Keeping Up with New Habits
Updated: Feb 10
Almost all New Year resolutions fail soon after January 1st. This is usually because people try to change too many things at once, or they don't have a good plan for how to stick to their resolution. That's why it's important to establish good habit formation techniques this New Year.
Focus on Good Habits and Fun!
There are many different ways to make good habits in your life. One of the best ways is to find a way to make it fun. For example, if you want to start going to the gym, try signing up for a class that you're interested in, like martial arts or dance. Or if you want to start eating healthier, try cooking new recipes or joining a healthy cooking club.
Another way to make good habits is by setting realistic goals. Don't try to completely overhaul your lifestyle overnight – this is more likely to lead to failure. Start with one change, and once that becomes a habit, add another change. And be patient – it can take a while for habits to form.
It's also important to be mindful of your triggers. What situations or emotions cause you to slip up and revert back to your old habits? Once you know what your triggers are, you can find ways to deal with them before they cause you to fall off track.
Finally, don't be too hard on yourself if you mess up occasionally. We all make mistakes sometimes, but it's important not to let one setback turn your plans upside down!
If you want successful, healthy habits to be developed, it makes sense to understand the principles of our habits and habit building. We'll discuss the scientific knowledge behind forming a new habit and what can be done for keeping up with new habits.
What is a Habit?
In psychological terms, a new habit forms once you act on a daily basis with minimal awareness of how they are going, like for example how you learned to brush when you were a kid and now it's automatic. Routines like showering, driving and making your bed are other great examples of habitual behaviors.
The word habit actually means 'routines of behavior that are repeated regularly and tend to occur subconsciously' (American Journal of Psyscology)
Positive habits can be helpful because they make life easier and more automatic. They allow us to focus on other things by taking care of routines we've done so many times that we don't have to think about them.
Understanding Positive Habit Formation
Habits are hard to break because they're created by a series of neurological events that happen automatically. The first time you do anything, it's novel and exciting, so your brain is flooded with dopamine, one of the brain chemicals associated with pleasure and reward. This is also known as the habit loop. Over time, however, this activity becomes routine and the novelty wears off—but the neural pathways in your brain still remember how to perform these actions. And when something is repeated over and over again without any changes in response...well...you guessed it: That's a new habit!
Don't underestimate the power of the reward. Only if the brain expects something that can induce happiness will it want to repeat something - when it experiences an endorphin release.
So, if you want to change a bad habit or create a new good one then follow these steps:
1) Make an intention
2) Choose what needs changing
3) Break down into small actionable steps
4) Practice, practice, practice
5) Reward yourself along the way (get that habit loop!)
Types of Positive Habits
There are three types of habits: bad, good and neutral. Bad habits are self-destructive behaviors that cause harm physically or emotionally, like smoking, eating junk food or overspending. Good habits are healthy behaviors that improve our lives.
Thinking about the popular new year healthy habits, some examples are:
1) Eat less meat
2) Drink more water
3) Get in shape and lose weight
4) Eat less sugar and carbs - eating healthy
5) Get better sleep
6) Spend less time online
7) Quit smoking
8) Be more conscious about my eating habits and what I put in my body
9) Write in a journal daily or at least once a week
10) Meditate or do yoga at least once a day
How Long does it take to Form a New Habit?
There are several theories on how long it actually takes to form a new habit. The time it takes for a behavior to become habitual is different for every single person. The average length of time seems to be around 66 days, but some people report the number being as little as 18 days while others take more than 200 days! Then you start to do these actions with little or no thought.
So, why is there such a discrepancy in the amount of time it takes to form a new habit? There are many factors that contribute to how long it actually takes for a behavior to become habitual, including the person's natural tendencies as well as environment.
The person's natural tendencies and personality are wired to form habits more quickly, while non-habitualizers need more time. For example, the habitualizer may only have to perform a certain action seven times before it becomes an automatic behavior - whereas the non-habitualizer might require thirty or even sixty repetitions of that same behavior!
For some people it is the environment that helps to form a habit - it can improve the level of motivation to change the behavior.
Putting what we Know into Practice
Now that we know what habits are and how they are formed, we can set our goals and find ways to positively reward ourselves. Getting into a proper routine and repeating is vital for the way habits form and for ensuring habits stick.
If we think about the habits list above, what would be your 'rewards' for when you successfully do a habit action, for example when you start exercising or quit smoking?
What's the Difference between Habits and Routines?
A routine is a set pattern of behavior involving things like what you do, where you are, who you talk to, when you learn or work. Habits can be routines in plain sight- something that becomes so ingrained it becomes invisible, but the behavioral feedback loop becomes powerful in shaping our lives. Habit loops typically fit into one of four categories: eating (such as snacking), cognitive (such as making decisions), emotional (such as handling anger) and physical (active).
The difference between habits and routines is that routines can form because of natural repetition; while habits rely on reinforcement by giving yourself an incentive for doing the habit each time - like exercise. A habit takes less conscious thought than a routine does since your body knows how to react to the habit, you don't have to force your body into motion.
When we say an action is a habit it has become part of who we are and what we do by rote. We perform such actions without thinking about them or considering their impact on our lives. For example, if you drive to work every day you probably don't think about the route you take, or how you're going to get there. You just do it. That's a habit.
Routines are important because they help us conserve mental energy and focus on more important things.
When starting off, take small steps and, say, do 30 minutes of exercise and build up to an hour. Keep enjoying to get those positive habits and for habit formation to take place.
Keeping an active lifestyle requires knowing where you stand for potential hazards. These suggestions provide the information you should make when making a mistake. It aims to start small and easily, grow in 30 minutes, and then into an hour. I find exercising should be done regularly rather than as much as possible when possible, this way you get something right away. Ideally, if you focus more on that goal then you do this ritual again. Create the conditions which encourage accountability and accountability.
