You’re probably reading this article because you have a problem sticking to your habits. It’s an annoying feeling when you decide it’s time to change your bad habits and replace them with good ones but you give up after 3 days and go back to where you started.
We’ve all been there.
Fortunately, there are some rules that you can follow to increase your chances of building lasting habits.
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear mentions 4 main rules to make building good habits or breaking bad ones an easy process. These 4 rules are Cue, Craving, Response, and Reward.
The cue is what triggers the desire to do an action. It can be a push notification, an email, or any other trigger.
When you get a notification for a new email, this sound will trigger the action of opening the Mail app to read your new emails. With time, your brain relates this sound with the action of reading emails. That’s why you find it difficult to ignore opening social media apps when you have notifications turned on especially if that app has a special notification sound (like Facebook Messenger).
Fortunately, you can use this rule to your advantage. Here are 3 techniques you can use to improve the trigger to work on your habits:
1- Set Implementation Intentions
Being specific about what you want and how you will achieve it helps you say no to things that derail progress, distract your attention, and pull you off course.– Atomic Habits
The idea behind implementation intentions is to be specific on when and where you will work on your habits. The formula goes like this:
“I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION]”.
Here are few examples:
Meditation. I will meditate for one minute at 7 a.m. in my kitchen.
Studying. I will study Spanish for twenty minutes at 6 p.m. in my bedroom.
Exercise. I will exercise for one hour at 5 p.m. in my local gym.
Marriage. I will make my partner a cup of tea at 8 a.m. in the kitchen
Research shows that being clear and deliberate about your habits will help you stick to them longer.
2- Habit Stacking
Habit stacking is simply using your weaknesses to your advantage. It goes like this: After [Current Habit] I will do [New Habit].
– After I open Instagram, I will study for 30 minutes
– After I pour my morning cup of coffee, I will meditate for sixty seconds.
– After I meditate for sixty seconds, I will write my to-do list for the day.
– After I write my to-do list for the day, I will immediately begin my first task
Clear says that habit stacking ideally requires a cue that is “highly specific and immediately actionable”. The more easily you can identify your cue, the better the odds are that you will notice it and act upon it. One cue you can use is to set a special notification for working on your habits, which is the 3rd technique.
3- Set a Special Push Notification
If you’re a Facebook Messenger user, you will know that feeling when you hear that special sound when you receive a new message.
You try to ignore the trigger but you feel like this:
You can use this to your advantage by setting an alarm with a unique sound to that habit or use a habit tracker app like Systemize which already has this feature implemented.
With time, your brain will relate the sound from this notification with working on your habit.
If the cue is obvious and strong, it will successfully trigger the craving.
“If you want to increase the odds that a behavior will occur, then you need to make it attractive.”– Atomic Habits
The craving can be anything that motivates you to do the response. It can be a push notification, a motivation speech, a special smell, or not wanting to break the streak.
James Clear makes it obvious in his book that the best way to stick to your habit is to make it attractive. “These insights reveal the importance of the 2nd Law of Behavior Change. We need to make our habits attractive because it is the expectation of a rewarding experience that motivates us to act in the first place”, he said.
So try implementing something like a reward system or anything that makes you happy when you finish a habit. You can also use Systemize which already has a reward system that includes special sounds, a reward system, a streak, and reminders.
You can also make your habits attractive by just changing the way you look at them. James Clear makes a great point here:
“Exercise. Many people associate exercise with being a challenging task that drains energy and wears you down. You can just as easily view it as a way to develop skills and build yourself up. Instead of telling yourself “I need to go run in the morning,” say “It’s time to build endurance and get fast.”
Finance. Saving money is often associated with sacrifice. However, you can associate it with freedom rather than limitation if you realize one simple truth: living below your current means increases your future means. The money you save this month increases your purchasing power next month.
Meditation. Anyone who has tried meditation for more than three seconds knows how frustrating it can be when the next distraction inevitably pops into your mind. You can transform frustration into delight when you realize that each interruption gives you a chance to practice returning to your breath. Distraction is a good thing because you need distractions to practice meditation.” – Atomic Habits.
So take a moment and think about your habits and let me know in the comments below how you will make them attractive.
If you want to build lasting habits then you need to give this rule more attention.
The most effective way to take action is to make it as easy as possible.
How to do that?
Use the 2-minute technique. James Clear explains this concept in his book by saying, “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do”.
Here are some examples:
“Read before bed each night” becomes “Read one page.”
“Do thirty minutes of yoga” becomes “Take out my yoga mat.”
“Study for class” becomes “Open my notes.”
“Fold the laundry” becomes “Fold one pair of socks.”
“Run three miles” becomes “Tie my running shoes”
You usually procrastinate when the task you’re trying to accomplish takes too much effort. However, when you start with something easy like reading only 1 page, it’s easy to continue reading afterward.
So how can you make your habits easier? Let me know in the comments below.
We are more likely to repeat a behavior when the experience is satisfying. If the reward is satisfying, you will be excited to work on your habits to get that satisfaction boost when you finish the task.
The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.
“To get a habit to stick you need to feel immediately successful—even if it’s in a small way”– Atomic Habits
So think about something that makes you excited and make it a reward for yourself whenever you finish a habit.
Working on your habits can be challenging at the beginning. However, if you follow these 4 rules, you will enjoy the process and become more and more excited to read books or go for a run.
So how are you willing to apply these 4 rules to your current habits? Let me know in the comments below.