“We first make our habits, and then our habits make us” –fortune from Chinese takeout cookie
We all live with a balance of healthy and unhealthy habits that play into our daily lives. In fact, according to Wendy Woods, PhD and author of Good Habits, Bad Habits, we spend a shocking 43 percent of our day doing things without thinking about them.
A habit is something you do with automaticity—wait, auto what? That basically means the behavior is happening without thought. Kind of like how Buddy waits at the gate at the time he knows he gets fed each day.
But maybe, just because you are a human, you are someone who struggles to develop healthy habits. I’m sure you have a friend who appears as if she has it all figured out, and is in control of her life at all times. Fun fact–it turns out that people like this are actually just good at creating good habits. In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Brian Galla and Angela Duckworth suggest that beneficial habits–perhaps more so than effortful inhibition–are an important factor linking self-control with positive life outcomes.
So how do you create more good habits and less bad habits? First off, it is easier to create a habit than to break one. So start with adding in a simple one. Although it may sound boring it turns out that doing the same thing at the same time, with no variation makes it easier to form a habit, even if it’s less exciting. According to Dr. Wood the reward for this habit needs to be immediate or your brain won’t associate the behavior with the reward. And then repeat and repeat–it can take 2-3 months to form a simple habit.
How does all this tie into routine and rituals? Well, if you first create a routine it’s intentional, then turn it into a ritual which means there is some meaning in the process, and then it will eventually become automatic–a habit. Bam, just like that, right? Maybe not, but imagine this one. You decide you need to drink more water to be healthy. So, you commit to each day when you wake up you will drink a glass of water. Here’s how it goes from routine to ritual to habit.
- Routine- Set a glass in your bathroom so it’s there for you in the morning when you wake up. Each morning, fill it up and take a drink.
- Ritual- After a week of that routine, start drinking the glass of water while thanking your body and appreciating the good you are doing for it right now.
- Habit- After a month or so, maybe you’ll start discovering that you don’t even have to cue yourself to take that drink.
We all know that when we are tired or stressed it’s easy to fall back on bad habits. But, quick fun fact….did you know that it’s just as easy to fall back on good habits? Habits are habits, so when the crud hits the fan of life, just remember that you can also fall back on all those good habits you’ve developed!
So, here are your next steps:
- Decide on a goal you’d like to achieve.
- Identify a daily (or set frequency) action that will help move you towards your goal.
- Choose some sort of reward-whether it’s intrinsic or extrinsic- that can occur immediately after or during the action. Heck, give yourself a gold star if that helps!
- Pick a way this routine can be turned into a ritual.
- Plan out when and where this action happens.
- Set a reminder if you need a nudge to kick off the action.
- Repeat, add in the ritual aspect of the action, repeat, and repeat until one day you find yourself not needing the reminder.