Co-written with Eva Gruber, Habit Coach
Habits are something that you do often and regularly, frequently without thinking about them, and sometimes without even knowing. Humans are, by our nature, creatures of habit.
Studies show that about 40% of people’s daily activities are habitual. That’s between 6-10 hours a day! The habits we form, like checking our phones on waking, eating fruit and vegetables at every meal or walking a certain number of daily steps, become a considerable part of our routine. Our habits ultimately become who we are. Good habits allow us to build environments in which to be happy, healthy and fulfilled. Bad habits can have a negative impact on our health, happiness and wellbeing.
New habits can take time to work out but not necessarily 21 days
Developing good habits can improve your health, productivity and happiness. You’ll feel the benefits of your good habits throughout all areas of your life. New habits can take time to work out. The secret is to make them as easy and rewarding as possible so we want to repeat them. When an action is repeated consistently, it becomes automatic, and when it’s become automatic, it’s a habit.
It’s a myth that a habit takes 21 days to establish – think about your own experiences or ask ask anyone that’s maintained a habit for 21 days and then stopped. Think about the time when you tried to heat healthily, gave up alcohol or did regular exercise. Habits are not about willpower. They are about making actions automatic so you don’t even make conscious decisions about them. If you’ve tried and failed to change or start a habit keep reading…
Emotions create your behaviour and, therefore, your habits. There’s a direct connection between what you feel when you do something and the likelihood that you will repeat the behaviour (and make it a habit) in the future. Good feelings spur the production of dopamine, a chemical that controls the brain’s ‘reward system’. If something feels good, you want to do it again, and a habit is formed. So, if you want to establish a habit, you have to connect feeling good to your actions and behaviour. We form habits by repeating behaviours. Research by BJ Fogg has shown that the most important part of forming a habit is having a strong positive emotion connected to the new behaviour. So the diet or exercise regime that you dislike even though you know it’s good for you will never become a habit.
To start a new habit, set an aspirational goal. It helps to have a good reason to start a new habit. It has to be something that you genuinely want to achieve (not what you think you should want or what other people tell you that you should want). It can be anything: a new job, getting fitter or healthier, losing weight or building better relationships. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s something that’s important to you. Write it down.
Start small and make it simple. The secret to establishing habits is to start small. Decide on a tiny action to set you on the path. For example, if you want to get fitter, don’t set yourself a complete lifestyle change that starts again every Monday. Start with the behaviours that will result in the outcome you want. Start with one tiny habit. For example, one thing that will help you is to move more. Every time you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, walk up and down in the kitchen. Aim for 20 steps every time you boil the kettle. Then start to introduce more: 30, 40, 50 steps etc. It’s these, easy tiny habits that you can build on that will set you up for success.
Many New Year’s resolutions fail because they are not tiny. The expectation of a lifestyle change on 1 January is too difficult and too big a step. According to BJ Fogg, doing something you don’t enjoy, and subsequently failing to make it habitual, is actually more detrimental to a mission for change than doing nothing at all.
Tap into your established triggers. A tactic to establish a successful new habit is to seamlessly slip it into your existing routine. In the example above, boiling the kettle is your trigger. It’s something you already do. Then decide on your tiny action that takes you nearer to your goal. If your goal is to get fitter then rather than scrolling through social media while your waiting for the kettle to boil, start taking steps. If your aspirational goal is to read more, read a page of your book while you’re waiting. Be deliberate by writing it down.
After I ………………..….(existing behaviour), I will ………..……………(new tiny behaviour).
Celebrate. When you’ve done your tiny action, pat yourself on the back. Tell yourself, ‘well done’. Say to yourself out loud that you’re awesome. Do this straight away as you complete the tiny action. Instant reward builds confidence and makes you more likely to turn this small action into a habit.
‘If you pick the right small behavior and sequence it right, then you won’t have to motivate yourself to have it grow. It will just happen naturally, like a good seed planted in a good spot.’ BJ Fogg
What tiny habits can you start to form today so that you’re already on the path to the goal you want to achieve?
Eva Gruber is a certified Tiny Habits® Coach trained and mentored by world-famous Habit Researcher and Stanford Professor BJ Fogg PhD. Moreover, she is a Space Curator and expert in physical and digital tidying, decluttering and creating spaces at your home or workplace, trained and mentored by world-famous tidying expert and best-selling author Marie Kondo.