5 tools to create new and sustainable habits

Use our tips and keep on creating sustainable habits in your daily life

1 - Tame the Go System

First, identify the habit routine. This should be fairly obvious: it’s the behavior you want to change. Make a journal to capture the routine.

Next step is to identify the reward. One hint is to ask some less obvious questions: What’s the cue for this routine? And what’s the reward? To figure this out, you need to experiment with different rewards. Each will satisfy different cravings. Remember, we’re often not conscious of the cravings that drive our behaviors. The point is to test different hypotheses to determine which craving is driving your routine.

The third step is to isolate the cue that triggers the routine. Almost all habitual cues fit into one of five categories: location; time; emotional state; influence of other people; immediately preceding action (d). To figure out the cue for a specific habit, write down five things the moment the urge hits. Journal for a few days and it will be clear which cue is triggering your habit.

Now you have figured out your habit loop, identified the reward driving your behavior, the cue triggering it and the routine itself. You are ready to shift the behavior, replacing old behaviours with new ones, and generate specific plans to deal with obstacles.

Don’t forget to practice! To make change permanent, you have to constantly expose yourself to the change. Practice makes perfect and habits are only formed through repetition. You need to set aside weeks/months to practice the new thing you want to do. Changing habits is really like learning a new instrument or mastering a new language.

2 - Harness the Stop System.

Habits are expressed in a specific context, physical and emotional. Learning to deal with stress and other factors that hinder the development of new and positive habits is key to sustain them and avoiding old ones to resurface. You can’t replace something with nothing- If you want to stop doing something don’t replace that something with nothing.

The brain has pathways deeply associated with your behaviors. If you are used to doing something in a particular situation and you simply stop, you are not providing the brain with new pathways. This too easily allows the brain to drift back to its old pathways causing you to have to mentally inhibit the desire. This takes too much energy, and when a busy day hits and/or your energy is drained that behavior is more likely to return.

3 - Optimize your goals.

Determine the course of the behaviour change and figure out how to successfully incorporate those changes for the long term. Our minds are great at setting goals, but are also great at side tracking in too much detail. If you want change you need to give yourself very clear direction and map out all the steps required. Avoid paralysis by analysis by keeping things simple and focusing on the essential.

Don’t just rush into change. Take the time to map out the big picture. Then map out the essential steps to get there and follow them sequentially. You need to know where you are going and how to get there.

What you might think is procrastination often comes from your own lack of planning and clarity. Stick to the essential; change one thing at a time. Self-control and willpower are exhaustible, and the brain isn’t perfect at multitasking. Trying to change multiple things at once overwhelms the brain and drastically decreases your success rate. The only way to effectively take on change is to do one thing at a time. You can’t win a battle of wills against your physiology.

This is why managing your energy is important. You may think you are being lazy, but the more likely answer is you are exhausted. Don’t take on too much. Don’t add new things into your life without first making room for them.

4 - Manage your environment.

Habits are expressed in a specific context, physical and emotional. Change your surroundings to dramatically reduce poor behaviour and habits and to assist with change.

One thing to consider when setting the environment to stop or to facilitate a routine is activation energy, the amount of energy it takes to start a task. Every change you make should be as easy - or easier than - the one it replaces. Do not let poor environmental design deplete your willpower. If you want to go for a walk at the end of the day rather than watch TV, you need to make the activation energy for watching TV greater and the activation energy for going for a walk less. Remove the batteries and make sure your walking shoes are always by the door. If you want to eat healthy, make a list of restaurants that have healthy, great-tasting fat-loss options. If you want to exercise more often, always keep a change of gym clothes in your car.

5 - Engage your community.

Understand the shared culture that allows friends, neighbours and colleagues to have a profound influence on the behaviour of other members of a community.

Although social support is a huge complement when it comes to change, what works for your friend or family member may or may not work for you.

Build your support team and support others on their efforts, but remember to identify the ones that are obstacles and put them on the sidelines.

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