4 Steps to Building Positive Habits
Time can seem like your enemy when you don’t know how to manage it. We can all agree, the way we use our time is heavily impacted by our daily habits. So what can we do to build better habits and improve the quality of our lives?
Many people will quote you 60 days of consistency to build/break a habit, but many studies and writings have proven this to be untrue. Studies show that there are 4 basic steps to building a new habit.
Before we talk about these 4 steps, here is a useful exercise for you to find out what your habits are and how you spend your time:
The “habits scorecard” is a simple exercise you can use to become more aware of your behaviors and habits. You may perform this exercise by making a list of your daily habits. If it is a good habit, write “+” next to it. If it is a bad habit, write “–”. If it is a neutral habit, write “=”
Check social media -
Wake up =
Press snooze -
Walk Dog +
Drink water +
How to create a good habit
The 1st Step (Cue): Make it obvious:
When we analyze our daily habits we may think of things like checking our phones, having coffee in the morning, watching TV before bed, etc. The law of making it obvious simply means “in sight, in mind.” We have automatic coffee makers, TV’s in our bedrooms, and charging stations right next to our beds, making these habits extremely obvious, and most of all CONVENIENT!
This can be used to build a new positive habit. For example, leaving a glass of water on our nightstand before bed can make drinking water before we have coffee in the morning much easier. Putting a hamper in our bathroom where we always undress or by the door where we take off our shoes can make keeping the house clean easier. Setting out our clothes for the next day before bed can make being on time easier. Setting a recurring alarm on our phones to sign up for our gym classes on Zen Planner can make us more likely to be consistent with our workouts. ;)
Another way to make building a new habit more obvious is with “Habit Stacking.” This means pairing two habits together to make cueing the action even easier to remember.
“While I am driving to work, I will say 3 positive things about myself.”
“Immediately after I take off my work shoes, I will put on my work out clothes.”
“I will not have coffee until AFTER I have 16oz of water.”
“While waiting for the microwave to go off, I will clean as much as I can in the kitchen.”
The 2nd law (Craving): Make it attractive.
The key concept to making new habits irresistible is this; dopamine is not only released when pleasure is experienced, but also when it is anticipated. Meaning, when you predict that an opportunity will be rewarding, your levels of dopamine spike in anticipation. When dopamine rises, so does your motivation to act. The brain has far more neural circuitry allocated for wanting rewards than for liking them.
Thus, we need to make our habits attractive because it is the expectation of a rewarding experience that motivates us to act in the first place.
So how can we make habits more tempting?
“Temptation Bundling” works by linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do.
Example: You want to play video games, but you need to do laundry. Using temptation bundling, you can only play video games if you have done 1 load of laundry. To make it even more attractive and attainable, you can quantify this action by saying, when I fold one load of clean laundry, I will be allowed to play one ranked match with my friends
Join a culture/community where (1) your desired behavior is the normal behavior and (2) you already have something in common with the group.
As psychology tells us, humans are social creatures and we tend to adopt the characteristics and habits of the people around us. Culture dictates which habits are desirable and praised. Since we have a strong desire to be approved of and to fit in, this culture dictates which habits we will adopt.The normal behavior of the group often overpowers the desired behavior of the individual. Most days, we’d rather be wrong with the group than be right by ourselves. If a behavior can get us approval, respect, and praise, we find it attractive.
You’ve heard it before, you become the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with, so take a look around you and see if your community supports the habits you would like to build and make changes accordingly.
The 3rd law (Response): Make it easy.
The basic concept behind taking action in changing your habits, or actually following through with performing the habit after cue and craving, is that humans are so focused on the best/simplest approach, they never actually get around to taking action. To quote Volitare, a famous French philosopher, “The best is the enemy of the good.”
If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection. You simply need to keep repeating the habit, it does not have to be perfect every time for it to get done. Each time you repeat an action, you are activating a particular neural circuit associated with that habit, thus just doing the action itself consistently means you are taking the only critical step to creating a positive new habit. Practice makes perfect.
Another way to make a new habit easy is by using the Two Minute Rule. This rule states that when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to complete. Start small by mastering the simplest version of a behavior, in a way that can be completed in two minutes or less. For example, if your goal is to lose 30lbs, but you live a sedentary lifestyle with minimal exercise, start by completing 20 crunches per day, or whatever you can complete in two minutes. Then you may advance to a more intermediate step and repeat the process, focusing on just the first two minutes and mastering that stage, before moving on to the next level.
The 4th law (Reward): Make it satisfying.
“What is rewarded is repeated. What is punished is avoided.”
The human brain has evolved to prioritize immediate rewards over delayed rewards. This means, we are more likely to repeat a behavior when the experience is satisfying. To get a habit to become second nature, you need to feel immediately successful, even if it’s in a small way. The first three laws of behavior change, (make it obvious, make it attractive, and make it easy,) increase the odds that a behavior will be performed now. The fourth law of behavior change (make it satisfying) increases the odds that a behavior will be repeated again.
Even when a behavior is performed “incorrectly/ imperfectly,” or if a day is missed, punishing oneself is the enemy of creating new habits. It is important to “reward” yourself for completing a new behavior. Simply doing something is huge! This reward could be something as simple as making a big black mark off of your to-do list, or giving yourself a gold star, or watching an extra 10 minutes of your favorite show. Even if our initial motive of doing the habit is to get the reward, eventually we are programmed to feel rewarded just from doing the task itself, thus creating a new habit that is second nature because we want to do it.
Author: Dominique Nevarez