We all have good intentions, don’t we? We all turn over new leaves, set goals, decide on new resolutions etc. But, how many of us see them through and succeed in making our intentions into new habits? If you’re like me, you’ll have quite a list of those where, despite best efforts, they’ve not quite made it. So, here are my top 5 ways to create a new habit.
Why is it hard to change?
For must of us, we’ll be frustrated when we can’t make a new habit stick. Usually, it’ll be that habit of increased exercise, or of eating our five a day. And, do you ever wonder why having that morning biscuit with your cuppa, or that glass of wine with your meal, or just one more roll of the dice is SO easy to make a habit? How annoying is that? You’ll be glad to know, it’s not just that we lack willpower. We’re not failures. It’s explained by neuroscience.
Any action or activity which gives pretty quick, pleasurable feedback will have your body wanting more. Whether the pleasure is physical, social or mental, our bodies are primed to have more. We get immediate reinforcement. So, developing that habit that means going without (being smoke free for example), or doesn’t feel good at the time (having fruit instead of biscuits) has to rely on something else. If an action takes longer to see a difference, we’re biologically primed to take an easier route.
You may have had a really good routine with some great habits, but then something interrupts it. For example, a period of illness can interrupt your exercise routine. Sometimes, this can feel like starting again. Or, maybe it’s an opportunity to create an even better habit using these tips.
So, what do we do?
Each behaviour that we perform can be broken into the cue, the action and the reward. So, any tips for creating a new habit have to address one of these areas. Here are 5 ways to create a new habit.
- Make it worth it – be really clear on why you’re creating this new habit – the reward. The bigger the driver, the more chance you have of making it work. The more you want to move away from something (ill health, perhaps?), the more likely you are to succeed. However, creating a new habit because you’re told to, or one that you won’t benefit from at all (even long term) is likely to end up on that list of ‘not achieved.’ In this case, finding something in it for you is important.
- Break the new behaviour down – sometimes if a new behaviour is a big change, it can be too radical to change direction and do something completely different. The actions can seem too big, so we don’t even try. So, breaking it into smaller chunks can make it seem more achievable. As you keep making wins, you’ll be motivated to keep going. Even if your reward isn’t linked to the habit, it’s still useful to have motivators. So, reward yourself with a cuppa after an hour of work.
Making it easy…
- Make it easy – if your new habit actions feel difficult, build it in so it’s easy to make it your new routine. Making the cue obvious and easy is key. An example might be if you want to drink more water, have a glass next to your bed, so you can drink it first thing before you get up. Or maybe each time you have a cup of tea, also have some water.
- Have interim goals – remember that your new habit might have wins on the way. You don’t need to wait for the ‘end’ of your habit installation. For example, if you want to exercise more, find something that you really enjoy. No point in deciding that you’ll run three times a week when running is really not your thing. If you really want to go running, build it up so you run once a week to start with. Start small and build it up.
- Join other people – there are many ways of joining others in creating your new habit. Apps, social media groups, or even meeting others locally can give us a sense of accountability and encouragement on our journey. Human beings are social animals so having others to check in with is realy helpful.
What if you miss?
No matter how careful we are to apply the above, we will slip with our new habit. It’s OK! Life can get in the way, or we might be ill etc. The trick is to get back to it straight away, as soon as possible. If you don’t, you’ll be building another habit of missing out.
It is true that once you have built a new routine around a habit, it’s likely to stick. For example, we now all wear seatbelts in the car. Yes, we have that annoying bleep as a reminder, but it’s kind of automatic, isn’t it?
There are many articles about how many times it takes to make a habit stick, all based on all sorts of data. The reason why repetition is important is based on building new neural pathways in the brain. Each action we take requires electrical activity in our brain to stimulate our bodies to move. So, build those new pathways so that you have to think less about the activity and it becomes more automatic.
We’d love to hear your tips for building those new habits. Where have you had your success? Comment below to share with us all.