Ever Tried to develop a healthy habit and failed to do so? Made a ton of resolutions on new years eve, but never saw it through till the first weekend?
James Clear, in his revolutionary book, Atomic Habits explores the possibilities which lead to failure of developing habits.
If you’ve failed to adopt a healthy or productive habit you either failed to make your new behaviour obvious, easy, attractive, or satisfying.
The Four Laws of Behaviour Change
These are what James calls ‘The Four Laws of Behaviour Change’. Failing to abide by any one of these laws means you’ll fail to adopt a new behaviour.
1. Don’t have an obvious daily cue to exercise? You’ll forget about your new healthy habit and stick to your old daily routine.
2. Don’t have an easy exercise routine? You’ll perform an easy and familiar routine instead (like watching TV).
3. Don’t find exercise appealing (i.e. exercise isn’t attractive)? You’ll resist exercise enough to avoid doing it consistently.
4. Don’t get immediate satisfaction after exercise? You’ll lack the motivation to exercise it consistently.
Next time when you want to form a habit, try designing these four qualities into your habit, so that it sticks on.
As I wanted to lose weight and stay healthy, I planned running 5 Miles a day. adapting the four rules mentioned above, I designed my running habit.
My Obvious Daily cue was, I kept my alarm clock, all the way in the shoe rack in the living room. So that when I wake up to switch off my alarm, I would make it obvious that I had to go for my routine jogging. To make the jogging Easy, I started to run a insignificant 1 Mile a day for the first week. and then build up on the momentum to reach my goal of 5 Miles by end of 2 Months. To make my habit Appealing, I photo-shopped a picture of myself, looking 20 pounds lighter and put it on my wardrobe. Everyday before heading off to jog, I would look at that picture, and get inspired, knowing why I am doing this. And for an entire month, I restricted myself from watching my favourite TV Shows, on the days I did not run. So I always had the Satisfaction of watching TV if I complete my 5 mile mark. The routine has worked pretty well, and except for few odd days, I have been running 5 miles every day for past couple of months.
Stacking & Starting
You’ve probably used ‘habit stacking’ to build new hygiene habits without realizing it. As a child, you stacked the habit of washing your hands with the habit of having dinner. Washing your hand became the cue for your dinner habit.
Habit stacking involves using an old and reliable daily habit as the trigger for a new habit. When you stack a new habit on an existing habit, you use the momentum of the old habit to make the new habit easier to initiate. I think of it as riding a bike down a hill to build up enough speed to get up the next hill with minimal
But if the hill of your new habit is too daunting, the momentum of the old habit won’t be enough. That’s why you need to reduce your new habit to an easy two‐minute ‘starting ritual’.
“Even when you know you should start small, it’s easy to start too big. When you dream about making a change, excitement inevitably takes over and you end up trying to do too much too soon. The most effective way I know to counteract this tendency is to use the Two‐Minute Rule, which states, ‘When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.’”
“Read before bed each night” becomes “Read one page.”
“Do thirty minutes of yoga” becomes “Take out my yoga mat.”
“Fold the laundry” becomes “Fold one pair of socks.”
“Run five miles” becomes “Tie my running shoes.”
Syncing & Scoring
Ronan Byrne, an electrical engineering student in Dublin, Ireland knew that he should exercise more, so he used his engineering skills to synchronise his stationary bike with his laptop. He wrote a program on his laptop to play his favourite Netflix shows on the TV in front of the stationary bike when he cycled at a
certain speed. If he slowed down, Netflix would pause, and he’d need to cycle harder to finish the episode he was watching. Imagine, binge‐watching Netflix meant burning calories!!
Like Byrne, if you only allow yourself to enjoy your favourite experiences while executing a healthy and productive new habit, you’ll find the new habit is something you look forward to doing.
When you synchronise an experience you crave with a new habit you dread doing, the craving will counteract the resistance to executing the new habit and allow you to get started.
Synchronising is a great tool for building a new habit, but to make a habit stick the habit must become inherently satisfying. And to make a habit inherently satisfying you must keep score.
Imagine on June 30th you look at your Google Fit journal and see see 27 Green Heart marks, on 27 of the last 30 days. Each mark represents a successful workout. That journal is a visual proof that you are someone who cares about their health. You should take pride in that fact!
If you take time to score the completion of a habit in a habit tracker (ex: calendar on your wall, app on your phone, or physical habit
tracking notebook), you’ll start to see a pattern of behaviour that proves you’re becoming the type of person you’ve dreamed of being. The immediate pride you experience after using a habit tracker provides the satisfaction you need to return to the habit over and over until the habit sticks.