How To Create a New Habit This Week

Planning 1I’m really interested in habits, because what we do and think determine the life we live. Habits are the basis for everything else in our lives. As Aristotle so pithily put it,

“We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

If we aim to live an excellent life, we must have excellent habits. There’s just no way around it.

So if we want to change something in our lives, we must change our habits. Easy to say – a little trickier to pull off.

Our habits are, well, habitual! They’re the things we think or do automatically, without a lot of conscious thought.  The neural pathways in our brains are set to do the habit – to change the habit we’ve got to do a bit of brain rewiring.

Before you get overwhelmed, realize that many, if not most of your existing habits are already serving you and don’t need to be changed! When you get into your car, you automatically put on your seatbelt. Before you go to bed, you automatically brush your teeth. You put on your socks before your shoes. You get the idea. Most of what we do during the day are behaviors we learned a long time ago and now do without having to burn a lot of brain energy thinking about them. As long as those habits serve the kind of life we want to live, everything’s hunky dory.

But most of us have a habit or two that’s not helping create a life we love. Or we’d like to instill a new habit that would make us more successful. Maybe you’ve already tried unsuccessfully to get rid of the non-optimal habit or to create the new optimal one and now you feel discouraged, like you don’t have enough willpower, or that there’s something wrong with you.

Simply not true.

When we understand how habits actually work, we can be much more successful at quitting or starting the things we want to quit or start.

How Habits Work

My favorite model for how habits work comes from The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business  by Charles Duhigg. It describes the “Habit Loop.” You begin with a cue. This could be “It’s 3:00 and I’m bored with what I’m doing at my desk.” The next step is the routine. This is your habit, like grabbing a Snickers from the vending machine. Then you get your reward. In this case, a sugar rush and some dopamine. Because you got a reward, you will repeat this loop when you’re cued!

All habits (good and bad) can be broken down to these three steps. Once the brain develops a loop, it will continue to unfold automatically with no additional thought, which conserves energy and prevents us from going insane and being completely overwhelmed.

Unless you consciously fight to change a habit, it will continue indefinitely. Don’t despair! The model gives us what we need to change habits.

Keys 2The Steps To Follow

1. Identify the habit that you’re currently doing. “I hit the snooze 8 times instead of getting up to do yoga and meditate in the morning.”

2. Figure out the cue. This is usually one (or a combination) of 5 things.

♥ time
emotional state
♥ other people
♥ immediately preceding action

3. Determine the craving you’re trying to satisfy (hunger, boredom, break, thirst, distraction, blood sugar, etc.) “I’m trying to satisfy the craving for rest.”

4. Play around with other ways you could satisfy this craving that are in line with what you’re trying to create. “If I’m not getting to bed early enough, I make it incredibly challenging for myself to wake up and start my day with yoga and meditation. I need to get to bed earlier, so let me look at ways to make that happen. I might need to change some evening habits like being online or watching TV. Perhaps I can replace those habits with more nurturing, restful habits that will allow my to unwind at the end of the day.”

If you are eating your Snickers bar at three o’clock because you actually just need a break from work and to get up and move around, you could take a walk around the block. If you’re eating it because you’re actually hungry or have low blood sugar, you could eat some almonds and a few grapes.

5. Keep at it until you’ve created the new habit!

What To Do If You Fall Off the Wagon

Start again.

Try a different routine if what you’re using isn’t working. Maybe you’d rather have a cup of tea than walk around the block.

Don’t beat yourself up. It’s more difficult to maintain the new habit when we’re tired or stressed. Not impossible, but more difficult.

Cut yourself some slack and keep at it! You’re reprogramming your brain and it may take some time.

Your Habit Challenge for This Week

What’s a habit you’d like to begin changing this week? For me, it’s consistently going to bed early, instead of trying to do “just one more thing.”

I’d love to hear about your new habit, or answer your questions!

Please leave a comment below.

P.S. Two other books on habits you might want to check out!

52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier Healthier You Brett Blumenthal

Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes that Take 5 Minutes or Less  S.J. Scott



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