So if you’d made it this far, I’m guessing you’ve probably chosen your SENST area, you’ve chosen your healthy habit and now you want some habit hacks to make it stick.
Everyone has habits of some sort. So you’d think it would be easy to form new ones. Why is it that it’s easy to form habits that are bad for us, but not so easy to form habits that are good for us? That’s because the reward is typically more pleasurable for bad habits than it is for good habits. We learn more about the reward and a construct of a habit below as well as some habit hacks to help us form and stick to healthy habits.
Firstly let’s look at what is a habit to make sure we’re all on the same page:
What is a habit?
“A habit is a routine of behaviour that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously”
The construct of a habit has been identified as a loop that consists of:
- Cue – the cue is something that triggers the routine
- Routine – the action
- Reward – the enjoyment that you derive from the habit. This is the part that makes the action repetitive (makes it a habit).
What is your personality type?
Everyone is different. Gretchen Rubin identified four personality types and each one is motivated differently. Take the four tendencies quiz to find out what motivates you. Find out if you are Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.
- Upholders want to know what should be done. They generally find it easy to form a habit
- Questioners want justifications. They want to know what they are doing and why
- Obligers need accountability. They meet outer expectations, but not always inner ones. Most people fall into this category. They will be motivated by others
- Rebels want the freedom to do something their own way. They meet outer expectations, but not always inner ones. Most people fall into this category
In order to form a habit create your cues or triggers. Charles Duhigg says cues normally fall into 5 categories:
- Time of day
- Emotional State
- Other People
- Preceding Behaviour (see point below on habit stacking)
He recommends trying to set cues for as many of these five categories as possible.
Motivation Personality Type
- If you’re a questioner, find out all you can about your healthy habit and why it is important to incorporate into your life
- If you’re an obliger, social relationships can help habits stick. If you start a habit in a group it can signal to the group that you fit in. So find a group that supports your habit.
- If you’re a rebel, see if you can make your habit make you look good. That might help
James Clear author of Atomic Habits suggests starting with a small habit and incorporating it into your life. He suggests the following 5 tips to form a habit:
- Make it small to start
- Increase it gradually (Clear suggests 1% each day)
- Break up the habit into chunks that fit into your day (for example, two 10 minute meditations or two 30 minute workouts)
- Never miss twice – everyone makes mistakes and slips up but top performers get back on track ASAP
- Be patient – trust the journey and results will come
- BJ Fogg in his book Tiny Habits says that you must celebrate a habit to make it stick. Whether you high five your self or air pump when you have successfully completed your habit BJ Fogg says this psychology will make your habit stick.
- Be specific in the reward. Find something that is a treat for you if you perform the habit, like a coffee from your favourite coffee shop
More Habit Hacks
- Pointing and calling – James Clear recommends verbalising as your performing your habit. For example “I’m going to the gym to get fit and healthy”. The theory here is that the process raises awareness and the task starts to become non-conscious and then habitual
- Habit Stacking – put a habit on top of another habit. For example, if you want to floss your teeth, do it right before or after you brush your teeth.
- The 5-second rule by Mel Robbins can help if procrastination sets in. The idea is that when you are procrastinating, count down from 5, then jump to it, and do it. For example, if you don’t want to get out of bed. Count 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, then bounce out of bed
- Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy – prioritise the thing on your to-do list that you don’t want to do. Do this first. This came from Mark Twain who said: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
- Visualise your habit. For example post sticky notes or pictures on your computer or fridge
- James Clear indicates that your physical environment and systems decide whether a habit will stick. This is what he recommends:
- Make your habit specific – Specify your habit in detail. For example, I want to get up each morning at 6 am and go to the gym for 10 minutes
- Make it easy – have your gym gear ready in the morning
- Optimise your environment – have your phone away from your bed so you to get up to turn the alarm off
- Make it attractive – listen to music
- Make it obvious
- Make it satisfying – create a habit tracker so you can see your progress, check out James Clear habit tracker here or simply create your own. Or reward your progress by buying something that you like. For example, if you worked out for your allocated 5 days at the gym, buy yourself the handbag that you have wanted, or shout yourself a massage or facial.
You may have heard that a habit takes 21 days to form. This number came from a plastic surgeon in the 1960’s Maxwell Maltz a plastic surgeon who found it took his patients 21 days to get use to their face. Which is not really the same as forming a habit. Don’t expect your habit to form in 10, 21 or 30 days. It might, but it might not also. Take your time.
A study in 2009 was conducted by the University College London with 96 volunteers. The volunteers who took part in the study were asked to choose a healthy eating, drinking or exercise behaviour that they would like to make into a habit. They were told to create a cue, such as eating a piece of fruit with lunch, drinking a bottle of water with lunch, or running for 15 minutes before dinner. Participants were asked to try to carry out the behaviour every day.
Results showed that the average time to form a habit was 66 days. More complex habits took longer and exercise habits took longer to form than a healthy eating or drinking habits. So, in a nutshell – it depends…. There is no fixed timeframe
Let’s take an example. Let’s say you want to start an exercise routine. Here is how you might approach this habit
Firstly what type of person are you? Take the Gretchen Rubin Test. Are you influenced by people? An Upholder or Obliger. Are you internally influenced? A Questioner or Rebel. This may dictate whether you workout in the gym or at home.
Once you determine this. You might decide to eat the frog and workout in the morning so you will need to set as many of the 5 category cues as possible:
- Time of day – 6 am
- Location – the gym
- Emotional state – put your favourite music on and get happy
- Other people – working out with a friend
- Preceding behaviour – wake up
- Cue – see points above
- Routine – get up at 6 am from now on
- Reward – if you work out for three days a week, book a massage or buy that new bag you have had your eye on.
Habit hacks to make the habit stick:
- Obvious – put your phone in the bathroom so you need to get out of bed to turn the alarm off
- Attractive – listen to music when you get up on your way to the gym
- Easy – have your gym gear out and ready to put on
- Satisfying – get a coffee at your favourite coffee shop at the end of your workout, meet new people
Try applying James Clear’s Atomic Habit hacks:
- Start by going to the gym for 10 minutes then work your way up in 1% increments to 30 minutes then break up your workout into a workout in the morning and a walk at night after work.
- When you get up, say, “I’m going to the gym to get fit and healthy for my body and mind”
Give it a go! Use these habit hacks to form a habit and make it stick and let me know how you go. I’d love to hear about it!