No one is going to say changing habits is easy, but again keep your expectations low so you can keep making your new habit stick.
Set your Intentions
Choose your goal, your intention and make it achievable and realistic. Let's not say we are going to run 10 miles every day if we have not been doing even 1 mile regularly!
Choose goals that matter to you so you have some reason to want to keep going. A goal that was created by you for make others feel happy, to fulfill their values, can result in frustration, anger, and resentment for themselves and others. This time it's all about YOU!
Changing the Habit Loop
It can be helpful to give yourself variety in the new routine, for example if you are looking to do more exercise, try different ones, and with each giving you the positive feedback and reinforcement to make you want to do it again!
Surround Yourself with Supportive People
Support from friends and colleagues will ensure a stickiness that you are able to get. Findings showed there are many health improvements with the help of friends who supported each others goals. These days with the rise of social and community apps, you can get peer support in your objectives. That's why it's quite common to see 'leaderboards' and apps asking you to share your goals or setup a group to have support from friends when you feel overwhelmed.
Prepare for Roadblocks
Don't worry if things don't work to plan - I think here the old phrase 'perfection is the enemy of good' comes to mind. Especially when trying to kick bad habits, behavioral scientists and research shows not to get demotivated if you 'fall off the wagon'. Just pick yourself up and try again! There must have been some reason you did not do you habit that day, so rather than fighting it, think about what you will do different.
In Silicon Valley there is the phrase there is no such thing as failure, and that's true here. It's all part of your learning process in developing a new habit. Just try and stay consistent as far as possible, and try and stay away from that fast food ;-)
The Psychological Research Association recommends breaking the overall larger goal into manageable achievable goals. I recommend defining goals for two weeks to begin with and you can achieve any habit change, then in seven days you can decide whether you have reached this level or not.
Create an Affirmation
Affirmations can help on the psychological level, to give you the mental motivation - and usually there are positive changes :-) Creating an affirmation is also effective for calming off nerves!
An example of an affirmation might be:
"I am confident and in control. I can do anything I set my mind to. I am happy and fulfilled. Everything is working out for my highest good. Thank you (your name)".
Note that you are speaking to your SELF.
There are many different types of affirmations, and it's important to find the ones that work best for you. You can
We know that repetition helps people develop habits more easily, but it can often help to remind yourself why are doing this. The ability to track your habits and see the results can give you that visual reminder - for example if you are using a visual checklist or green squares on a calendar to show
Consider a Coach
Having a coaching provider who knows the subject matter helps you find the way to the right outcome. You want someone with knowledge on the subject. In Los Angeles, where we are based, it's quite common to have a coach for many things - for example a person coach for exercise. This gives you the motivation and helps you to schedule.
A Note About Bad Habits
A lot of us are not necessarily looking to create a new habit but rather are looking for ways for breaking bad habits. A bad habit might be that you are doing something that you know is 'bad' for you - or is just a behavior you want to change. I think the best way to break bad habits is to focus on the good habits you are seeking to adopt and focus on them. Like many things in life, perhaps it's easier and simpler to just focus on the good habit you are looking to adopt, rather than focusing your attending on negative, bad habits. Over time you will find your day is full more of the habits you want, and the old bad habits will just not have time to appear as much.
So, when looking for ways of breaking bad habits think instead what is the new habit and desired behavior I want to adopt, to replace the bad habit.
Using NoteDex Index Cards to Help Track your Habits
Since we are only human, it can be tough to remember everything we want to get done! You know how it is, you read an article on nutrition, and you say to yourself, "I’m going to drink Lemon water every morning moving forward." Then, you do for a couple of days, but then the habit seems to wear off.
NoteDex is an excellent note taking and idea capture tool to act as a reminder of healthy habits. The great thing about NoteDex is that each card can represent one habit and how it can be improved or executed.
Cards can act as a visual for your daily routine- meal prep, journal entries, exercises, etc. Having personalized cards to help form good habits is visually engaging, and perhaps even more motivating than just a to-do list of the routines.
There are a wide variety of apps that can help you track your goals, but I'd like to show you how you can use the concept of Index Cards in NoteDex to help you.
1) PLAN YOUR NEW HABITS:
Write out or draw in a series of Cards about what your habit involves - so you can see and keep track of your habits, goals and outcomes for each day or week - you can plan out your habits using one card for each day.
For example, in the image below, a Student used a NoteDex card to plan out the habits she wanted to do, and what the goal looked like for that week. You might also want to include what your reward looks like if you complete!
Another benefit of laying out your habits visually is you will see all your habits - including those bad habits that you want to change! As you lay things out you will see the old habits clearly.
2) TRACK YOUR HABITS:
As you work your way through a week mark the card to show what you accomplished.
Furthermore, she created a daily schedule for the week, for the habits/schedule she wanted to complete give her busy schedule.
It is in our human nature to like to do everything we can to be the healthiest, happiest, most productive version of ourselves.
When trying to adopt and build healthy habits we have learned that it is important to break your goals into smaller objectives (It's hard to get a new habit in one go but achieve smaller habits that work towards achieving your desired habit). Positive reinforcement goes a long way - if you are looking to lose weight don't expect immediate results but look for positive progress towards your goal. And while bad habits are you goal to remove from your daily life, focus instead on the new habit that will replace the bad habit.
This focus on a new habit rather than old habit will be good for your mental well being also, and will be more enjoyable.
You can use NoteDex to write down many other habits, such as your ideal meditation routine or a healthy breakfast routine, or even a start of the workday routine.
We all have new habits and new behavior we want to incorporate into our life, and any system that helps as a reminder can be helpful to enable us to do them!
NoteDex is available at www.notedexapp.com