Why is it so hard to break bad habits and form good ones?
If you’re like me, you’ve tried all sorts of habit hacks and set out with good intentions, but two weeks later, you’re back to the old routines or have convinced yourself that you’ve just changed your mind about your goals anyway.
So what’s the problem? Why can’t we easily stick with a new behavior? Is it even possible for us to change our habits into better ones?
According to James Clear—a guru on habit building—forming new long-term habits is possible, and it’s actually quite simple.
Here’s how you can start building better habits today…
Recognize Your Habit Cycle
Habits don’t happen in a vacuum, they’re a response to an environment, and they hold a spot in a subconscious cycle that drives our decision-making without us even noticing. According to James Clear, becoming aware of this cycle is the first step in stopping bad habits and forming better ones.
Take a look at these four features of the habit cycle and how they apply to our daily lives.
- The Cue
Just like in a play, cues are those triggers that alert us to take an action. Our days are chock full of cues—like our phone buzzing, the dog standing by the door, our stomach growling, etc.
- The Craving
Ever heard of Pavlov’s dogs? In this famous experiment, Pavlov conditioned dogs to start drooling for food whenever he rang a bell. The ringing bell was the cue for the dogs that they were about to be fed. The bell triggered their craving for food, just like our buzzing phone makes us desire to know who liked one of our IG posts.
- The Response
Once our brains have been cued and that cue stimulates a craving, we respond by taking action to satisfy that craving. For example, when our phone buzzes (cue), it makes us want to check it (craving), so instead of focusing on our work, we stop what we’re doing and pick up our phone (response).
- The Reward
Responding to our cravings gives us a rewarding feeling. Once we take action to pick up our phones, we’re rewarded with a boost of good feelings when we see that someone liked our post. The reward gives us a sense of satisfaction, completing the habit cycle, and keeping us locked into that habit.
Rework Your Habit Cycle
So how do you start crafting a better habit?
Rather than working against the way we form habits, we can work within habit cycles to manipulate the outcome and make it better.
Clear gives us four guidelines that are critical when reworking your habit cycle to form good habits:
- Make It Obvious
First, set a cue for the habit you want to form and make that cue one you can’t ignore. For example, if you want to create a new habit of drinking enough water each day, your cue could be a large, pre-filled jar of water next to your toothbrush that you set up the night before. This obvious cue will make sure that you can’t forget that you’re trying to drink more water, and it will remind you first thing in the morning.
- Make It Attractive
Even if you set up a very obvious cue, it’s critical that the action you need to take is one that’s appealing to you. If you’re not drinking enough water because you can’t stomach the taste, make some adjustments that will make you desire to drink the water more. For example, you could add a squeeze of citrus fruit to make the experience more enjoyable.
- Make it Easy
Don’t make forming new habits harder on yourself. For the best chance of success, make sure that the response to your new habit is as easy as possible. Set yourself up for success by addressing any steps that would slow you down and stop you from completing your new habit. Continuing with our water example, you could make your water goal easier by filling up your water bottle and Brita the night before and leaving it on your bathroom or kitchen counter for the next day.
- Make It Satisfying
Some actions naturally give us a reward—like endorphins after a long run. If your habit doesn’t produce those good-feelings immediately on its own, give yourself an artificial reward that can tie to the action you took. After drinking a cup of water, you could give yourself a 5-minute break from work or, if you’re accomplishment-driven, use this habit tracker and enjoy the satisfaction of checking off a box with a pen in your favorite color.
Rinse and Repeat the Cycle
Breaking down our behaviors into these four elements and working with the habit cycle can be used to create all kinds of new behavior.
If you’ve been following along with my heart health series, you may be trying to break some old habits and form healthier ones. Try out Clear’s habit strategy along with this helpful habit tracker and see how much easier it is to include healthy fats, get some meditation in, or meet your daily activity requirements with these tools.
These habit cycles can apply to any part of your life as long as you follow the process and keep it simple when it comes to your new cue, craving, response, and reward.
Start Forming Healthier Habits Today!
It’s true—the things we do over and over consistently create progress in our lives.
What habits can you start today that will change your life for the better? How can you create a habit cycle that will ensure those habits stick?
Use James Clear’s habit framework, enjoy a free habit tracker on me, and see how easy forming a new habit can be. With these habit hacks in your back pocket, you can design your life to reach your goals.
If you’re looking for a team to come alongside you in the journey to forming new habits, may I suggest joining the next LEAN session or signing up for our weekly newsletter filled with helpful health tips and tricks.