A habit is defined as ‘a routine of behaviour that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously’. Sounds so simple but if you have ever tried to form a new habit it is astonishingly hard, especially after the initial flourish of enthusiasm has worn off. We know what we want to do and, even if we are committed to the outcome, it can prove impossible to sustain.
It’s not harsh to say that where you are at today is largely down to the culmination of the habits you have formed. But when it comes to replacing them forming new ones, things get tough. Research shows that a more than 40% of the decisions we take each day are done so on the basis of habit. In other words a large part of what we do, we do without even thinking about it.
What’s more, so entrenched can those habits become, that it can be difficult to separate the behaviour from reality. Add to that the torment of the ‘saboteur’, the inner voice whose role it is to maintain the status quo, things get even more challenging.
‘I can’t get up any earlier in the morning because I need at least 9 hours of sleep, otherwise I will be exhausted…’
‘I am so busy that it is impossible to find time to incorporate more exercise into the week..’
‘If I drink I have to eat carbs..’
‘I can’t get through the afternoon without chocolate – it gives me the energy boost I need’
‘As soon as I get stressed, I need a gin and tonic..’
Sound familiar? When you look at these things in the cold light of day you can see these deeply engrained habits for what they really are. You can apply logic and expose the flaws in the argument. Recognising this is the first step towards fixing them but there’s more to do.
Understanding the science behind how habits are formed can be really helpful in improving our chances of success, whether it be getting rid of habits we would rather do without or, indeed, sustaining new ones Here’s an interesting video with Charles Duhigg who wrote ‘The Power of Habit’:
5 step plan
So whether you are trying to change an existing habit or form new ones that will stay the course, here’s a 5 step plan:
- Separate myth from reality. Recognise what is really a habit irrespective of how you might try and convince yourself otherwise.
- Change the record. When trying to introduce a new habit, set asid any thoughts of having previously ‘failed’. Look forward, don’t look back. Believe that you can.
- Make it easy – don’t try and change the world overnight. Start with something small and do it consistently then add on. Tiny steps taken consistently are worth far more than bigger steps quickly abandoned.
- Cue – recognise the trigger for your behaviour and decide what you are going to do instead. When forming a new habit, set very clear cues and routines from the start.
- Reward – choose something that really matters (preferably one that doesn’t sabotage all the effort you have made!!) so that the pleasure chemicals in the brain will be released. This is important in helping the brain to associate pleasure to the activity you are asking it to do.
I’d love to know how you get on!