I talk a lot about habit change.
So I figured I should write about the basics of how to change a habit.
This is something everyone should know how to do.
#1 Take Stock of Any Habits You Want to Change
Take a look around. What is it that you want to accomplish in your life?
Let’s say you want to lose weight.
What habits are getting in the way of that happening?
Write them down.
It’s generally a good idea to start with the habit that is easiest to change.
This is especially true if you are not used to consciously changing habits.
#2 Have the Desire to Change
Where there’s a will there’s a way.
You have got to want it.
Your brain relies on habits all day long. That means your brain is wired to perpetuate a habit.
If you are used to being sedentary your brain is going to fight you when you start to be more active. It’s just the way it is.
So it is vital that you really, really want to make that change.
Definitely thinking about what your “whys” are is really important here. Make a list of all the reasons that you want to make that change.
Make sure you want it!
#3 Understand the Elements of a Habit
All habits have 4 elements and they are:
- Cue (aka trigger)
Once you know this, it makes habit change much easier.
A cue is a physical or mental trigger that signals to your brain that it’s time to engage in the habit. It could be the smell or sight of brownies. It could the time of day. It could be an emotional trigger.
Once you are exposed to the cue your brain creates a craving.
This is a strong drive to engage in the behavior (aka routine).
So for example, you see the brownies that you always eat and you immediately want to eat them. Even if you are trying to eat less sugar.
After that, you usually will engage in the behavior, which is the routine.
In this example, that means you eat the brownie!
And then there is a reward of some kind. Maybe you feel satisfied.
Often the reward is just the brain’s relief that the routine behavior has been fulfilled.
#4 Observe the Elements of Your Habit
Now that you know the elements around all habits, you can apply this to the habit you want to change.
Let’s say you want to stop eating at night.
First, you have to think about what cue is causing you to do this.
For me, with my longtime nighttime eating habit the cue was that the kids were asleep and I was ready to relax and watch TV or read.
So as soon as that occurred my brain screamed, “time to eat!”
That was the craving.
Then, I would eat. That was the routine.
As for the reward?
Well, I think I just felt some kind of satisfaction or relief that I was able to “relax alone without anyone bothering me”.
For me it was very helpful to write down the elements of the habit. It wasn’t enough to just think about it, I had to write it down. I suggest you do the same.
So, for any habit that you want to stop first you need to understand what is going on before you can address the change.
But let’s say you want to start a new habit.
You then need to create a new cue, craving, routine, and reward.
Maybe you want to go to the gym.
The new cue could be to put your gym clothes on in the morning. Or you could leave your gym clothes and sneakers on a chair in your room so you see them first thing in the morning. Maybe the cue would be a text from a friend saying, “get to the gym!”
Then you have to start the routine. You will have to do this for a while before you get the craving. Sorry.
The routine will be to get your butt to the gym.
The key here is to make the change in routine very small! It may be that you go to the gym for 5 minutes. That’s okay! Start small! This makes the whole thing much more manageable and agreeable.
I mean this! This is probably the most crucial part of making a change in habits, YOU MUST MAKE THE CHANGE IN ROUTINE TINY, TINY, SMALL, EASY, TINY, EASY!
Make it so small and tiny you can’t talk yourself out of it. Okay!?
Make it so small and tiny and easy that you find it ridiculous. That is where the magic is.
How can I not go to the gym for 5 minutes? I’d have to be crazy not to, I’ll just go. But I have to leave after 5 minutes or else. Yes, it’s silly, but it works!
I have had several clients start with a short walk around their house that eventually moved on to the gym and in time to working out 4-5 times a week regularly. Don’t underestimate those small changes.
What about the reward?
Well, again satisfaction can work.
But as you are building a new habit you might want to give yourself small rewards each time you go.
Just make sure the reward is not some other bad habit like eating a cookie!
It could be you get to listen to your favorite podcast or watch your favorite TV show, or you text a friend that you went and they respond with “great job!”
#5 Start to Change. Slowly!
In the beginning, it will require some willpower to make these changes.
As far as I know, there is no way around this.
But this is why you want to make that change so tiny you barely notice it.
I like to put it this way:
Make a BIG change in the CUE
Make a TINY change in the ROUTINE
Make an ALLURING change in the REWARD
Take is slowly.
Think of it this way, if you have tried to change a habit many times in the past and have failed, that means you have probably gone about it the wrong way. Usually people are not thinking about cues and rewards and they just go for a big change in the routine.
This usually doesn’t work. And people suffer.
They suffer by using a lot of willpower. They force themselves to make a big change. And then when willpower fails (which it always does at one point or another) they start to slip.
It’s easy to fall back into a bad habit when you feel that the new habit is SO. MUCH. WORK.
So, you go through all that effort only to go back to your old ways.
That’s no fun!
If you change slowly, almost so slowly that it’s imperceptible, it will take longer BUT you will only have to do it once!
The longer you engage in the new habit and the MORE CONSISTENTLY you engage in the new habit, the more ingrained it will become.
And then the need for willpower is reduced to none or very little. And then you actually crave engaging in that habit! This is a heavenly place to be!
So when you do slip up (which you will and that’s part of the process) you can more easily go back to the desired habit because it is more ingrained and it didn’t feel like a lot of work to get there.
This is how our brains work!
Try this out and let me know how it goes!