How to Form Good Habits
Follow these simple steps to make good habits part of your identity. So you can feel confident saying: “I read books”, “I’m a runner” or (hopefully) “I have a great sleep routine."
BY ROSIE FOSTER-CARTER
Go to bed earlier. It’s been my new year's resolution for 10 years. But once I’ve finished work, put my two children to bed and made supper, having some time to myself takes me to midnight.
Turning good intentions into reality isn’t easy. But the good news is, behavioural experts and neuroscientists have spent the last decade finding out how to make it less tricky. So let’s dive into the four big findings:
1. Start small
Small change, big difference. Instead of planning long-term goals, focus on one little thing you can do today. Think 30 seconds or less – then do it daily. Why small? Because it gets us past the biggest hurdle: starting. The act of flossing around one tooth or doing a single press-up feels so trivial there’s no fear, and no excuse to put it off on special occasions. Practiced daily, those small acts turn into lasting habits fast.
2. Stack your habits
Sync up your new habit with something that you already do. It’s what the pros call ‘stacking’. Think: practice one minute’s meditation every time you make a coffee. Do a quick pelvic-floor squeeze every time you get a WhatsApp notification. Or make brushing your teeth your daily prompt to take your vitamins.
With good habits come great rewards. Experts agree: if you celebrate immediately after trying a new behaviour, those feel-good emotions get wired in your brain. Dr Susan Wood explains: “When you get a reward, your brain releases dopamine... If you repeat that same behaviour you learn mental shortcuts of how to get a reward. That’s how habits form.” So try saying to yourself: “Good job!”
4. Make it easy
Set yourself up for success by making it easier to do the things you want to do and harder to do the things you don’t. Try throwing on your gym kit each morning to remove one hurdle. Dr Wood takes it a step further and sleeps in her running clothes. It’s harder to watch TV when it’s in another room and unplugged, or to eat chocolate if there’s none in the cupboard.