How to Form Habits that Last
Does your life need a shift?
When most of us want to make significant changes or improvements, we jump straight to goal setting, resolutions, and intentions. We start with the end in mind and chase the “result” or “reward.” But what if we keep missing the target because we’re doing it wrong?
The truth is our lives are the sum of our habits. How we spend our time, consciously and unconsciously, ultimately determines the trajectory of our lives. Therefore, if we want to change our lives, we must change our habits. Seems simple enough, right? The problem is, it’s easy to start habits and really difficult to maintain them. Many of us set out to start big lofty habits yet fail to scaffold the new practices in a way that sets us up to succeed. To help us scaffold, we must understand how to build a successful habit and hack the system. Thankfully for us, it’s a pretty simple and predictable system. Let’s dive in.
Anatomy of a Habit
All habits are formed in a predictable manner.
Both Psychologist B.F. Skinner and the Author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, have identified that to build a healthy habit or break an undesirable one, we need to pay attention to four things: cue, craving, response, and reward.
Let’s talk through a common scenario for most of us:
On average, we pick up our phones 344 times a day—that’s every four minutes! So here’s how that habit is built.
Our phone dings (cue), we want the dopamine hit of clearing the notification (craving), we pick up our phone (response), we feel the rush of the cleared notification (reward), and if you’re like the majority of the population picking up that phone also took you down a distracted rabbit hole to a different task, app, or notification.
How to Hack Your Habits
So working off that principle, we can hack any habit!
A successful habit has four characteristics:
- It’s obvious
- It’s appealing
- It’s simple
- It’s rewarding
(James Clear, Atomic Habits)
RELATED: Free Interactive Class: How to Hack Your Emotional Health
Step 1: Make it Obvious
This step is all about setting up intentional cues for yourself that intercept other well-worn and often unconscious patterns and behaviors.
This could look like setting your gym clothes out the night before your workout, putting your keys on top of your lunch box so you remember not to buy lunch, or putting your phone charger in another room so you can’t sleep with it by your head.
When the cue is obvious, your chances of success skyrocket!
Step 2: Make it Appealing
Let’s be honest—if there isn’t something attractive about it, you likely will not make the change. Start by getting curious about what motivates you. Remember, what is appealing to someone else might not be appealing to YOU!
Is it appealing if it saves you time, money, or energy? For example, would you be more likely to commit to a new habit if it was accompanied by a hot cup of coffee or time with a friend?
Identify small, measurable, and attainable things to make this new change more alluring.
Step 3: Make it Simple
Next, it’s all about removing as many barriers for yourself as possible.
Are there things you could do to simplify implementing this change in your life? Can you automate something? Can you stack it with another activity or habit you do consistently?
Whatever you do, do not overcomplicate your habits. This step reminds us that a two-degree shift, a small sustainable change, can change the trajectory of our lives over time. Small changes make life simpler.
RELATED: 30 Days of Living Centered Discover how small, incremental practices change the trajectory of your life!
Make it Rewarding
Step 4: Make it Rewarding
The reward is what is going to keep you coming back. In this step, defining what success looks and feels like is essential. By outlining the benefits of the habit, you’ll be more likely to put in the effort.
Can you build small tangible rewards into the habit? A reminder of why you’re doing it, a checkmark on a habit tracker, purchasing a latte at the end of the week as a reward for consistency? Whatever motivates you, celebrate that!
Creating a new habit doesn’t have to overwhelm, exhaust, or completely disrupt your life. You can start TODAY by asking yourself four simple questions that help build the anatomy of a successful habit:
- How can I make it obvious?
- How can I make it appealing?
- How can I make it simple?
- How can I make it rewarding?
Ready to implement the power of habits into your life?
We’ve designed a FREE resource for you: How to Hack Your Emotional Health (And Why You Can’t Afford Not To). This micro-course will offer you a tangible outline to build and sustain habits and change your life.