Why is it so hard to adopt good habits like everyday exercising or eating healthy food? To answer these questions it is necessary to understand what people in general, are doing wrong when trying to make such changes in their lives.
The most common mistake is that they focus on an overnight success.
For example, John Doe wants to lose weight. At first he is highly motivated, seeing himself as Arnold Schwarzenegger in his best times. In spite of achieving such a huge goal he goes to the gym for the first time and exercises so much, that he develops a muscle fever for next week.
This process repeats a few more times. But the motivation suddenly decreases. John with soreness and inner feelings of disgust spends a weekend watching youtube videos or reading productivity articles to gain the lost motivation. This could help for a while but after some time John is burned out and gives up.
Focusing on motivation simply doesn’t work because it is too unstable. But what to do then? Consciously work on building everyday small routines – your good habits. Exactly like brushing teeth which you naturally do every day.
If there’s someone who can tell us how to stick to good habits and how the whole psychology of people’s daily routines work, it would be behavioral psychology researcher BJ Fogg, professor from Stanford. In his academic research he found out that behind every human habit there is a simple 3-step pattern which our routines follow. This is how it goes:
- Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behavior)
- Routine (the behavior itself; the action you take)
- Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior)
Example how this pattern works in real-life experience:
You are an occasional smoker. The most common trigger that initiates smoking may be going out to the bar in the evening with friends who smoke. Sitting with a glass of beer and talking with friends who in that moment light their cigarettes makes you light you own (this is your routine). The reward you get is that you satisfy your need for nicotine. In this case accompanied with a feeling of guilt.
Replacing bad routines with good ones
At first you have to find out what the triggers are for your bad habits and then cut out as many of them as possible.
If you eat chocolate bars when you get stressed at work get rid of them all, so you don’t have any on hand. If you permanently waste your time on Facebook or watching YouTube videos instead of working, completely disconnect from the internet if it’s not absolutely necessary for doing your job.
After cutting triggers, substitute the bad habits with good ones with a similar benefit. If you smoke because it relieves stress, try to substitute this behavior with actions that address the same need. For example meditation, deep breathing, exercising, etc.
Creating good new habits and sticking to them
In order to create good new habits that would last, you should follow the 3 R’s pattern. Why? Because it is a natural way how habits arise in human behavior. After some time, it would become a fully automated routine without the need to force yourself doing it.
- Use current triggers for your new habit
There are activities you do each day like brushing teeth, taking a shower, having a coffee, eating… or happens to you each day like the phone rings, a commercial comes on TV, etc.
These activities can serve you as reminders for new routines. For example, after drinking morning coffee (reminder) do ten push-ups (routine). After the sound of an email notification on your smartphone do ten squats. The key is to pick which routine suits you best for being the right trigger for your new habit.
- Start small and gradually add
Instead of doing drastic changes by taking big quantitative leaps, choose a different attitude. Small improvements, step by step, day by day. Doing a small thing each day won’t hurt, but when they accumulate, they will make a huge difference in your life.
So if you were to do push-ups after your morning coffee, start with just two. It’s almost effortless. After doing 2 push-ups becomes too easy, continue with four, etc. It is easier to complete the behavior with every day small actions, especially on days when motivation lacks.
- Celebrate every small progress
Reward yourself after each small improvement you achieve. It doesn’t have to be anything huge. Tiny little things like a positive self-talk or a smile in the mirror can serve you as well, because as scientific research has shown, your brain is actually very bad at distinguishing between feeling awesome after doing a huge thing and feeling awesome after doing a tiny thing.
Therefore, celebrating every achievement would overwhelm you with good feelings, help you to gain confidence and makes habits easier to follow.
Tracking your bad and good habits
Tracking your activities till they become your new habits would take some time and practice, but it’s worth the effort. It would help you become aware of your triggers, routines and overall progress. It’s awareness that will show you how to make a change.
Accurately tracking habits will give you ideas for stopping bad habits and empowering the good ones. How do your routines activate? Who are you with? Where are you? What are the triggers that work and what triggers actually don’t? How often do the routines repeat?
It’s a bit of an endless loop. In spite of creating and sticking to new habits you should be tracking them. But tracking them is also a new habit that need to be grown and requires the same discipline and steadiness.
This article covers just the basics. To learn more on how to break this vicious circle of creating a habit of tracking habits we recommend you to read this article – 3 tricks how to keep track of habits