I’m just embarking on a year-long programme with author, columnist, former vet and shamanic teacher, Manda Scott. We’re beginning the course not just by learning how new habits are formed, but more importantly, how we can embed them and keep them up. January is, of course, a prime time for this kind of discussion, so I thought I’d write up my learnings from this in the hope it might help you, too.
Most of us fear failure when starting up a habit, but what’s clear is:
People who make specific plan for when and where they will perform a new habit, are more likely to follow it through.
JAMES CLEAR, ATOMIC HABITS
Habits which are more likely to stick are those which are easy, obvious, attainable, desirable, quantifiable and rewarding.
The four parts of a habit are as follows:
- Trigger – what makes you take a new habit on in the first place?
- Desire – why are you doing it/why do you want to do it?
- Behaviour – what are you trying to change
- Reward – what will you give yourself as a treat to reinforce the new habit
Manda Scott says that habits frequently exist in sequences where the entire ‘behaviour chain’ becomes self-reinforcing. So you need to fold your new habit between two already embedded habits (for example, cleaning your teeth and making a morning coffee). You also need to ensure you begin the activity with a sense of joyful anticipation of what you’re about to do. And then end by giving yourself a big self-congratulation. By doing this, you’re giving yourself the best chance of success for the new habit to stick.
The new key part to Manda’s teaching of habit-building is that of creating a specific plan for what we plan to start and when we’re going to start it. Plans work. Promises made from current-me to future-me are also very high value. The key to this is being very specific. In the case of what we’ll be learning first as a group, our new habit/behaviour will be listening to a series of water visualisations. I’ll explain why in future posts. That’s actually quite a big step. It’s not an easy one and as we’ve learned above, one of the keys to making habits stick is that they should be as easy as possible.
One of the keys of behaviour training is that any behaviour should be broken down into the smallest possible steps. Only when the first of these is solid do we add a new layer of complexity/work. So, as an example, here are the first three of my plan:
I now we need to work out exactly when in my day I’m going to insert my new habit
Answer: Monday-Fridays only to begin with. In the car as I arrive at the gym
I need to be very clear exactly what my new habit is
Answer: Listening to a series of pre-defined water visualisations given to me by Manda Scott
I then need to work out what my reward is going to be
At the moment, I’m going to start out with the idea that my reward will be to feel better for doing the exercise because the whole point of the course is to grow as an individual and consciously change my consciousness for a rapidly-changing world and society. I’m hoping this will enable me to deal with all that may come our way over the next 10-20 years. That may not be basic enough, but it’s a starting point which I can then adjust.
Then I need to write from my old self to my future self
This could feel odd, but it’s a really key part. The promise is a statement of intent. The more specific I can be the better. It also acts as a trigger – a visual cue that will remind me of my intent and will help me to set up an emotional element of the new habit.
Answer: Dear tomorrow-self. I am going to listen to the first of the water visualisation clips tomorrow morning at 06.20. I am going to spend 3 minutes evoking the sense of joyful anticipation first. (Joyful anticipation is about evoking a memory from the past where I felt really excited about something that was about to happen. For me, my plan is to remember as a child, how I felt sitting under the Christmas tree in our family home, setting myself up for the moment Santa may arrive with a present for me – a bike. I’ll imagine how I felt, what I saw, what I could smell – my mother cooking mince pies, for example. This sets my habit up for success because I’m telling myself that I’m excited about doing the water visualisation.)
It’ll be fun! With love, Justine
So, to recap
What you need in order to begin your new habit:
- A clear definition of what your new habit is
- A specified time when you will perform this new habit
- A written declaration of intent from now-self to future-self specifically outlining your intention
- A sense of a magic moment (joyful anticipation) with which to precede your habit
- Sensory cues that will help to evoke this sense of joyful anticipation
- A sense of self-congratulation to end it
- A primary reinforcer to reward your habit when it’s done
That’s it! If you’ve got this far and you’re still with me, you’re all set!
I’ll report back on how I’ve got on next week!