Despite how hard won some personal habits feel, it can be surprisingly easy to acquire new ones.
First, let’s define “habit” as a behavior pattern established by frequent repetition that shows up regularly and, often, involuntarily. We all have them, the mindless glance at a smartphone when it alerts, or turning on TV right after supper, habits we’d like to change.
So, let’s dissect a habit. There are 3 components: 1-a “cue”, or trigger that tells your brain to go into autopilot and engage the behavior; 2- a “routine” which is the behavior itself; and 3 – the “reward”, the reason you’re motivated and how your brain encodes the behavior. Let’s call that the “cookie”. There’s a cookie in every habit that will trigger the brain to crave it. For grins, here’s a fun graphic.
And to be clear, we’re not talking pathology. If a habit you’d like to change includes drug, alcohol, sex, gambling, or myriad other addictions, you’re wise to seek professional help. That also goes for stalking your ex, shoplifting, and, well, you get the gist. Let’s look at new habits to improve your life.
Despite the fact that new habits take time to form and imprint, these three steps will work to effect the change you desire now.
Just for Today
Every journey begins with a single step. Commit to short term goals. For example, to build exercise into your life, “just for today” walk or jog for 15 minutes before breakfast. This process keeps expectations manageable, and if a day is missed, it’s easier to get back on track. This also habituates small successes.
Piggyback an existing habit
When you practice a new behavior right after an existing habit you strengthen it by virtue of association. Commit to jog or walk immediately after you meditate, or, brush your teeth. Tug on your running shoes mindful of the ease of your new habit.
Self-talk is powerful. We truly do become what we think about, how we see ourselves, and what we tell ourselves. So congratulate yourself, aloud or silently, “Atta girl!” “Way to go!” “Look at you!” We’re far more likely to create repetition, form new habits, when we validate our joy and success.
This simple process makes no room for judgement or harsh self-criticism or daunting goals. Rather, it’s anchored in reality. Today is the only “place” or experience that’s real. Yesterday’s history, tomorrow’s a mystery, but today is brand new. Today offers limitless possibilities. Why not choose one small new way to live it well?