New year, new you, right? Darn tootin’! If you really want to turn over a new leaf, the first step is to focus on daily habits and making small, consistent improvements. We know that doesn’t sound nearly as sexy as a grandiose resolution, but we all know how those typically pan out.
Believe it or not, research tells us that about 45% of what we do on a daily basis is habit driven. In essence, habits, which are responses to specific triggers that are semi-automated, form the foundation for a tremendous chunk of our day-to-day behavior.
The roots of habits—both good and bad—run deep. According to BJ Fogg and Charles Duhigg, experts in behavioral change and habit formation, identifying triggers that drive our habits is the key to making a successful change. According to Duhigg, all habits are created to produce a reward, and there are three main parts to a feedback loop:
- First, a cue or trigger occurs that makes us anticipate a coming reward.
- Next, we have a routine that has been automated to obtain the reward.
- Finally, we obtain the reward.
According to BJ Fogg, successful behavior change requires Motivation to change, the Ability to make the change, and the understanding of the Triggers that either promote or derail the formation of a new habit.
The blueprint for making a new good habit, according to researchers, has seven steps.
- Keep it simple. A small, achievable, and simple goal will move us closer to the ultimate reward we are seeking. To paraphrase James Clear, tiny changes yield remarkable results.
- Identify triggers. By identifying the triggers that make the habit more or less successful, we can influence how likely a new habit will be to form. If you want to exercise in the morning, lay out your clothes and shoes the night before to increase your likelihood of working out.
- Give it a week or more. The average new habit takes 66 days to establish and to move it to the background of our brain where it becomes automated. By tracking consistency, we create a second complementary habit—the habit of a streak. The longer a streak persists, the less likely we are to break it.
- Expect setbacks. Many perceive the end of a streak as a failure, which results in giving up on the good habit, or worse, picking up a bad habit. Setbacks are part of the process. Don’t get discouraged and don’t give up. What can you learn from the setback?
- Remove negative triggers. Triggers work both ways, and the more we learn about our triggers, the easier it can be to avoid a cue that stops our progress.
- Don’t go at it alone. Change can be hard, really hard. Surrounding ourselves with a group who has already made the same or similar changes we are working to make can support us through the early stages of habit formation and help keep us accountable.
- Build on successes. While it’s important to start simple, as those small habits become automated, you have to progressively move the target and continue to build on positive change.