Science of Creating Habits

How to create habits to achieve your goals?

Have you ever wished that some positive, healthy action was a habit for you? Maybe you didn’t quite muster up the willpower to stick to your new running program, wake up daily at 7AM or remember to always brush your teeth twice a day. We know, it’s really hard right now, especially if you’re dealing with being in any type of confinement or curfew. What were once considered simple tasks have become daily challenges.

The good news is that the brain actually IS like a muscle; it needs to be trained. So through concentrating on creating a habit, rather than thinking about a long-term goal that feels so far away, can be considered to be a ‘short-cut’ to success. Once you figure out the most important actions you need to take in order to reach a goal and turn those actions into habits, you’ll be getting closer to your goal daily without even realizing it or thinking much about it. Habits are automatic, we do them with no excuses. Why? Well, firstly because they are habits, but explained more specifically, it means that you’ve created a neural pathway in your brain. The brain has grouped a series of actions you repeat often as one group, which is a process called chunking. Our brains are motivated to create habits out of all the actions you do, simply out of conserving energy (or we could even say ‘laziness’ since when the action is automatic, the brain can be on rest mode longer). So look at it this way: the brain is going to create habits for you that you will perform daily, automatically, without objection. And what if those actions you do were the exact ones that can help you achieve whatever goal it is? Sounds almost too good to be true, right? 

We’ve all heard that it takes 30 days to form a habit, but in reality it’s between 18 to 254 days, depending on the individual. Unfortunate to admit, but genetics play a role in how your brain functions, and we all have to make the best of it. The good news is that 30 days might be the right time for laying out the foundations of a habit, but in reality habit formation takes closer to 66 days on average. You can look at it this way: force yourself now to create a good habit during 66 days, and you will guard that neural pathway for life. Scientists have found that you can never really forget a habit, you can only replace it with another one if you focus on it, so creating these positive habits can give a lifetime benefit. 

So concretely, how can you form positive habits for yourself? Follow the three steps along and learn how you can influence your brain to work for your benefit.

1. Create a cue

A cue, which is a trigger, is the sign that tells your brain “it’s time to go in autopilot mode!”. It can be as simple as seeing your toothbrush in the bathroom and then proceeding to brush your teeth in the morning or at night. It could be anything, just a hint for your brain to slowly learn what is coming up after this cue is presented itself. If you wanted to create a habit of working out, rolling out the exercise mat would be the cue you should repeat each time you are about to exercise, or putting on the specific pair of shoes you wear to exercise. If the habit you want to create is limiting your time on social media, because we all need and deserve a break once in a while, you could set a timer for a few hours or whatever time you see as fitting to be spent online. The alarm sound will become your cue to put the social media away automatically.

It’s even better if you can tie this in with a specific time of the day, like each day after 10PM you quit being on social media. Your brain will eventually put two and two together.

2. Link the cue to a routine 

After the cue comes the routine which you need to actively think of performing while you’re creating that new habit for yourself. Now this is the ‘hard’ part where you’re gonna have to put the work in. You might have to force yourself to perform the action you want to be doing while arguing with yourself. It will probably be hard. If you want to start waking up each day at 7AM, but are used to waking up closer to 9AM or 10AM, it will of course be hard before it becomes a habit.

You just have to figure out a strong “why” you want to have the logical arguments on your side. It is difficult to argue with yourself about if you will get out of bed in the morning or not because you know exactly the reasoning that’ll work for you to stay in bed. It’s you against yourself. Figuring out your motivations will help you be able to figure out a deeper “why” that will help you keep going. Click here to pass our motivation assessment.

3. Reward yourself for the action performed

Lastly comes the reward. This is what encourages your brain to remember this chain of events, and remember it positively. Your brain will decide that it’s worth remembering and will start linking the cue, routine and reward together until the process is automated and your brain will sit back and you’re left with less decisions to make (meaning less convincing yourself). This is the fun part where you’ve completed a task and can feel proud of yourself for your dedication. The reward for finishing a workout could be a healthy snack. For brushing your teeth it could be as simple as giving a compliment to yourself in the mirror. If you succeeded in getting out of bed early like you wanted, make yourself a cup of tea or coffee or whatever you prefer to drink as a reward. Remember to enjoy the reward part and finish the chain of actions on a positive note.

Achieving your goals can be simple if you approach it with smart solutions, like mindfully creating a habit instead of reaching too far ahead on a goal and getting discouraged. Check out the Test & Go Instagram page for some advice on how to set goals, and then decide how much you want to succeed. 

Will you rule your brain, or will you let it tell you to always go the easy, comfortable way? Habit creation is all about you making a choice and then having the dedication to see it through.

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