How to improve your life by changing your habits
Your life right now is the sum of every habit you’ve picked up along the way.
The good habits and the bad have all played a role in shaping your physical fitness, happiness and level of success.
If you want to improve the quality of your life, start with changing your habits. The things you think about and do repeatedly ultimately end up forming who you are, what you believe and the personality you present to the world every day.
More importantly, Clear believes that dropping bad habits while developing new good ones can put you on the fast track toward improving your health, your work and your life in general.
The science of habits
Trading out one habit for another isn’t quite as simple as it might sound. After all, we’ve built many of our habits over the course of years. We don’t even think about them. That’s what makes a habit a habit. It’s compulsive and automatic – but not impossible to beat.
THE GOOD HABITS AND THE BAD HAVE ALL PLAYED A ROLE IN SHAPING YOUR PHYSICAL FITNESS, HAPPINESS AND LEVEL OF SUCCESS.
Scientists have found that there are four essential steps to building a habit, and understanding each phase of the habit can help you master them.
Is picking up the remote the first thing you do after sitting on the sofa? Sitting on the sofa is a cue – a small piece of information that predicts a reward. As soon as you sit, you pick up the remote because you know you’ll be rewarded by being entertained.
The craving is your desire for a reward. In the case of the sofa, the reward could be a couple episodes of a new television show you’ve been getting into or a movie you’ve been dying to see. The craving for that reward can be strong enough to drive you toward the sofa, even if you know there are more productive things you could be doing.
This is you performing the habit. In this example, the habit would be picking up the remote instinctively and turning on the television. The craving represents your desire for the reward, while response describes the action you take to obtain that reward.
Obtaining the reward serves two purposes: satisfying a craving and teaching you which actions are worth remembering. Those actions become second nature, or habit. That concept can help explain why you can drive to work every morning without even thinking. You’ve instinctively left at a particular time and taken a certain route because you know you’ll be rewarded with not getting stuck in traffic and showing up to work on time, which will keep you out of hot water with your boss.
By determining your cues and how they initiate the four phases of habit building, you can start to deconstruct your bad habits and build good ones.
How do you break the bad habit cycle?
Our good habits aren’t the only ones that feel rewarding. For instance, when you give in to your sweet tooth, your brain releases dopamine, the “feel good” chemical. The same type of response happens when you’re stuck on a project at work and decide to take a scroll on your social media feed instead of powering through and getting the job done.
Whatever your bad habit may be, there’s always a “cue” that will trigger the craving and the response. Next time being stuck makes you crave looking at your phone, change your response. Instead of grabbing your phone, take a walk, grab some water and give your eyes a break, before doubling down on your project. If the urge to reach for your phone is still strong, put it away in a drawer – lock it if you have to.
Eventually, the cue that used to have you reaching for your phone will instead give you an opportunity to clear your head, get hydrated and refocus. You’ve changed your response and in turn, the reward.
Instead of craving the fleeting satisfaction of social media when a project hits the roadblock, you’ll crave the sense of relief and confidence that comes with a job well done and another item checked off your list.
You can apply this process to any of your bad habits once you identify the cues that trigger your craving and response. In some cases, you may be able to start by cutting out the cue altogether. If opening your cupboard and seeing a package of cookies triggers you to throw off your diet, throw out all the junk food and remove the cue.
However, if your first instinct when sitting on the sofa is to pick up the remote, then hide the remote and place a book nearby instead. In this case, you’re changing your response to the cue, rather than trying to avoid sitting on the sofa. If you know which cue triggers the craving, do everything you can to remove that cue or change your response to it.
Creating good habits
When building good habits, start with three easy steps to set the groundwork for lasting change.
1: Make it incredibly
easy to start
Staying consistent is the most important part of building good habits. After all, habits are something we do compulsively, without so much as a second thought. That’s why a new habit should be so easy you can’t turn it down.
If regular exercise is our goal, commit to exercising for just a few minutes each day. If you want to eat healthier, promise yourself you’ll eat one healthy meal each week. You don’t have to start by changing your entire diet or spending an hour or more a day at the gym.
Once your small changes become habit, ramping up the intensity will feel so much easier.
2: Come to terms with what is really holding you back
Maybe it’s not the food that’s keeping you from eating healthy. It could be that buying the right ingredients and taking time to cook fresh vegetables and grains at home isn’t very motivating after a long day at work.
On the same note, you might not be staying away from the gym because you don’t like exercise. Rather, it might be the hassle of getting ready for the gym, then driving 20 minutes to get there. Instead of letting yourself become convinced that you don’t like exercise or healthy foods, think about the smaller hurdles in the way and how you can minimise the number of things holding you back.
3: Plan for your failures
Why do so many resolutions fail? Because it’s so easy to look at failure as an absolute. Don’t expect to succeed without any failure on your first try. Instead, have a plan for how you are going to rebound and get back on track quickly when you do slip up.
One helpful way to look at things is with a “never miss twice” mindset. Sure, you may miss one workout, but you’re not going to miss two in a row. You may miss one healthy meal, but don’t let that lead to two in a row. If you only miss once, you’re never straying too far from the path.