Developing new habits

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Every New Year, millions of people all over the world make new year resolutions. As another New Year rolls by, it most likely means it may be time for you to decide on or pick a New Year’s resolution. Many of us make resolutions but eventually, we fail to keep them.

We need to realize that all resolutions are a function of our habits so, if you have ever made a resolution that required building a healthy or productive habit, but you failed to follow through with it, it was because you failed to build your new habit on the pillar of behavior change. These are the habits that must be obvious, easy, attractive, and satisfying. These pillars constitute the Four Laws of behavior change. Failing at any one of these laws means you’ll fail to adopt a new habit or behavior and ultimately your resolution fails.

It’s like you tried to develop a new exercise habit, but you didn’t create an obvious cue to start your exercise routine each day; like seeing a reminder on your phone. You will probably forget about working out and you just continue with your regular routine. Or if your exercise routine feels like a difficult multi-step process, like finding gym clothes, finding shoes, driving to the gym, changing to gym clothes, reserving an exercise machine, adjusting the settings, showering, entering return traffic; then the process wasn’t easy enough for you to do consistently.

If going to the gym seems like punishment, and you didn’t enjoy the actual experience of working out, then it is not attractive enough for you to stick with it. And if on a day-to-day basis, you got more satisfaction from sitting on the sofa after a long day at work and watching your favorite TV show, than working out, then the act of working out isn’t satisfying enough to pull you away from the TV.

If you fall into the situation I just mentioned, I will like to recommend two powerful strategies that can make every new habit obvious, easy, attractive, and satisfying so that you can become a happier and more productive person in the New Year.

The first strategy for developing a new habit is to stack and start. You have probably used habit stacking to build new habits without realizing it. As a child, after using the toilet, your parents will ask if you have flushed the toilet and washed your hand? They have inevitably helped you stack the habit of flushing the toilet with the habit of washing your hands. Flushing the toilet became the cue for your handwashing habit. Habit stacking is using an old reliable daily habit like using the toilet as the trigger for a new habit.

Because you have used the reliable daily habit of flushing the toilet as a cue to wash your hands, every time you flush the toilet you put your hands to the sink to wash your hands. Soon your brain learns that after flushing the toilet, means you should wash your hands. Now flushing and hand washing are one unit in your mind, and that forms one whole habit stack.

When you stack a new habit to an existing habit, you use the momentum of the old habit to make the new habit easier to initiate. Think of it as riding a bike down one hill in order to build up enough speed to get up the second hill without pedaling.

If the hill of your new habit is too daunting, however, the momentum you got from your old habit won’t be enough. That’s why you need to reduce your new habit to an easy starting ritual.

The trick is, instead of focusing on an entire routine of a new behavior, just focus on the starting ritual of that behavior. The starting ritual is the minimum number of steps you need to execute, which makes it easier to proceed with the rest of your new routine. Almost all starting rituals can be completed in two minutes or less. If you spend two minutes picking a book off the shelf and reading one page before bed, you’ll find that you’ll suddenly have the energy to read a few more pages and maybe finish a chapter.

Here’s how you can use habit stacking and a starting ritual to build a new habit. First, leverage your old habit as the cue for your new habit. If you complete an easy starting ritual, the rest of the ritual will take care of itself. Because after you have successfully committed to the starting ritual, the thought of turning around will look silly. At this moment you’ll be more motivated to continue what you were doing and proceed with the rest of your routine than to give up.

Stacking and starting make the cue for a new behavior obvious and it makes the requirements of new behavior easy. But to make a new behavior attractive and satisfying behavior, laws three and four, you need to synchronize and score, and this is the second strategy.

If you only allow yourself to enjoy your favorite experiences, while you execute a healthy and productive new habit, you’ll find the new habit is something you actually look forward to doing.

For example, if you only allow yourself to play your favorite shows or video while you are on the treadmill, you most likely will look forward to getting on a treadmill. When you synchronize an experience that you crave with a new habit you naturally dread doing, the craving will counteract the resistance that you feel towards the new habit and get you to execute the new habit more consistently. This is why syncing is a great hack for habit building.

But to make a habit stick, you must make the habit inherently satisfying. To make a habit inherently satisfying, you must keep score. Imagine on January 30. You look up at your calendar and see 27 positive checkmarks on 27 of the last 30 days. Each checkmark represents a successful outcome. The calendar is visual proof that you are someone that cares about your results, and you should take pride in that.

The calendar on your wall acts as a scorecard, and each checkmark is a point for the type of person you are. So, each time you read a page you are becoming more of a writer. Each time you practice playing a musical instrument, you are becoming more of a musician, and each time you start a workout you are becoming more of an athlete.

If you take the time to score the completion of a habit on a calendar on your wall or an app on your phone or a physical habit tracking notebook, you will start to see a pattern of behavior that proves to yourself that you are becoming the type of person you dreamed of becoming and you gain pride and satisfaction from the process.

Scoring a point will be motivation along with syncing your favorite experience with the habit to make you do the habit enough so it sticks. So when you start a new resolution, start by stacking and starting then syncing and scoring the intended new habit. When you stack and start then sync and score the habit you are building will become obvious, easy, attractive, and satisfying. In a few months, the once strange habit will seem weird not to do because it’s part of your identity. It’s who you are and what you do.

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