What Are Habits? How to Create New Habits and Stick to Them
Sarah Mae (SMae) |
What are habits? As a high school teacher, I know that Habit Literacy is an Essential Skill that everyone needs to master, but I also know that it often does not get the attention it deserves.
I define Habit Literacy as the degree to which individuals have the ability to understand, create, start, change, and end habits to support their goals.
In fact, even though “Work Habits” have been on report cards since we were kids, more focus has always been placed on grades, which is a shame since work habits are a much better measure of future success.
In this post, I’m going over what habits are, how they are made, and 5 strategies to help you create new habits that stick.
What Are Habits?
Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, defines habits as, “the choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day.”
Habits are extremely important to our survival. Imagine if you had to think about every little thing you do throughout the day. Taking breaths, blinking, pumping blood, brushing your teeth, walking, eating, driving to work. You’d be so overwhelmed you wouldn’t be able to function.
Therefore, our brains are always seeking out ways to save effort. Remember, they are wired to take the path of least resistance. Therefore your brain will try to make a habit out of anything you do consistently.
What you repeatedly do ultimately determines the person you become and the life you live.
Your life today is the sum of your habits.
The good news is that your brain is actually super flexible, and it is totally possible to create new habits and leave ones that no longer serve you behind.
How Habit Is Formed – The Habit Loop
Part of being able to create new habits is understanding how habit is formed. This brings us to the Habit Loop, which is a neurological feedback loop that, when you understand it, can help you create the habits you want and transform your life.
In James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, he explains that the process of creating new habits can be divided into four steps: cue, craving, response, and reward.
- The Cue: What triggers the habit
- The Craving: The internal motivation that leads you to do something about the cue
- The Response: The habitual behavior – either a thought or an action
- The Reward: What you get out of performing the habit
So what happens is the cue triggers a craving, which leads to a response, that provides a reward, which in turn satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue.
You need all four stages of the loop to create new habits. If you don’t have a cue, you’ll never start. If there’s no craving you won’t be motivated to act on your cue. If the behaviour is too difficult you won’t do it. If you don’t feel a sense of reward, you will not do it again.
How will you use this knowledge to create a habit you’ve been trying to start?
How to Create New Habits and Stick to Them
Now that you understand the fundamentals behind creating habits, here are 5 strategies you can use to create new habits and stick to them!
1) Start small
Consistency is the most important part of creating habits. Every time you repeat an action, your neurons fire together. At first, they just create a small footpath, but with enough repetition, it will soon become a superhighway. This is how learning works, and it’s the same concept when it comes to repeating the habit loop, the more you do it the more ingrained it becomes.
So set realistic expectations around what you’re hoping to achieve and start small. Instead of saying you are going to meditate every morning for an hour, commit to one minute. You can do anything for one minute, and you’ll be able to stay consistent easier.
Once one minute has become a part of your routine and your identity, you can slowly increase the time until you reach your one-hour goal!
What’s one small habit you can start today?
Once your brain has built a strong network of neurons to support a habit, you can leverage that network and add to it to create new habits. You use the completion of one habit as the cue for the next. This is called habit stacking.
Say you already have a habit of going for a run when you wake up, you can use arriving home as your cue to sit down and meditate, or you can use finishing your meditation as your cue to write in your journal, and so forth.
Brainstorm a list of habits you currently do every day and choose what ones you might stack a new habit onto. Maybe it is when you wake up, when you get out of the shower, when you have lunch, when you get home from work, etc.
What habit will you choose? Use finishing that habit as your cue to start your new habit.
3) Use the Habit Loop to your advantage
In Atomic Habits, James Clear highlights how to utilize the Habit Loop to create new habits:
- Cue: How can I make it obvious?
- Craving: How can I make it attractive?
- Response: How can I make it easy?
- Reward: How can I make it satisfying?
Ask yourself these four questions every time you want to create a new habit.
4) Make it your identity
I used to hit snooze AT LEAST 5 times in the mornings, even though my alarm was super obnoxious. I even tried moving my alarm across the room. I would just get up, hit snooze, and bring my alarm closer to the bed.
When I decided that I am no longer someone that hits snooze – EVER – and I committed to myself never to hit snooze again, my behaviour changed.
If you’ve decided that you’re a lazy person that doesn’t work out, you’re going to struggle to make exercise a part of your routine. On the other hand, if you’ve decided you are a healthy person that moves your body every day, you’ve already won half the battle.
You create your reality, be careful what you decide about yourself.
What identity are you going to create for yourself?
5) Never miss twice
Life happens and when it does it’s all too often used as an excuse to give up.
The rule I like to use is to never miss twice.
Just because you slept in and didn’t have time to work out, doesn’t mean you are no longer a person that exercises every day.
What if you’re just a person that exercises every day and who slept in today but will get back at it tomorrow?
Life is not all or nothing, and neither are habits.
Best Habit Books
*note that clicking on a book cover will take you to my Amazon affiliate account, where I will get a small kickback if you purchase. I never recommend any books that I have not read and found helpful in my life.
I love talking about the books I have read, so hit me up when you’ve read any of these and let me know your thoughts! Email or Instagram DMs are the best way to reach me.
To really live a life of your own design, rather than one that just “happened” to you, you need to be able to create the habits that support your dreams and goals.
In fact, figuring this out is what started my journey from teacher to life coach.
The strategies listed above can make it easier to create new habits and stick to them so that you can improve your longevity, your career, and ultimately your life.
P.S. I still have some spots in my signature 1-1 coaching program, Route to Rise, where I can help you gain the skills you didn’t learn in school and finally become the person you aspire to be with the healthy habits, motivation, and clarity needed to RISE to your Peak Potential and live the life you’ve always wanted. Find out more and book a clarity call HERE.