We continue with the series about habits and how they can change our lives. Now we enter into some details: how habits work and how to formulate targets for them. It will be very detailed and practical so anyone could be able to take something useful and apply it in their everyday life.
We will also celebrate a birthday – three years from the birth of one of Nikis’ useful habits that he retains to this day with no exception and we will learn how he succeeds.
Lets’ go back and remember why we do this
In the previous material we began with what habits are and how they impact our behaviour. We reached the conclusion that motivation is key for creation and retention to a certain routine.
“Habits should never be self-serving – otherwise they won’t last in time”
In other words – if you do not have a strong reason for doing something, or even – why should you do it every day, your will face hardship onward.
- What habits we have had in the past and want to recover;
- What habits we have at the moment and want to retain;
- What habits we want to build for the future.
Let’s do it as useful as possible
Let’s try the following:
While reading this article, think about your habit from the above-mentioned categories that is important for you. All said here you can rethink in its context.
Breaking the theory and examples through the idea for it could make it easier for you to become more aware and to give you the ability to make decision for action.
The power of habits
Years ago we read Charles Duhiggs “The power of Habit” that we strongly recommend. There the author examines his own behaviour in an attempt to understand what happened that led to him gaining 5 kilos for a short period of time, while working in his office.
He focuses over his everyday habits and reaches to a very simple model, explaining how they work. It’s made out of 3 components:
1. A key (condition that unlocks our behavior)
2. An action (that turns into a routine in time)
3. Reward (something that the brain likes and strives to receive)
The model is so simple that in the beginning you, the same as us, can think – “Yes, but now what?”. Going into detail we will really understand what drives us through the day and will give us more control over our actions.
Duhigg shares his own experience as an example. Every day around 15:30 like clockwork, he gets of his desk and goes to the cafeteria, where he eats a chocolate biscuit with his colleagues.
Here is the dissection of the behavioral cycle:
The key or the condition is the concrete moment in the day – early afternoon, while sitting in front of the computer.
The action, imperceptibly becoming autonomous is the passing of the distance to the cafeteria and the process of eating the carbohydrate bomb.
And the reward is not as obvious. That is the catch:
In attempt to understand it, the author had to experiment with different behavior and analysis over what he feels. At the end it turns out that the reward is not the biscuit itself, but the social aspect of it all. (The added weight is a side effect)
“That’s how habits work: there is always a reward and we just have to look deep in its nature. And if the action leading to it is destructive, we can look for another path to it.”
Conditions, unlocking the habit
In English the correct word is “trigger”. This is the thing that has to be available, so the automated action can begin. It can be:
- a place – is you happen to be somewhere you do a certain action. It can be involuntary – in example, when you go in the kitchen you take a chocolate bar from the cupboard. Or a positive, like Ivan – when you go to a new place, you put on the trainers and go out for a run, so you can check – I ran in London, on Tassos or in Smolyan….;
- moment of the day: when you notice how always in a given time period you start to do something specific – you scroll the news after waking up, or go for a coffee in 16 o’clock
- emotional state – when you are stressed you smoke, or when you are happy you call your brother;
- other people – you connect the face with an action and automatically turn to a certain wave
- your actions just before you start wanting to do something – like when you eat crisps and you want beer or when you turn the iron on and want to listen to a podcast.
“And so, we have programmed ourselves to do things under certain conditions. The action itself is mostly unconscious and we have little to no control over it but we can diagnose what triggers it and to reprogram ourselves.”
The rewards we give ourselves
We already mentioned the afternoon sweets that only seemingly were the reward, while the real reward was the socializing.
Everyone that goes out with his smoker colleagues will understand very well the need of social contact. He becomes a part of the group with or without doing the action of smoking. The aim is not to loose on the important work conversations (or the gossip).
We have to think what we really want – is it the rest, dose of energy, distraction from depressing thoughts, body stretching, a breath of fresh air, communication.
“The first step is to understand that under condition X, you do action Y and receive reward Z. The second is to find a way to receive Z, without going through the destructive Y.”
Here is how one indicator – a moment of the day at breakfast time can unlock behavior in very different directions, leading to different rewards.
