New research demonstrated that habits can be much easier to create and change.
For instance cleaning your teeth every morning or night, having a coffee first thing in the morning. Habit are those things you do the same way every day. We all have many routines and rituals that we do every day without thing.
Maybe it is keeping your keys in the same place when you get home from work. How you prepare to leave for work in the morning. How you exercise. What you do when you get to work in the morning. Do you do a similar thing every day at lunchtime? How you clean your home and do your laundry.
Where you shower in the morning or evening or both. when you take your dog for a walk. How you feed your kids. How you put your children to bed at night and how you wind down in the evening after a day at work.
We all have many habits and they are not hard to create. When you know the science behind how habits are formed, you realise that there are simple things you can do to make habits very easy to form and even easy to change.
We can create habit consciously or unconsciously, these things we do automatically without thinking too much about it. Habits help us to do the many things we need and want to do in our lives.
“We carry out a habit without having to think about it, it frees up our thought processes to work on other things”.
It is a smart little trick the way our brains have evolved to make us more efficient. Most people have heard the name Ivan Pavlov. Ivan Pavlov won a Nobel prize in 1904 for his work in medicine. He researched working primarily with dogs to learn about the digestive system, During the research, he discovered something surprising.
Pavlov noticed that dogs would salivate when they saw food, even before they tasted it. If a bell was rung or the footsteps of the experimenter, was associated with the food, the dog would start salivating at just the sound of the bell or the sound of the footsteps. This is called “classical conditioning“. You pair two things together: a stimulus (food) and a response (salivating):
Stimulus (food) results in Response (salivating)
Then you add an additional stimulus:
Stimulus 1 (food) + Stimulus 2 (bell) results in Response (salivating)
Over time the original stimulus was removed and just the additional stimulus elicits the response.
Stimulus 2 (bell) results in Response (salivating)
Classical conditioning is the starting point for understanding automatic behavior and habits. For example, let’s take a look at smoking. We start with:
Stimulus 1 – seeing cigarette Response – light up and smoke the cigarette
Stimulus 1 – seeing cigarette + Stimulus 2 – feeling bored results in Response – light up and smoke
Stimulus 2 – feeling bored Response – light up and smoke the cigarette
When you decide to create an exercise habit, and you tell yourself, “From now on, I’m going to get more exercise.” This is unlikely to turn into a habit, because it’s too general and vague, and it’s too big so it can feel overwhelming and lead to not doing it at all.
Small and specific actions are more likely to become habitual.
When you make the goal more specific such as “I am going to go for a walk every day after work” is stronger or even better, “When I get home from work, the first thing I’m going to do is change into my walking clothes/shoes and take a 30-minute walk.”
When you make the action easy to do increases the likelihood that it becomes a habit. Once you have identified the small, specific action, make that action easy to achieve. For example, put out your exercise clothes near the door so you see them when you get home.
Actions and behaviours that involve physical movement are easier to “condition” into a habit. Habits that have auditory and or visual cues associated with them will be easier to create and maintain. A reason why using your mobile phone is so habitual is that it lights up when you have a message, and makes a buzz, beep or chimes etc when there is a text. These auditory and visual cues grab our attention and increase the likelihood that we will develop a conditioned response.
The easiest way to change an existing habit is to create a new one to better one to replace it with.
For instance, if your habit is waking in the morning and make a coffee to enjoy with a cigarette. Or at the end of a work day, grabbing a cigarette while winding down the couch. To change this you need to decide what you want to replace it with. For example, you could do some exercise to go for a walk as soon as you walk up or make yourself a healthy smoothie. The best thing to do is preparation if it is walking get your walking gear ready the evening before.
Swap that bad habit with a new healthy habit. It is easier than you think to create or change an existing habit.
- Work out the stimulus and the response.
- Make sure the action is small and easy to attached to something physical
- Use a visual or auditory cue.
- Do the new habit for a week
- Enjoy the sense of achievement when you realise how easy it can be