The definition of the word Habit is simple: an action you do frequently and automatically in response to something in your environment.
Habits aren’t necessarily something you do every day, but they are frequently recurring behaviors. To be a habit, an action needs to:
- Occur regularly
- Be cued by a situation or something in your environment
- Occur without thought
This means something becomes a habit when you don’t have to think about it, such as brushing your teeth or looking both ways before you cross the street.
There have been many studies on the psychology of habits, and their findings vary, but all agree on one thing – start out small. Don’t try to overhaul your life in a week. Choose one small, tangible thing that you want to change and put all your focus into it. For example, if you want to improve the quality of your diet, focus on adding a fruit or vegetable to each meal instead of completely changing how you eat overnight.
Tapped with this knowledge, we’ve pulled together the top three ways to create new habits.
Behavior Chain Method
In the behavior chain method, you add a new behavior into, or directly after, an existing chain.
Let’s say you want to drink more water throughout the day. One way to do this is to add it into a chain of behavior that already exists.
- Get out of bed, brush teeth, drink a glass of water
- Drink coffee, eat breakfast, drink a glass of water
- Mid-afternoon break, healthy snack, drink a glass of water
If you build this new habit into something you are already doing each day, it will be easier to do it later without having to give it extra thought.
With this method you simply pick a trigger behavior (the “if”) and add an action (the “then”). Examples might be:
- If I brush my teeth, then I will floss
- If I finish my workout, then I will treat myself to a protein shake
This method includes taking something you WANT to do and matching it with something you SHOULD do. For example, you should be more active during the day, but all you really want to do is read a good book. This is where bundling habits comes in. Try doing that thing you should be doing while doing that thing you want to be doing such as creating a rule to listen to an audiobook on your daily walk. This way, next time you take a walk, you’re getting the enjoyment of hearing a good book while benefitting from the daily activity. Here are a few more habit bundles to try:
- Fold laundry or iron while watching your nightly Netflix show.
- Get a pedicure while tackling overdue emails.
- Write in your gratitude journal while enjoying your morning cup of coffee.
How long does it take to form a habit?
The simple answer is it depends. It depends on the habit you are creating and your ability to control your immediate environment. A daily habit may only take a month, but a weekly habit many take many months to master.
If you focus on choosing the right small actions, building the right environment, and using the right small rewards, the habits you build will be stronger and develop faster.
This article first appeared in the September 2019 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.