For a close relative of ours, the morning automatically is time for a coffee and a cigarette. For her the reward for waking up early is being alone with herself with an aromatic drink in hand. For years she fought to change the middle link – the cigarettes and she made it with the “Goal buddy” system but we are going to tell you about it another time.
For Niki the morning generally unlocks the desire for light healthy breakfast. This snowballs a series of nutritious meals and the reward for that is the feeling of fulfillment and high energy and tone. The brain looks for its reward and forbids him to cut this cycle with unhealthy greasy pastry at lunch.
You still think about your habit?
The one you want back or the current one with which you are proud of and want to retain? Or the one that you have never had but you dream to create? Great, because now we will give you an idea how you can accomplish that.
How we create habits
Lets say it straight – it appears that it’s cooler to have habits than to have goals. Somehow it looks normal but it is not exactly like that.
In order to build a habit, it’s not just about liking the idea. It’s quite opposite – it takes a lot of effort.
When is about a healthy habit, leading us to wanted result (and not to gaining body fat or destruction of lungs) it takes work building it, before you can reap it fruit.
“We like the metaphor with the rocket. Ones it flies into space it floats freely but in order to achieve that it used huge amount of fuel and has overcome gravity. It was not a happy accident but a very purposeful action.”
Goals or Habits?
For us they are not alternatives to each other, but they are connected.
As we already said: self –serving habits are not long term. For a habit to last in time it needs a strong “Why”. That “why” can be found in the vision. We work on the vision as we give ourselves short-term goals.
The puzzle looks like this:
Vision, a real aspiration -> 90-day goals -> small weekly steps. Of course with the help of a Goal Buddy. With this methodology you can achieve progress by perseverance of your actions. And what are habits if not repetitive actions?
Goals for habits
For us one of the most effective targets are those for creation of habits. They work very well with 90-day goal.
“It’s simple: you set yourself a goal to do a certain action for a 90-day period, until it becomes a routine.”
It’s easiest to establish when doing something daily or even a couple of times a day. In this way 3 or 4 weeks can be enough.
More challenging is if your target is to build a habit but you “train” it 2-3 times a week. Then it will probably need a few repetitions or in other words – 90 or more days.
Happy birthday, habit!
It has been exactly 3 years since Niki started meditating every day. From 07.03.2018 onwards he never missed a day. In cold, hot, pandemic, sickness or health, calm or hard periods, that’s the thing he does daily.
And it all started with a “why”. When about 12-ish years ago at a seminar at his attention was presented the subject of meditation, was the “axa” moment. He understood that contrary to his beliefs this is not something “crazy” but a way to connect with yourself and to let a moment of silence for your thoughts. He found a truly important reason to test those practices, intertwined with his vision for spiritual growth.
Through the years he went on and off meditation but here is how he finally was able to establish the habit without fail.
90 – day goal
First he put meditation in his vision and found a strong reason why to put efforts into implementing it in his day-to-day life. Now in addition to being intriguing, he knew that this is important for him. The motivation was there.
After that he gave himself 90-day goal to meditate every single day. There was one rule: every day he has to put a “check” in his list. If whatever reason he misses a day, even if he is on the 89th he had to start from the beginning.
When the is “why” there is also a “how”
How to meditate when you are ill and with fever? Or when you have to wake up at 04:30 to catch a flight? Or when you are absorbed by worries?
Nikis answer is – adapt to the situation. If he travels very early in the morning, he can meditate in the plane. If for whatever reason he was not able in the morning, he takes 15 minutes from his lunch break and restarts the day. If he was unable even then, he meditates in the evening so he could accomplish the needed calmness before sleep.
Buddy for goal
And for habits. Thanks to our regular meetings and our talks about the weekly steps we have the ability to help each other. This way our goal system helps us for habit creation with the help of the four keys for accomplishing any goal.
Have you found your indicator, action and reward?
We hope that we have managed to shed a light about the problem and after reading this you have seen the way to a habit. Knowing how to make goals for habits, you can start from today, in the beginning of the new quarter.
If you want to read more, stay with us. We have prepared great and even more practical materials on the topic with more examples, citations, mistakes and strategies. Meanwhile you can ask us and we will attempt to answer your questions in following articles.