8 Techniques to Create New Habits
If we wake up, brush our teeth, and have coffee at the same time every day, why is it so difficult for us to create new habits?
Experts believe that this is because our way of developing healthy habits such as exercise or diet isn’t the most appropriate, as we often set these goals without considering the steps that will lead us to success.
With this in mind, the first thing we must bear in mind is that good habits can make a difference in life, so we recommend you choose the habits you want to adopt and apply each of the techniques that we’ll present below.
Techniques and tips to create new habits
Given the importance of developing and maintaining new habits, there are experts who’ve dedicated their careers to unraveling the best way to achieve it. Let’s look at each of their tips in detail.
1. Associate the new habit with your old ones
One of the best ways to create habits is to associate them with one that you already have. To do this, you must think about an activity that you carry out without fail and find out how you can add the new habit that you’re interested in developing.
Since most people have a pretty strong morning routine, this might be the best time to incorporate a new habit. For example, you could do exercises like squats and lunges while brushing your teeth or even use this time to practice mindfulness.
It’s also possible to add habits to your nighttime routine. Instead of collapsing on the couch as soon as you get home and turning on the TV, you could practice a gentle and relaxing yoga session that allows you to release stress.
2. Start with a small habit
According to BJ Fogg, a research associate at Stanford University and the author of the book Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything, big changes in behavior require a lot of motivation that’s difficult to sustain over time. For this reason, he recommends starting with small habits or changes that are easy to sustain early on.
Some suggestions could be taking a short walk or adding an apple or other fruit to your lunch every day so that you start creating healthy eating and exercise habits.
Fogg also uses himself as an example and recounts his experience in strengthening the habit of doing push-ups. In his case, he started with two push-ups a day and, following the previous technique, linked exercise with the habit of going to the bathroom. So, every time he went to the bathroom, he would do two push-ups, which is why he now performs between 40 to 80 push-ups every day.
3. Establish specific habits
When it comes to habits, the more specific they are, the more likely they are to come to fruition. In that regard, if what you want is to eat healthily and lose weight, saying that you want to have “healthy eating habits” is too general to become a reality.
Therefore, you must consider specific actions such as buying whole wheat pasta every time you go to the supermarket or eating nuts and raisins as a mid-afternoon snack from Monday to Friday.
4. Do it every day
A study in which participants were asked to choose a small habit that they wanted to develop, such as drinking water during lunch or taking a walk before dinner, found that the amount of time it took for the activity to be done automatically was 66 days on average.
This result shows that habits take a long time to create, but if they’re done frequently, the process can be faster. With that in mind, it’s best to follow the advice above and start with a small and reasonable habit. This way, doing it every day will make it last in the long run.
Of course, once you’ve managed to adopt this behavior, you’ll be ready to explore those that are a little more difficult.
5. Eliminate obstacles that stand in your way
Experts believe that eradicating the obstacles that get in your way makes you more likely to develop a new habit.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis showed that changing the closing time of elevator doors from 10 seconds to 1 minute and a half, caused many people to start climbing the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator and even continue to use them after the elevator returned to its original configuration.
This is also seen a lot in the world of marketing. The experts in this area reduce all possible obstacles in order to make us spend more money. An example of this is Amazon’s 1-Click button, which allows you to shop faster without having to go through the process of adding products to your cart.
6. If you’re doing well, reward yourself!
According to research published in the journal BMC Psychology, rewards serve to reinforce a behavior that we want to convert into a habit.
Although there are habits with immediate gratifications, such as having a fresh mouth and minty breath after brushing, there are others such as losing weight or having strong abs that take longer, so you need to think about rewards that help to form the habit.
Some examples are listening to music or audiobooks while running or watching one of your favorite shows while exercising on the treadmill or stationary bike.
7. If you fail, don’t be so hard on yourself
One day you decided that you wanted to improve your eating habits and would start snacking on a fruit salad instead of chocolate, candy, or other unhealthy snacks. The first week, you fully comply every day, however, you fail in your task during the second week and you begin to get down on yourself.
There’s scientific evidence that indicates that rather than being helpful, criticizing yourself can backfire. For this reason, the recommendation is to be kind to yourself and understand that although you’ve had a problem complying with your new habit, this is common in these cases and it’s best to get up and resume with more strength the next day.
8. Develop one habit at a time
Because creating, changing, or eradicating a behavior requires willpower, it’s a good idea to develop one habit at a time. Of course, once the new behavior is automated and you don’t need willpower to maintain it over time, you can start the process of creating a new habit.
Other techniques to create new habits
There are other specific actions that could help you create new habits and maintain them. These include the following:
- Write them down. This makes your ideas clearer and, therefore, you’re more focused on the final result.
- Find a friend. If you feel like quitting, for example, finding a friend might be the best way to stay motivated and not feel alone during the process. This advice also applies to those looking to lose weight, improve their diet, and exercise more regularly.
- Be aware of the benefits and possible consequences. If the new habit you want to create has health benefits, be sure to research what they are and find out how to get the most out of them. The same happens with the consequences; identify them and try to reduce the damage as much as possible.
New habits, new life
Habits not only make your life easier and healthier when it comes to getting things done and eating properly, but they can also make you more productive and successful if they’re related to reaching a goal.
For this reason, consider that there are some techniques that can help you improve your self-control and thus maintain a behavior over time, such as associating it with an existing habit, starting small, and doing it as often as possible.
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- Houten, R. V., Nau, P. A. & Merrigan, M. (1981). Reducing elevator energy use: a comparison of posted feedback and reduced elevator convenience. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 14, 377-387. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.1981.14-377
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