A mini guide to forming habits

10 March 2017 - Mindful Practices

How are you faring with your New Year resolutions? If you’re struggling with change, you’re not alone. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, makes a compelling argument that the key to change is understanding how habits work.

So, what’s a habit? The American Journal of Psychology defines habits as “a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience”.

How do we form a habit? We’ve created a simple guide about habit formation. The points here may be followed individually or in combination.

1. Understand the science behind habits.

In The Power of Habit, Duhigg shares a scientific explanation for how habits work, why they exist and how they can be changed.

He proposes the “habit loop” framework. This loop is at the core of every habit.

Habits are formed when the brain craves the reward the moment the cue is introduced, even before the routine is completed. Your cravings drive your habits.

For example, if you want to form a habit of running every morning, here’s what you can do:

Step 1: Identify your reward. Figure out what motivates you and will fuel your craving to start, whether it’s becoming fitter, experiencing an endorphin rush, or rewarding yourself with a cheat meal at the end.

Step 2: Choose a cue. Your cue triggers your routine. This could be leaving your running shoes at the door, or having a motivating photo of your favourite fitness hero on your phone.

Step 3: Anticipate or crave the reward.

2. Start small.

Start with a quick and easy routine so you’re more likely to form that new routine. Little by little, as you experience success with this routine, you’ll build trust and confidence in yourself and find that you’ll have more motivation to take on greater changes. For example, if you’d like to form a habit of exercising every day, start first with exercising once a week.

3. Do it step by step.

If you’d like to run for 20 minutes every morning but find it impossible to wake up at 7am to do so, take it slow. The first step could be setting your alarm at 7am and just sitting in bed for three minutes after it rings. Do that for a week, or even longer—it’s up to you.

Once that feels easier, the second step could be going for a short 5-minute walk at a comfortable pace. As it’ll feel more comfortable than running, it will make it easier mentally to get out of the house at 7am. Do that for a while.

Next, start running, but just for 5 minutes. 5 minutes feels easier and more attainable than 20 minutes. Add in more steps along the way until you reach your goal. No one’s counting.

4. Keep each other accountable.

If your friends have similar goals, find a routine to take on together. You don’t have to physically do it together, but having someone go through a similar process helps. You can commiserate, discuss ways to improve and celebrate milestones together.

If you’re both planning to run every day at 7am, a simple text to each other in the morning such as “You’ve got this!” or “Are you on the way out?” helps. You’re each responsible for the other person’s success. This helps to motivate you throughout the process.

5. Be kind to yourself.

This is sometimes the most difficult thing to do and is in itself a habit. Whenever you fail, practise telling yourself, “It’s okay, I can try again. The process matters more.” Think about how your close friends encourage you whenever you fail. Do the same for yourself.

Allowing yourself to make mistakes and not beating yourself up about it is essential to the process of forming new habits. Lifestyle changes are difficult to make; failures are inevitable and necessary. Don’t compare yourself to others. Trust and enjoy the process—failures included.

Good luck!

What motivates and inspires you to start or keep going? We’d love to hear from you at hello@mindful-company.com.

- The Mindful Company Team