the intense emotions - you may need more time to form the habit of replacing chocolate with a fruit or avoiding negative self-talk. In my course, Hack Your Mindset, you will find a dedicated chapter on what habits are and how to build healthy ones.
5 ways to build new habits
1 - Set a specific goal
It will be one more blog where you read about how important it is to have a specific goal, but that’s the only way to have clear and motivating goals. For example, if you aim to start a TO-DO list daily, just setting the goal to write a TO-DO daily is not enough. It would be better to precise it, “I will make my daily TO-DO for 15 minutes every morning.”.
2 - Start with small habits
B.J. Fogg, the author of the book “Tiny Habits”, notes that big behavior changes require a high level of motivation that often can’t be sustained. In his book, he suggests starting with tiny habits to make the new habit as easy as possible in the beginning. If you want to eat healthier, start by a small action of eating only homemade food, or cut sugar. When most people struggle to build new habits, they say something like “I wish I had as much willpower as you do.” However, research shows that willpower is like a muscle. It gets fatigued as you use it throughout the day. Your motivation ebbs and flows. It rises and falls. If you want to include meditation in your daily life rather than trying to meditate for 10 minutes per day, start by meditating for one minute per day. Make it easy enough that you can get it done without motivation.
3 - Add the new habit into an established routine
You should associate this habit with behavior that you already do, in order to make it consistent and consequently successful. To make this happen, you can use an anchoring method. You will add the new habit to a daily action you are taking. For example, if you are coming back from work at 6PM and you are falling asleep at 9PM, you can add a new habit of workout between 6.30-7.30PM and then take your daily shower and then start your bedtime. Or if you aim to journal daily, you can plan 10 minutes exactly before bedtime to do so. This tactic has been scientifically proven to work more, because the brain performs better when it is cued.
4 - Do it daily
Habits take a long time to create, but they form faster when you do them more often, that’s why you need to start simple. You are more likely to stick with an exercise habit if you do some small exercise every day, rather than trying to get a high intensity workout three days a week. Once daily exercise becomes a habit, you can explore new, more intense forms of exercise.
5 - Keep Moving
Errors and mistakes are part of life, even the greatest people make mistakes, they just have learned how to keep going and don’t stop. That’s why it is important to get back on track quickly. Missing once your habits won’t have a huge impact on your progress. In order to achieve this mindset, you need to let go of your all-or-nothing mindset and your perfectionism. Try to find ways to work around the bottleneck, or create other plans to still include this habit in your life. But keep a rule, never miss the habit twice!
These are the 5 simplest methods you can use to start creating new habits today. Don’t forget to reward yourself in every milestone you achieve. Set time periods or levels of habit and every time you achieve them give a gift to yourself, that can be either a favorite activity like a massage, or to eat your favorite food, or to buy something, or to book a trip, whatever satisfies you.
Build a social network that boosts your new good habits, a network that makes you committed and celebrates your wins. In this community, it would be great if you find people who are ahead of your curve, or have totally different experiences from you. Research has shown that interacting with people who might have accomplished goals that you want to achieve, can positively impact your growth.
Book Suggestion: Atomic Habits
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