A change of behaviour doesn’t happen overnight. Surely most of us know that changing yourself is the hardest thing in the world to do. So why is it that we expect our spouse or children to make changes in their behaviour easily within a short time frame? I listened to an interview with James Clear, the author of the New York Times’ bestselling book, “Atomic Habits” and he shared some really good key principles when it comes to forming new habits in our lives.
Firstly, we need to understand that habits are little routines that we follow each day without much thinking involved. It has become such a normal part of our life that we just do it automatically. Like brushing our teeth daily. Or checking our phone the moment you wake up from sleep. In order for us to change a bad habit which has become automatic, we must first be aware that it exists.
So according to James, a habit can be divided into 4 stages. Let’s take the example of a cookie eating habit.
1. Cue – some kind of visual, auditory or touch cue that gets your attention. So the cue here could be seeing a cookie on the dining table.
2. Craving – basically our brain is telling us that this habit is a really favourable – in the case of our example, we think, “Oh this cookie is really going to be delicious.”
3. Response – the action that we take – which is to eat the cookie.
4. Reward – it satisfies our craving, and reinforces the fact that the cookie is superb!
Which then comes to the next point, creating a new habit involves all the 4 stages. Let’s take a new example – creating the habit of not being distracted on social media when your children are talking to you during meal times.
1. Cue – make it more obvious – so for example, you could have a visual graphic on your phone that reminds you to put the phone down during mealtimes. Or you could have a little print out that says the same thing and placed on your dining table.
2. Craving – make the new habit appear attractive so that we are more likely to follow through with it. This could be done through a commitment that you make to your spouse who will keep you in check. Or you could make the new habit look more appealing by stacking it on top of another habit that you already love doing. For example, we can only look at the phone after dessert.
3. Response – make the new behaviour change easy to achieve, simple and more convenient. The best way to do this is to break down the new habit to the point where it only takes you 2 minutes to do. So if our aim is to have a digitally free environment during meal times, instead of the overwhelming goal of 1 hour, just try 2 minutes. It is about creating a new habit consistently even if 2 minutes seems like such a small achievement. The goal is to create a new mindset that if we can do this consistently at every mealtime for a short duration, we can do more soon.
4. Reward – make it satisfying. Every time you achieve your goal, mark it on a physical calendar that you did it! Soon, your brain will start thinking, “Yes, I’ve been achieving my goals!” and soon, those little habits will create a new behaviour pattern.
If we want to break a bad habit, you can look at it through these 4 stages too. Make the cues of the bad habits invisible, make it unattractive, make it difficult and make it unsatisfying.
And soon, you’ll be on your way to creating a new you!