5 Rules for Forming New Habits
Taken from Stephen Bartlett’s podcast Diary of a CEO; one of our faves!
Are you looking to change your life for the better this year? Then you’ll need to form some new habits. If you’ve read Atomic Habits, then you’ll know the immense power of small, repeated actions – aka habits – that can impact and improve your life. But why is it so hard to form habits and how can we create new ones more easily?
- Stress Less! The scientific studies prove that when we are stressed, we will always revert to type. Our habits are so deeply ingrained in our psyche that they will always be the default we fall back to when we are tired, stressed, angry, sad or under pressure. So this year, work first on your stress levels before you start thinking about embedding a new habit into your day to day.
- Cues or signs are everything! Every habit is driven by a cue. The habit of picking up my phone first thing in the morning comes from the fact that it’s on my bedside table: that’s the cue that tells my autopilot to pick it up. The cue to take my vitamins in the morning is that they are on the breakfast tray, reminding me to take them. So think about the cues around your bad habits. In the podcast, Stephen talks about his Dad smoking, but only ever in the car. The cigarettes were there in the glove box waiting for him, and the cue was literally getting in the car. Once you identify the cues for habits you want to break, or the cue that will help you form a new habit, then it becomes so much easier to implement the change.
- Don’t focus on the bad habits you need to stop, focus on the new habits that will replace them. We’re hardwired to want new, positive steps in life, so instead of fighting a bad habit by saying “I will stop eating chocolate for breakfast”, instead focus on “I will prepare overnight oats the night before so I have a healthy breakfast”. This way, you won’t also be beating yourself up when you fall off the rails, instead you can think about it as a minor blip on the way to success!
- You need a better reason to quit (or start). I’ve found that my commitment to exercising at least three times a week has become so much easier since I told myself that it’s not about today, it’s about my body and mind in ten years time thanking me for the investment I made. It’s a much bigger reason than wanting to lose a kilo or two, or getting a smaller waist for a beach holiday. It’s about being able to run around and be fit enough for my kids, and not be in pain in the next decade! So find those bigger reasons and pin your new habits to then, because that’s what will keep you going when it gets hard.
- Don’t overload yourself! This is an interesting but pertinent point because we’ve all been told through our lives that if we just apply some willpower, we can do x, y and z. Well it’s not that easy (as most of us can attest!!). Along with being programmed to hold on to old habits, we are also programmed for instant gratification, and willpower basically requires the suppression of that deep evolutionary desire. In one study that you’ll hear about on the podcast, it was proven that by suppressing desire, volunteers in the study were unable to control their emotions as well as usual afterwards. This is known as the power depletion theory, which essentially means that if you use up a ton of energy in denial, then you won’t have that energy later on to resist the temptation again because the pressure will be too much. So set a few, achievable goals that are realistic and you’ll see the results you want. I also advise finding an accountability partner as well – it can help so much with keeping you on track along the way.
- Ask yourself a question.There’s a lot of power in asking yourself a question about your behaviour – it should be a yes / no answer – eg: “are you going to meditate today?” What the studies show is that cognitive dissonance (where your ideal self doesn’t match up with who you really are) has something to do with it. Basically, when you ask yourself this question, your ideal self is more likely to respond – “yes I’m going to meditate”, and that then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Listen to the full podcast here