Building new, healthy habits and breaking old, unhealthy habits is the most important thing when it comes to achieving long-term change. Whether that be losing weight, boosting your fitness, enhancing your health & wellbeing or improving your finances. The actions you carry out on a regular basis (habits) define where you are now.
Over the next 4 emails, I'm going to take you through the steps to building new habits that are aligned with your goals and how to break habits that are not aligned with your goals. I would say that habits are at the core of what I coach, and recently reading a book called Atomic Habits by James Clear was a game changer on that front.
The First Step: Make Your New Habits Obvious
It's easy to feel overwhelmed when trying to change anything in your life. There is generally so much to do already that it is easy to forget the new habits you are trying to form.
The first modification is to make the new habit obvious. The more obvious the cue to the new habit is, the more likely you are to carry out the habit routine. And the more often you carry out the new habit, the more quickly it will form and become more automatic.
A few examples of making a new habit more obvious include:
- If you are trying to make going to the gym a habit, pack up your gym clothes the night before and leave them in the bathroom or by the front door.
- If you are trying to eat more protein, buy pre-cooked protein sources and leave them at eye level at the front of the fridge. We've all found that mushy bag of veg or chicken at the back of the fridge drawer months later than wasn't obvious.
- If you are trying to slow your eating speed down, have post it reminders nearby, make sure you eat away from your desk and set a timer before you start eating.
Break an old habit: Don't make it obvious
On the other hand, if you are trying to break an old habit that isn't serving you well then you want to do the opposite; make it not obvious.
Willpower is a finite resource, and the more you see and/or engage with the cue to the habit you are trying to break the more likely you are to cave in. By removing the cue from your environment, the less willpower you need to use and the easier it becomes to break that habit.
Here are a few examples of how to make a habit less obvious.
- If you are trying to limit the number of cookies you eat then either don't buy them at all or hide them in the back of a drawer that is awkward to get to.
- If you are trying to limit your smartphone use, make sure you always leave your phone in a different room or zip it up in your bag.
- If you are trying to break your after-work visit to the sweet section in your local shop, try taking a different route home; one which you don't pass temptation.
That's it for the first step in building or breaking habits. Next week I'll dive into the second step.
This week's thought: what habits are you trying to build and which are you trying to break? Take a look at one or two habits and try to see how you can make them either more or less obvious.