How To Start A Good Habit
Do you even notice your habits (good and bad**)?
Would you like to add some new habits to your life?
Why would you? According to James Clear in his book 'Atomic Habits', you add a habit to solve a problem.
Say you want to attend a fancy spa weekend with a friend. But you don’t have enough money. To solve this problem you get into the habit of putting $10 a week into a savings account. Making sure you take this little action weekly is more effective than just having a goal of saving $500.
Often, however, you don’t consciously add the habit. You simply subconsciously learn over time that doing a certain something achieves a certain outcome. And you repeat it because you like the outcome. Like Pavlov's dogs learned that hearing a bell was good because it meant that food was coming.
For example, you walk in the door after work, feeling a bit tense. Has your body learned that opening the fridge and pouring a glass of wine helps it to relax? Or has it maybe learned that putting on your trainers and going for a 10-minute run helps it to relax? Which of these options is easier to do? The wine. Which one will help you more in the long run? The run.
But ‘the long run’ is a tricky way to ingrain a new habit. Humans do love a bit of instant gratification. My goal of losing 10 kilos by the end of the year (this has been my goal for TEN years and has never been achieved) is immediately forgotten if a slice of cake is placed in front of me (which it often is, as my brain has learned that when I’m at the café counter my habitual order always consists of coffee AND cake).
So how do we make the more beneficial option become our go-to?
The author’s advice to starting and maintaining a new behaviour that is beneficial for you goes along these lines: It has to be Obvious, Attractive, Easy and Satisfying.
1 – You need to make it OBVIOUS. Use cues to invoke the behaviour you want. So if want to fit that 10 minute run (see #3 about this) into your day, don't leave your trainers in the back of the cupboard - put them at the door before you go to work. That way they’re the first thing you see when you get home. Just put them on and get it done instead of tripping over them! You soon won’t even be aware that your brain has paired the habit of opening the front door after work with putting on your shoes for a run. You’ve just established a no-nonsense, time-saving shortcut for keeping fit.
2 – Make it ATTRACTIVE. The anticipation of a fairly instant reward is what motivates us to take action. The quick trick here is to pair an action you need to do with an action you want to do. Like bundling two habits together as a package deal. One habit is like the reward that motivates you to take action. So you might pair your run with a post-run shower listening to your favourite songs. I need to get up from my desk and do more stretching and movement. So my stretching time is paired with watching a favourite programme (it's The Great British Bake Off - cake again!).
3 – Make it EASY. He also advises that you don’t choose a big long-term goal (even though that is what you will end up achieving with tiny daily improvements), you just add little changes to your life that are easy to maintain. The more energy and effort required, the less likely you are to keep it up.
For example with the running: To believe ‘I’m a Runner’ you don't have to run 5km in your first week. You'll probably end up pulling a muscle and having to sit out the next week! All you have to do to start a habit that will stick, is run a couple of minutes a day. In fact you can simply make your new habit be to put on your running shoes and walk to the end of the drive. And remember, make it easy by leaving your running shoes at the door. And do it every day. Muscle memory. Your brain learns that you do this every day. It’s part of who you are. You’re an athletic person who runs!
It’s also best (and kind of obvious when you think about it) to pick a habit that aligns with your personality and existing skills). For example, with my vertically-challenged stature it wouldn’t be a great idea to decide that I’m going to join a basketball team and practise shooting 10 hoops a day. That just wouldn't be satisfying ...
4 – Make it SATISFYING. You want to feel satisfied immediately after you’ve performed your new habit in order to increase the chances of you doing it again. This is the one I struggle with.
Yes, I do believe that if I choose to eat a salad instead of cake I should have the satisfaction of immediately lose 2 kilos!
So to give yourself a signal that you’re doing great, sticking to your habit and making progress, he suggests keeping a Habit Tracker. Simply mark an X on the calendar for every day you perform your habit. Missing one day happens to all of us. Make it a plan to never miss two in a row.
** This is another point James Clear makes – there are no such things as Good and Bad Habits, rather are they effective or not at helping you be who/what you want to be?
For example, I would like to be someone who writes blogs more frequently. Does my habit of scrolling through Facebook for 15 minutes each time I sit at the computer help me be a better writer? Highly doubtful!!
So, using the opposite approach to gaining a new habit, to get rid of this habit I have to make it LESS obvious and LESS easy to hop onto Facebook. I should shut the tab down. And only open it up once I’ve written an entire blog. Perhaps for the cake one I need to meet a friend at the café with only $5 cash. Leave my purse at home. That way I simply can’t buy the cake!
To find out more about introducing new effective habits and removing the habits that aren't serving you well, head to www.jamesclear.com.
PS – I’ve just remembered WHY I thought about writing a blog about habits in the first place. One of the habits that I found extremely easy to start and maintain is using my Magnesium Oil Spray every night. And I got into this habit using the Atomic Habits method, even though I hadn't read the book then.
I started using it to solve a problem – I wanted to sleep better. The nights I remembered to use it, I slept better. If I had a bad sleep I’d usually realise the next day that I’d forgotten to use the magnesium.
So I made it Obvious by storing it on my bedside table. And I made it Easy by putting the bottle on my pillow as soon as I got up in the morning, so I had no choice but to pick up the bottle when getting into bed at night. The Attractive part is that it takes only 10 seconds to apply. The Satisfying part is that I know I’m going to sleep well. The habit is now second nature. And if I'm going to be away from home overnight, I automatically pop the bottle in my bag and make sure it goes on the bedside table wherever I'm staying.
If you've stumbled upon this blog and you're in New Zealand and would like to try Magnesium Oil in your daily bedtime routine, please take a look at our mag oils and feel welcome to use code BLOG for 20% off.