What is a Habit Anyway?
There are different definitions of what a habit is. But for me, the most useful one is this: A habit is a "fairly" automatic response to conditions and events.” Automatic meaning that you are not making a conscious decision every time the conditions are met. An excellent example is stairs vs elevator.
Some of you will face this decision almost every day. And you probably made your mind a long time ago, when you decided that you will use the elevator or the stairs. And whichever your decision was. You are probably not thinking about it every single time you do it again.
If you take the stairs on the way up your house, and you've been doing it for a couple of months. You don't even think about it any more. You just take the stairs. In the other hand, if you take the elevator. You don't decide of what to do. You just press that button and wait.
The Habits Control You:
If you want to see what I mean by automatic, there is a simple experiment you can do that will make you realize how a habit control your more than you think. If you have any social media that you use regularly in your phone (pick the one that you use the most). It could be YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. It doesn't matter. What you are going to do is modify its position on your phone.
What will happen is that your fingers will automatically try to open the app, without even your permission. And you'll have this strange feeling of, why I'm even clicking here? Right before you remember that there used to be an app here. This will show you, how once the habit is in place, you are not in control anymore.
Structure of a habit
The trigger, the routine and the reward.
The trigger is the set of conditions that will start the routine. It can be a combination of time, temperature, mood, place, company, imagery, sounds... For example, seeing a chocolate bar while being hungry in the evening.
The routine is the behaviour that you are going to carry on after a trigger has been activated. For example, picking up the chocolate bar and eating it.
The reward is the sensation that you get after completing the routine. You feel full, and you get a sugar rush after finishing the chocolate bar.
Good Habits vs Bad Habits
There is no such thing as a "bad" habit. They are just habits. We consider a "bad" habit those habits that doesn't make our goals easier but harder.
A "good" habit would be a habit that aligns with what you want. Playing chess for a couple of hours every day would be considered a "good" habit if you are trying to strengthen your skills. But if you are trying to get a career, and you neglect studying to play chess, then it would not be considered a "good" habit anymore.
How to Create Habits
Identify a Good Trigger. If you want to start a habit, the first steep is identify what the triggers are going to be. There are cases where you cannot really choose. For example, if you want to start walking up the stairs instead of taking the elevator, the trigger in this case, is every time you get close to a stair.
There are some cases where you can choose what the trigger is going to look like. For example, if you want to start going to the gym, you could choose any hour of the day to go. Because of this you have more control over what the trigger is going to look like.
For example, if you decide that you want to go to the gym first thing in the morning. Maybe putting your clothes and everything you need next to your door is the perfect trigger. Every time you see it you start the "routine" which in this case will be putting your clothes on and going to the gym.
If you decide that you want to go after working (and you are remote working from your house) maybe a good trigger is the moment you turn off the laptop + your clothes next to the place you work. So, every time you turn off the laptop after working you will put on the clothes and go to the gym.
Planing a Good Response or Routine is Essential. One of the most important steps are planing what are the first steps you take, and what are the last. Let's keep going with the example of going to the gym first thing in the morning.
If you want to plan what your response is, you could write down something like this: Every morning after waking up (trigger) I will find my clothes and go to the gym.
But that is not very specific, the start of the routine seem very hard (going all the way to the gym) and the clothes are not even available, creating a lot of resistance. Instead, what about something like this: Every morning after waking up, I will look at my clothes (trigger) which are going to be perfectly prepared next to my door. I will put on the gym clothes and leave the house.
Now let me ask you a question. How much easier does it sound to put on your gym clothes and leave the house, rather than going all the way to the gym? A lot. But the funny thing is that once you've left the house, you'll most likely go to the gym anyway. It just sounds easier.
Create a Reward, Enjoy the Feeling of Accomplishment. It may sound silly. But right after you've finished the routine, take a second to appreciate and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment you'll feel. Be proud of it. This will help you strengthen the habit.
There are some activities that will have an excellent reward. For example, if you cook healthy, you'll feel great after eating, if you call family members and have a good conversation, you'll feel happy afterwards.
It doesn't matter if the activity has and a reward or not, you want to at least feel happy and proud after doing it.
You Were Not Born Yesterday
Now, you didn't get born yesterday, which means that you have probably over a thousand of big and small habits. So, what would be very useful for you is not only knowing how to create new habits, but how to modify or eliminate them, so now I'm going to cover some different actions you can take, and then you can combine them at your will to suit your situation.
How to Play Around with Habits
Eliminate the Trigger
If you want to stop doing something, eliminating the trigger could be the easiest way. The problem is that the trigger could just be a thought. And of course, you cannot control every single thing you think. The same way you can't prevent thinking about a pink elephant right now... Just don't think about it! Come on! Stop thinking about the pink elephant.
But there are other things you do have control over. For example, if you want to stop eating chocolate, don't buy it. This will make it, so you don't see it around your house, and so you won’t now have such a clear trigger.
Change the Routine
This is a fairly simple concept, if you want to stop snoozing your alarm. Every time the alarm goes off, stand up instead of snoozing it. And to this, you might think "well, no s**t Sherlock". But here is the thing, this is what you have to do.
But, lucky us, there are a couple of things you can do to make this transition easier. What you are looking for is resistance or friction.
Make the Routine Impossible. This is the best-case scenario, but it's quite impossible to make anything impossible (pun intended). A good example would be, if your elevator works with a key, and you want to start using the stairs instead of the elevator, throw the key away.
Now every time the trigger comes, you have two decisions, use the stairs or figure out how to get another key to go up. Now, not surprisingly at all, the routine that is the good one, is as well the easiest. The good thing is that after a couple of months, the habit will get in place, so any other time you could actually take the elevator, now you take the stairs automatically.
Make the Routine Harder. Sometimes throwing things away is not really the best strategy. If you want to use your phone less, throwing it away all the time, is probably not that smart. But what you can do, is turn it off and hide it in the closet.
Do you want to stop snoozing the alarm? Deactivate the option, and put the phone far away from the bed. Now choosing the routine of standing up doesn't seem as hard, what other option do you have anyway?
Make the Routine Easier. Don't forget, we don't only want to make the bad routine harder, we want to make the new routine easier.
Do you want to start eating fruits more often? Buy a huge fruit holder and put it in the middle of the kitchen with many fruits.
Do you want to drink more water? Buy a good water-bottle and have it around the house.
Eliminate the Reward.
This one is probably the most complicated. And you will be better off focusing on the other two strategies. But for example, you may want to stop eating chocolate. What you can do is buy chocolate, but the real one, the 99.9% one. Now, you'll see it around your house (trigger), you will eat a piece (routine) but the sweet flavour (reward) will be long gone, replace with a face of disgust.
Find the Right Combination
If you never have thought about any of this. Now you will be much better prepare to face any change you want to do. Use the combination of creating and modifying habits in a way that best fits your goals.
Now as always, for those people who support this by subscribing you can vote for a bonus blog of the topic (it will be available this week, just for subscribers)
Well, congratulations if you've read all the way until here, you have the tools to change your life. Now it comes the hard part and actually used them.
Before you go I want to recommend two books if you want to go deeper into this topics
- The Power of Habits
- Atomic Habits
And a three minutes YouTube video I've always liked.