Update January 30, 2019
Don’t let your habits be your handcuffs.” –Elizabeth Berg
Habits are a central aspect of our lives; we all live with habits to some extent. Some of them are good, some are not so good (maybe for some people)–like chocolate covered macadamia nuts. Consistent repetition leads to habit formation. We don’t even have to think about doing them, it just happens. Keep in mind that this applies to both positive and negative behavior. In this article, we’ll discuss the advantages of being on autopilot, the inverse relationship between willpower and habit, and 8 simple hacks to building new habits.
Being on Autopilot
According to a study from Duke University, 45 percent of our behaviors are governed by habit. In the morning it is automatic for me to brush my teeth. I really don’t have to think about it because the daily activity has been turned into a habit. A study conducted by UCLA found a connection between our autopilot ability and stress. It discovered that we’re especially prone to falling into habitual behaviors when we’re stressed. Why does stress affect us in this way? When stressed, we’re less inclined to calculate a decision, so we resort to our habits which are pre-programmed into our daily life. If you often find yourself eating a bag of potato chips or smoking more when stressed, chances are they are habitual behaviors.
The Inverse Relationship Between Habits & Willpower
It’s hard to keep up willpower for any length of time. Yes, we can stick to a low-fat 1,000 calorie diet and go hungry for a week or two, but eventually our willpower fades. But what about brushing our teeth or going to work every day. Those activities may not be our favorite things to do, but we do them daily without the risk of running out of willpower. That’s because they have become habits. They are so ingrained in what we do and who we are that we do them without even considering skipping a day or a week. We don’t have to make a conscious decision each day to shower or drive to work. It’s just what we do – a habit.
When you start to think about it, there is an inverse relationship between habits and will power. When you first want to build a new habit, it takes a lot of will power to get it done day in and day out. As you start to establish that habit, it becomes easier and easier to do until you don’t even have to think about it anymore. Just being aware of this process helps us stick it out.
Mini Habits to Strengthen Willpower
Willpower is fantastic, but it doesn’t seem that way when we’re first exercising it. The main threats to our willpower are effort, perceived difficulty and fatigue. According to the book Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results (2014), by Stephen Guise, picking a simple goal eliminates any perceptions of difficulty and is hardly daunting enough to make you feel fatigued. In other words, mini habits builds confidence and further strengthens willpower and propels your forward momentum to achieve your goal.
Benefits of Mini Habits
Guise also stated that mini habits provide you with the unique opportunity to experience success – rather than failure – several times a day. When you set goals that you can easily fulfill, you’ll feel great, no matter how minor your achievements were.
Mini habits are also great at making you feel like you’re in control. Humans hate the feeling of being out of control, or worse, being controlled by others. We like to make our own decisions, which is what makes us happiest. A Denmark survey revealed that up to 90 percent of all employees are much happier when they have control over their own work and can make executive decisions.
8 Simple Hacks to Build New Habits
Getting into the habit of doing something is often easier said than done. We seem to acquire bad habits without any effort, but getting into a “good” habit can be a little more challenging. Let’s break habit formation down into an 8-step process that makes it easy to follow until we’ve internalized the new behavior and made it a true habit – something we do automatically without having to think about, like brushing our teeth.
- Decide What to Do
Decide what you want that new habit to be. Be as specific as possible. Don’t just tell yourself you want to exercise more. Instead say something like “I will go for a 30 minute walk every single day”. Deciding what your new habit will be and committing to when and how you’re going to do it, is half the battle.
- Schedule It
Sometimes we forget to do that new thing we were trying. Maybe we forget that we’re supposed to be having eggs for breakfast instead of a stack of waffles, or that we need to get that daily walk in. Schedule your new habits or make them part of your daily to-do list until they become something you do automatically.
3. Be Accountable
Let family and friends know what new habits you’re trying to establish. They will call you out if you don’t stick to your plan and get you back on track. You may even go as far as sharing it publicly on Facebook or write a blog about your new journey. Knowing that others read it and know about it might be just enough to keep you going when you feel like throwing in the towel.
4. Make It a Group Challenge
If one accountability partner is good, a whole group is even better. And they don’t even need to be local. Find a supportive group online and challenge each other to stick to your new habit for the next 30 days or so. Not wanting to be the first one to give up will keep all of you going until you establish that new habit.
5. Find A Partner and Help Each Other Along
Find someone with the same or similar goal. This could be a workout partner or a diet buddy. Keep tabs on each other and encourage each other to keep going. It’s much harder to skip a walk if you know someone else is depending on you being there.
6. Piggyback on A Current Habit
Whenever possible, add the new habit to one you already have. For example, if you fix a cup of tea or coffee at 4pm, and you want to get in the habit of taking a daily walk, make the new ritual to go for your walk and then come back and enjoy your tea. It’s much easier to amend an existing habit or ritual than creating an entirely new one.
7. Make Slipups Costly
Here’s a fun idea. Put a jar on the kitchen counter and each time you slip back into your bad habit or forget to stick to the new one you have to put five dollars in the jar. It will quickly help you remember to skip that sugary food and motivate you to go out for that walk. For extra motivation donate the money to charity at the end of the month or hand it over to your spouse to go spend on him or herself.
8. Record Your progress
A psychological study conducted in 2013 demonstrated that all thoughts have a stronger presence in your mind when you write them down. New apps such as Lift or Habit Streak Plan are perfect for helping you document your habits, or you can go for the old-school approach and use a big calendar to monitor your progress.
The Benefit of a Routine
Spending a little bit of time creating habitual routines will make your day run a lot smoother. You might just find yourself less stressed and get more done during your productive hours. And that’s a beautiful thing. It allows you to save plenty of decision making for the fun stuff like figuring out what park to go to, what family movie to watch or what board game to play.
Implement some routines into your workday wherever possible. Meal planning helps you figure out what meals to fix and eat. A cleaning schedule makes sure you stay on track with your household chores without you having to spend any valuable decision-making skills in the process. Wrap your day up with a bedtime routine that not only helps when you’re too tired to make smart choices, it also helps you fall asleep more easily.
Call to Action:
Interested in developing a mini habit but you’re not sure of ideas? Check out http://minihabits.com/mini-habit-ideas. After you have selected your habits, commit to performing them for a week or two and pay attention to your improvements!