These two little words are what launch a dream from merely being a good idea into a specific set of actions.
However, if you are like me, there comes a point when those actions start to feel hard to do; they require digging deeper into the reserves of motivation. Instead of finding a fresh supply, you discover scant amounts of energy and willpower remain.
This is where the practice of creating and establishing a set of positive habits allows us to more easily maintain our commitments to ourselves. A habit doesn’t require willpower – it is simply something you do without thinking.
Turns out, the human brain likes to turn behaviors into habits – thought shortcuts – as a way to save effort, so it can divert its focus to other tasks. An efficient brain, says Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, “allows us to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors, such as walking and choosing what to eat so we can devote mental energy to inventing spears, irrigation systems, and eventually, airplanes and video games.”
Habit Creation in Three Easy Steps:
So how does one go about turning the promises we make to ourselves, our INTENTIONS, into a habit which no longer requires vast amounts of willpower?
For example, an intention like: “I intend to be more upbeat and positive in 2015” is going to not gain a lot of traction unless you can establish a baseline behavior. Your problem-solving brain needs a specific action if it is going to help you follow through on your intention.
1. Determine a Supportive Strategy. What specific practices will help you become more upbeat and positive?
Perhaps you decide to try the idea of practicing gratitude. You like the idea of writing a gratitude list everyday – it feels supportive.
2. Take a Tiny, Specific Action. B.J. Fogg, a habits expert at Stanford University recommends you consider what is the absolute smallest, tiniest, most specific action you can take each day?
Most people skip this step and instead try to leap into their big, audacious goal: “I will make a 15-item gratitude list every day.”
And what happens is this: making the list becomes boring – the same damn things as the day before; or you get busy and don’t have time to come up with 15 things; and finally you give up writing your gratitude list and instead of feeling positive you feel a little ashamed: you couldn’t even stick to writing a list!
A tiny, specific action is something like this: Find ONE thing you are grateful for each day. That’s it. Start with one, tiny moment of gratitude.
A client of mine took this approach – the tiny step – towards daily self-care by deciding to do a 10-minute exercise video each evening after she changes into comfy clothes and before she eats dinner! Instead of feeling like a “loser” for not going to the gym for an hour-long work-out – she is now the “Queen of Self-Care” for meeting her ten-minute goal each night.
3. Create a Habit Loop. Duhigg points out, a habit is created through a three-step process in our brains, and it functions like this in the formation of a powerful habit:
Cue: If you were to commit to a gratitude practice every day, you will need a cue, or a trigger to tell your brain something new is happening. The best cue is something you already do every day, like pouring yourself a cup of coffee in the morning. A sticky-note on the coffee maker with the word ‘gratitude’ will be another trigger.
Routine: Now, after you pour yourself a cup of coffee, and before taking that first sip, you insert a new routine: you write down one thing you are grateful for on the notepad next to the coffeemaker.
Reward: The reward needs to be rewarding. So, holding off on that first sip of coffee, until after your gratitude moment, is crucial to helping you create and stick to your new positive habit. Perhaps to boost your ego (which is a fan of rewards) you post your list on the fridge so you can see your growing gratitude practice.
Over time, this supportive, tiny and specific action, supported by your brain’s desire to fall easily into a habit loop – cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward – will become a beautiful habit. The day will arrive when you’ll find yourself craving that moment in the morning when you pause and notice the good things in your life.
Happy (habit) Creating!