Creating Good Habits
I believe that most of us want to be the healthiest and best version of ourselves. It can sometimes be frustrating when we continue to do ‘bad’ habits when we don’t want to, and struggle to stick with our ‘good’ habits even when we know how important they are. This blog series aims to help you understand why this is the case, and to give you some useful tips for breaking those bad habits and sticking with the good ones. Today we will focus on creating good habits.
It’s important to know that the terms good and bad can mean different things for different people but for the sake of simplicity I will use them in this post.
Some tips for creating good habits…
1.Make it obvious
Often we are unaware of our habits, so you can start by writing them down and reflecting on whether they are a positive or negative habit. Once you have decided on the good habit you would like to implement, you need to be specific with it – “I will BEHAVIOUR at TIME in LOCATION”. This makes it clear and can be reinforced by writing it somewhere you will see it often and talking to others about it. You can also do this by designing your environment to have obvious cues; for example, putting your walking shoes next to the bed, or putting a fruit bowl on the table in a visible position. Another good trick is ‘habit stacking’, which means to pair a current habit you are doing with your new habit of choice. By associating it with something that is already an established habit, it will mean that you are more likely to follow through on your new habit.
2.Make it attractive
We are unmotivated by things that do not appear attractive, and there are a few strategies we can incorporate to help with this. It can be very powerful to immerse yourself in a culture or community where your desired behaviour is the normal behaviour. For example, at an exercise group class you will be surrounded by others who exercise and want to improve their health and wellbeing. If your friends and family do not drink alcohol, you are likely to find it much easier and more natural to do the same. Sometimes this isn’t always possible, and in these circumstances, you can use ‘temptation bundling’; this means to pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do. You might really enjoy watching a television show, but unmotivated to get on your exercise bike, so combining the two together might work well for you. You can also create a motivation ritual where you do something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit. This can increase the good feelings associated with your new habit.
3.Make it easy
We are often our own worst enemy and do not make things easy for ourselves when it comes to new habits. Be kind to yourself and reduce the number of steps between you and your good habit – this will make you so much more likely to follow through. You can also prime your environment through preparation to make future actions easier, such as by chopping up some vegetables or fruit to snack on or having your exercise gear by the bed for when you wake up in the morning. If you reflect on your behaviour, you will also notice that there is a decisive moment where we will either follow through on our habit, or resort back to old ways (i.e. get up and go for a walk, or press snooze on the alarm). It is so important to master these decisive moments; the more you optimise these small choices, the more your body will want to do this preferentially and you will deliver significant outcomes. Sometimes you may need to invest in technology or purchases that help to automate these habits and make them easier to complete.
Another trick is to use the ‘2-minute rule’ – this is where you downscale your habits until they can be done in 2 minutes or less. I’m sure we can all think of an occasion where the new habit seemed too enormous to complete and we opted not to do it. Downscaling helps to overcome this barrier. Let’s say you wanted to start exercising; try setting yourself a 2-minute timer for your activity of choice (it could be walking or skipping or anything you want!). You will get so much more benefit out of doing two minutes of exercise daily than you will by being inconsistent with one longer session. You may find that after some time you want to increase the duration, and if that’s the case, give yourself some bonus points! But remember to be kind to yourself and celebrate the success of the smaller chunks, because these chunks repeated consistently will have significant outcomes.
4.Make it satisfying
The challenge with a lot of good habits is that the rewards are often reaped in the long term and we might not get the same sense of immediate satisfaction as our bad habits. To overcome this, we need to intentionally use positive reinforcement, such as giving yourself a reward once you complete your habit. The type of reward you select is also important, as it needs to contribute to the outcomes you are trying to achieve (rewarding yourself with chocolate after a gym session can be a little counter-productive!). Instead, after your gym session or walk you might run yourself a relaxing bath, or you might put some money towards a new pair of shoes later down the track.
You can also use a habit tracker to monitor your progress. This can be something simple like some paper on your fridge where you get to tick off each time you complete your habit. Or, like the example above, a jar where you put a coin or button in each time you follow through. It can very satisfying when you keep a ‘habit streak’ and are motivated not to ‘break the chain’. When you do forget a habit, it is imperative that you never miss twice and get back on track immediately. If you miss once that’s okay and you can simply make it up the next day! This ensures that you don’t lose that satisfaction that you had previously worked to create.
Check out our post last week with tips for breaking bad habits if you want to learn more.
Accredited Exercise Physiologist
I learnt about habits and gathered the above information from the incredible book Atomic Habits by James Clear. If you want to learn more, I highly suggest you check it out: https://jamesclear.com/atomic-habits