Goal SettingProductivity

Creating New Habits Doesn’t Have to Be Hard

Dread. Shame. Frustration. Hopelessness.

We all feel many of the same things when we’re trying to make changes in our lives and just aren’t getting to where we want to be. We’ve all experienced the disappointment that comes with not being able to stick to a habit that really matters to us.

As a Full Focus Planner user, you have the means to plan and track your habit goals. But that’s only half the battle—the easier half, if we’re honest. The hard part is getting out of bed at 5:30 every morning to go for a run or to silence your phone and put it in a drawer for an hour to make progress on the book you’ve been meaning to finish reading.

Creating new habits can be really hard. But it doesn’t have to be.

The reason many of us fail to develop new positive habits is simply a mechanism of how the brain functions. We crave what’s familiar. Our brain loves pattern and repetition, and it often takes repeated, conscious effort to change those patterns, to reshape the way we think and act.

It takes time.

But there are some helpful strategies you can employ to speed up the process, and to make it easier to create, implement, and track habit goals that eventually become second nature.

Strategy 1: Trick Your Brain

Your brain can be your best friend and your worst enemy—all at once sometimes. It’s a perplexing paradox. The brain creates our thoughts and behaviors and habits, yet we can use the brain to trick itself. Our thinking can rewire the system itself.

As Full Focus President and CEO Megan Hyatt Miller wrote in Mind Your Mindset, “Our brains make faulty connections based on prior experiences or something we picked up from others along the way. And those faulty connections show up as unhelpful stories and strategies that prevent us from experiencing the results we want.”

So, how does one go about using the brain to rewrite its own code?

There are many ways to trick your brain to help you form new habits, one of which includes “habit stacking,” a term coined by author James Clear that explains one of the ways your brain makes meaningful synaptic connections. Put simply: You can add on to existing habits with new habits you’d like to create.

For instance, you probably don’t think about the habit of taking a shower at night before bed or first thing in the morning when you wake up. You can use that habit you’ve already established to stack on something new—like a five-minute stretching routine. Once you’ve established that as a new habit, you can stack on something else you want to implement like a quick 15-minute workout. Before you know it, your long-established habit of taking a shower now includes a stretching and workout routine, and it required very little effort to get you there.

Strategy 2: Try an Activation Trigger

The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” often applies to our habits. When we don’t think about the habit we’re trying to form, we’re not very likely to implement it.

That’s where activation triggers come in.

Say you want to start every morning with a run. You turn off your alarm, roll out of bed, and come face to face with your workout clothes, neatly folded and ready to be put to use. There’s not much thought involved—you thought about that new habit the night before. Seeing those workout clothes is an activation trigger for your brain. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder of your habit that’s hard to ignore.

An activation trigger can be as simple as a sticky note on your mirror or an encouraging message to yourself on the fridge. It’s simply a conscious reminder of something that would otherwise be an unconscious thought.

Activation triggers can also be more subtle, though they should be easier than the habit goal itself. For instance, you may want to make it a habit to be in bed by 10 o’clock every night. Your activation trigger would simply be programming a recurring alarm on your phone for 9:30 every night that signals that it’s time for you to begin your nighttime routine so you can be in bed on time.

Strategy 3: Reward Yourself

We’ve all heard of dopamine. It’s the neurotransmitter chemical in your brain that’s most responsible for helping us feel pleasure, happiness, motivation, and a host of other good things. You may not realize it, but your brain is always chasing after dopamine.

One effective way to form new habits is to associate those habits with a dopamine boost—a reward, in other words.

When you reward yourself with 30 minutes to watch a TV show after you’ve finished up all your work for the day, you’re programming your brain to chase after that reward, and the only way to get there is to complete that goal.

Forming the habit of getting out of bed at 5:30 every morning can be easier with a reward, too. If you start your day by doing something you really enjoy—listening to your favorite podcast, for example—you’re much less likely to reach for the snooze button.

Each of these strategies can be an effective tool for forming new habits on their own. Combine all three, and you’ll find that forming new habits—and sticking with them—doesn’t have to be that hard.

Last modified on August 3rd, 2023 at 3:15 pm

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