Have you got a bad habit you are keen to break? Need a few tips to “hack” yourself and the reasons we give ourselves for not doing things we know we are going to benefit from?
Let’s face it – doing the right thing is an effort sometimes, and starting a new health kick or taking on a new practice in our lives can be a challenge – let alone during this stressful period. But recently I read an excellent book I have already mentioned on The Wellbeing Hive, which shows you some of the best ways to adopt a new habit. The book is called Atomic Habits by James Clear and it is both readable and engaging if the subject interests you. Here is a precis.
Clear suggests that habits may appear small, but that small changes, over time can create a tremendous impact. If you get just 1% better at something each day… at the end of the year you are significantly better than you were before you started… and this is something worth thinking about. Incremental gains – even slow ones are still gains and sometimes the key to success.
Clear is all about hacking habits and the tips and tricks to making them stick – and I have been loving reading a lot of this kind of material in any spare time I have during lockdown. Who doesn’t want to know how to trick themselves into to be better?
Essentially, Clear suggests for a habit to stick, it needs to be 4 things: Obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying. The reverse of this is that for a habit to be eradicated, it must be the opposite – invisible, unappealing, difficult and unsatisfying.
Make It Obvious
Clear suggests there must be clear cues in your home to make your habit obvious to you. Things that are in front of us are difficult to ignore, and it is that much easier to pick up a book to read at night if you have left it on your pillow in the morning. Your environment is a great way to make things obvious. Leave your exercise gear out if you want to go running more often. Time is another way to make things obvious – and Clear suggests that “habit stacking” is a great way to incorporate a new habit.
Habit stacking means attaching a new desired habit to an ingrained one. For example, you brush your teeth every day. But if you want to add 10 minutes of meditation to your morning routine, do it directly after the habit of brushing your teeth. This is why many people have success adding on a habit directly as they get home from work. The act of getting home eventually becomes the trigger for putting on your shoes and going for that walk you have been trying to incorporate into your day.
The opposite works well to for a habit you want to drop from your routine. If you want to reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke – hide the packet. Reduce the exposure to the things (and the people) that make you more likely to enact that habit.
Make It Attractive
Finding a way to like your habit is important at the start. You have to feel rewarded for completing your new habit. This can be as simple as attaching it again to something you already enjoy – taking your run for example in a park you like to walk in. Attach taking a walk to getting your morning coffee (that’s one I already use – the dog gets a walk and I get a coffee!).
People work well here – the most successful people in terms of beginning a new habit are those who join a group in which their desired new behaviour is the norm. This is why recovery groups, running groups, book clubs and weekly art classes can be so valuable. We feel a desire to be part of the group – and that makes the shared behaviour more appealing.
The reverse works well again – we must make bad habits unappealing and unattractive. You need to associate old bad habits with bad feelings – feeling unfit, unhealthy, too busy or without enough time for you. It is thinking that helps you frame this – what was the reason you wanted to eradicate this habit?
Make It Easy
A difficult habit is hard to adopt – an easy one is not. Becoming a marathon runner should take a series of small steps – no-one should expect to run 50 kilometres on their first try.
For this reason, Clear suggest two things. First is the two-minute rule. Every new habit you adopt should take no more than two minutes. It should be a small action that gets you closer to where you want to be. There are simple two-minute actions that get you started on everything. Taking off your shoes and doing some stretches could form the start of a yoga practice. Reading one page gets you closer to reading a book a week.
To build on this, he suggests that focusing on small steps such as these is a better way to achieve success. Being focused on the end goal works sometimes – but when we realise how much time it takes to get to being a novelist or a marathon runner or a master chef, we often become discouraged. Small steps make you feel as if you are always moving forward.
Making your environment work for you is also important here – as we mentioned earlier, your home or workplace should be designed to make that habit easier. A cross trainer in front of the TV will make you more likely to get on – as will pre-chopping vegetables if you want to start incorporating more into your diet. (I stack tasks like this with something I enjoy, like listening to an audiobook while I chop).
The reverse is true too – design your environment to make the undesirable habit harder. If you package up your breadmaker and put in the garage because you want to cut our carbs, it feels like a bit effort to bring it back out. Unplug the Xbox and put the cables in different parts of the house. Hide things, pack them away, or make them complicated and you will be less likely to do them. It will feel like too much effort, and it will seem less rewarding.
Make It Satisfying
Tracking your progress is a great way of making habit satisfying – crossing off calendar days or ticking off goals met – there are plenty of apps that will help you to achieve this feeling for your targeted habit. You may also need to ensure that you keep some variety in how you go about doing your habit – when boredom sets in, habits become harder to continue.
But making an undesirable habit unsatisfying takes some strength – and a willingness to put ourselves out there. Clear suggests accountability partners who agree to take us up on falling back into an old habit. He also suggests Habit Contracts which lay out clear consequences for falling back into your habit – here is an example of one.
You can also enlist friends and followers on social media who can keep you accountable on both counts. Knowing someone is watching you is incredibly motivating!
Overall, keep focused on becoming the kind of person who does your desired goal. Embracing a new identity and a new way of viewing yourself is key to your success. Make choices that support your new view of yourself, and good habits become easier to keep!
We introduced some of this content and more in the boys mentoring sessions this week to link in with their Wellbeing Theme of Courage and Determination – because it takes Courage to challenge ourselves and Determination to make new things stick. Feel free to support them in their targeted goals by asking them how they are going!
Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU from Pexels