A wise person has said, “We make our habits, then our habits make us.” So we set goals and make resolutions. But our good intentions and resolutions often end in disappointment. Isn’t there an easier way to create a good habits? The answer is “Yes.”
In three simple steps, a new habit can be formed in just a few days. BJ Fogg, PhD, who teaches at Stanford, outlined these basic steps. Here are the steps:
- Anchor your new habit to an existing habit.
- Start small with a very easy behavior.
- Validate your efforts.
First, use an existing behavior as an anchor for your new habit. For instance, if you wish to develop a habit of doing daily push-ups, and you already brush your teeth every morning, use tooth brushing as your prompt for your new habit. After you finish brushing your teeth, begin to do the pushups.
Second, start with something ridiculously easy like one push-up. (Or if you are flossing your teeth, start with flossing just one tooth). Here’s my addition: While you do the behavior consciously tell yourself that you enjoy the activity: “I like the way my muscles feel alive when I do push-ups!” or “My teeth feel great when I floss!”
Third, after you complete your small goal, validate your efforts aloud. It can be as simple as saying “Great job!” or “Awesome!” Saying it aloud is more powerful than just thinking the words. When you think about the habit during the day, validate your efforts again. The great thing about this type of self-validation is that it is cheap, legal and non-fattening. And you don’t have to wait for dramatic results or other people to notice before receiving props.
That’s it! After a few days, you will find yourself looking forward to engaging in the new behavior and feeling disappointed when you can’t follow-through. Gradually, you can increase the goal in step two to become bigger or more complete. After establishing the behavior to your satisfaction, you can use this routine as an anchor for the next new habit.
In addition to Fogg’s three steps, what should happen if you forget to do your new habit? Neuroscience tells us that there are significant parts of our brain that don’t make distinctions between actually doing and activity, seeing the activity, or imagining the activity.
So, if you actually forget to do the new habit, take a minute and imagine yourself as having done it. Make this as real as possible by imagining in all five senses: What you see, feel, hear, taste and smell as you would in the activity itself. Then, tell yourself, “Awesome!” This helps to rewire your brain to the new pattern, even if you didn’t actually participate!
I decided to incorporate this technique to increase my upper-body strength and firm up my upper arms. Push-ups sounded fun, so I used BJ Fogg’s technique. I have a habit of making my bed and kneeling to pray afterward. So, since I was kneeling anyway, it would be a piece of cake to do some push-ups, right? So I used my morning prayer as an anchor habit, validated my initial effort of two push-ups, and gradually increased my reps. I waited a month or so before I informed my son who is a cadet at West Point about my quest. He said, “Mom, you can’t do push-ups every single day! You need to alternate with something else so your muscles can recover.”
Here’s the really exciting part, though. I could feel my subconscious cringe at this news! A deep part of my psyche was actually disappointed, not relieved as it would have been in the past! For me, that was a huge benefit.
I took my son’s advice and alternated the push-ups with planks. So, I can tell you that in the two years since I started this, I have missed MAYBE seven days of push-ups (when I was really sick) and now I can do 40 standard push-ups followed by 20 modified push-ups. My planks are now two minutes long. For me, a mid-50’s mother of seven kids, I think that’s pretty remarkable. Thanks, Dr. Fogg.