So, it’s that time of year again, and you’ve sat down to write a fresh list of resolutions for the new year – but have you actually nailed any of the ones you wrote down for last year? Writing resolutions is a great start, and it’s easy to stay on the rails for the first few weeks (or months if you’re lucky), but then the work starts piling up and it’s hard to keep track of what you resolved to do in the first place.
Here’s were we can help – keeping your New Year’s resolutions all starts with learning how to form new, long-lasting habits, and making sure they’re actually achievable for the year (I’d like to run like Usain Bolt, but see – that’s bit unachievable in a year!)
We’ve all heard the myth that it takes 21 days to form a habit, but new studies have found it might be closer to around 2 months! Whatever the time frame, the best way to create new, long-lasting habits is not how long you perform the same task, over and over, but actually understanding the fundamentals of habit-forming, and how it affects your behaviour.
According to scientists, habits all follow the same 4-stage cycle – The trick to forming new habits is knowing this cycle, and using it to your advantage.
The cue is the first stage in the cycle, and it triggers your brain into beginning a behaviour. The cue is the initial bit of information that foresees a reward (which we’ll get to later). As your mind is constantly analysing new information from the world around it, it finds the first indication of your next reward, and thus begins the next stage – Craving.
Cravings are the motivation force behind your habits – think of that time you saw a baking show and instantly started desiring chocolate cake – that’s a craving! Interestingly enough, usually what you crave is not the habit itself, but actually the relief it provides, and it changes person to person.
The third stage of the cycle is the response – this is the actual performing of the habit. This can be in the form of a thought or an action, and varies depending on how much effort is associated with the habit; if the response is too high in mental or physical effort, you’re unlikely to perform it. Similarly, a response is only performed if you are actually capable of performing it – like I mentioned earlier, I’d love to run like an Olympian, but it's not physically possible in the given time frame.
The last stage of the habit cycle is the reward – it’s the very end goal! All of the previous stages are completed in anticipation of a reward because of two purposes: to satisfy us, and to teach us. On the satisfaction front, rewards provide relief from the craving, whether it be immediately (like eating that slice of cake you’ve been eyeing up), or for a longer-term goal, like getting in shape to improve overall health and fitness. The second aspect of a reward is that they teach us which actions are worth performing in the future – if your brain decides the response isn’t worth the reward, you’re unlikely to keep performing the habit. Thus, the cycle begins again.
So, now you’re up to date on how habits form – but how do we break bad ones, or create good ones? By linking rules to these four stages, you can learn how to create a new, healthier habit, or invert it to break old, unhealthy habits.
Author James Clear (who focuses on habits, and how they work) explains that by associating specific rules to these stages, we can begin to ask ourselves questions that will affect the creation of them in the first place.
Clear’s suggestion on how to create a Good Habits involves these four rules:
And, if you’re looking to break a bad habit, just reverse these rules (e.g. make the response difficult)
So, when you’re sitting down, looking at that blank list thinking of how to stick to a new habit, ask yourself these easy questions:
How can I make it obvious?
How can I make it attractive?
How can I make it easy?
How can I make it satisfying?
Now that you know how to identify habits, and create new ones that will stick - go forth and create those healthy, long-lasting habits, and rock the new year!