Creature of Habits

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Literature, Self-Improvement, Wellness

Hello, Swooners! It’s been a while. Four months, to be exact, since our last post and even longer since our last in-depth story. After a few years of writing for The Swoon Society, Kirsti and I began to experience an “enthusiasm gap” and decided to take a short break, but short-term behaviors can easily become long-term habits…

Years ago, I read the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and was slightly disconcerted to realize that almost everything we do—both self-serving and self-defeating—is simply a habit we got into somewhere along the way. While a new habit can overwrite an old one, the neural pattern for the old habit still exists in the brain, lying dormant until something comes along to reactivate it. This explains how, months or even years after adopting a positive habit, we can suddenly fall off the wagon and find ourselves right back in the throes of the negative habit we thought we’d kicked.

I am usually good about establishing habits when I’m highly motivated, but I can’t always figure out why some habits stick, while others fall away. I enjoy exercise and take long, nightly walks with my dog, but I’ve struggled to maintain a consistent upper body workout. I might do push-ups several times one week, then slip to once or twice the next week, and do nothing at all for a week or two after that, despite having a strong desire to be strong.

For this reason, an online article caught my eye recently. The teaser mentioned that a man had strengthened his upper body by developing the habit of doing just two push-ups every time he went to the bathroom. I was intrigued enough to read the entire article, which introduced me to the Tiny Habits method from Stanford behavior scientist BJ Fogg.

In his book I learned that, over years of personal experimentation and research with large numbers of people, BJ discovered some key components of successful habit formation:

    1. Start TINY. When he wanted to develop the habit of flossing his teeth daily, BJ began by flossing ONE tooth, then built on that until he was eventually flossing all of them. If he was short on time or simply not feeling it one day, he’d scale back and floss just one tooth, because that was his original habit, and even this small action served to reinforce it.
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    2. Create a recipe. To remind yourself to do the desired habit without needing a Post-It note or alarm on your phone, do it immediately after some other activity in your day that’s already habitual. Using the original example above, BJ’s recipe for upper body exercise would be: “After I use the bathroom, I will do two push-ups.” Rehearsing the sequence a few times in succession is often enough to decisively link these behaviors in your mind. (My favorite trick from a Tiny Habiteer featured in the book is to use a negative event or habit as the trigger to do something positive for yourself, helping you to instantly turn that frown upside down.)
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    3. Celebrate! BJ emphasized that this easily-overlooked action is actually one of the most important for lasting habit formation. By following the activity with a moment of celebration, the behavior becomes hardwired in the brain as something associated with a reward, making it more likely to “take.” How you celebrate will be unique to you, but some ideas are to pump your fist in the air, kick up your heels, or say, “Yes!”
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    4. Begin with three habits. Conventional wisdom suggests that you develop one habit at a time—then, once it’s established, try to add another and another—but BJ advises focusing on the system of habit formation rather than on a single habit. By starting with three habits, you’ll reinforce the practice of using regular, daily activities as triggers to do the new, desired behaviors.

The steps above are an extreme simplification of what’s in the book, which contains abundant examples and in-depth explanations for how and why these steps work. And they DO work. Since discovering this method, I’ve become a creature of habits, quickly establishing several daily behaviors that I’d previously failed at doing consistently for months or even years…including writing for this blog again by taking just one minute to type out my thoughts each time I sit down in front of the computer.

BJ Fogg believes that his method is nothing less than a revolution in how to approach and achieve long-term change. Based on my experience so far, he may be right, so join the movement and find out how Tiny Habits can make a BIG impact in your life.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Tiny Habits

 

I highly recommend listening to the Tiny Habits audiobook, which is read by the author. There’s an inspirational preface (not included in the print version) in which he explains how he used Tiny Habits to overcome some lifelong speech issues and earn the right to narrate his own book.

To get started right away with the Tiny Habits method, click here and follow the link to “Your next step” at the end of each page.

 

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