The ultra short guide to habits, how to lose them and how to build them.

If you want to start a new good habit, make it easy for yourself. If you want to stop a bad habit, make it hard for yourself.

The definition of a habit, regardless of “good” or “bad” is a thing we do consistently and subconsciously, or only with minimal thought. When we do these things depend on when we are projected to a cue we associate with that thing.

Bad Habits

This could be things like grabbing the remote and turning on the tv when you see the remote, opening a coke when you see them in the fridge or calling for a pizza when you see the takeaway flyer.

Realising this means that it is also somewhat easy to break these habits simply by changing this cue, or making the habit harder to perform.

An example of this is that if you find yourself turning on the tv first thing when you come home, with no particular purpose and then start browsing around for something to see, try hiding the remote out of sight in a drawer. Not seeing the remote and having that as a cue to turn on the tv, then you might not do it at all, or at least stop and think for a second as to whether you want to turn on the tv. To make it even more difficult, take the batteries out of the remote and hide them somewhere else. Changing the cues and adding extra step means that the task becomes less automatic and more deliberate, meaning you think more about it and maybe conclude that you actually don´t want to turn on the tv. Or maybe you just only turn it on if you really have a reason to.

The same with the cokes, if seeing cokes in the fridge makes you open one, don´t keep them in the fridge. Preferably, don´t keep them at all, but if you must, keep them somewhere out of sight and not cooled, so the act of wanting a coke is very deliberate, and you even have to go through the process of chilling it before getting it, making the reward for getting it even greater.

Regarding ordering in take away. If you have take away flyers hanging on your fridge, throw them out! They don´t hang their for convinienve so that you can easily find the information you need when you have deliberately decided you want to order in food, rather, they create this need subconsciously all the time. You don´t want that. Out with them. And if you do want to order in food, don´t order the same every time, as that is also a sign of a habit. Order something new, give it dliberate thought.

Oh, and delete all food order in apps from your phone, so that in order to actually place an order you need to first download the apps, sign in and then order. Make it difficult so that you are sure you are going through the steps because you want to, and not just because of some silly trigger. Even better, keep delicious, healthy and easy to prepare foods in your fridge so you never find yourself ordering in out of necessity.

Using cues to develop good habits

Knowing how cues make us do things can also be used to help promote good habits. The reason why routines are fantastic (as evidenced by all of these “morning routine” articles at the moment) is that they work as cues. More on that in another article.

However, we can also very easily “trick” ourselves by designing the cues we are exposed to. Very simple examples of this can be to reverse some of the examples from above. Instead of just moving the tv remote, also put an interesting magazine or book where you would normally put the remote. Or maybe put a small note to yourself to listen to a podcast.

Other examples are to leave fruit out visibly on the table, while hiding the unhealthy snacks, to leave a full water bottle in clear sight so you have a few sips all the time and so on.

I can keep coming with examples, but that would just drag this on and I am sure you got the point already. So in summary, to stop doing bad habits, define what triggers them and remove that cue. If the cue can´t be removed, at least make it harder for yourself to do. To start new habits, replace bad triggers or create new ones, and make the desired behavior as easy as possible to do.

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