One of the best ways to reach a goal is to establish a beneficial habit like taking a walk each day or putting $50 a week in a savings account. Another thing to do is to discard an unhealthy habit like having a venti mocha frappuccino every morning.
To do that it’s helpful to understand what a habit is. To get more information on habits I recommend Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit. Duhigg is a journalist who has studied the studies on habit. and give a great summary. Here’s a summary of the summary.
A real habit is a neurological energy saver. Habits don’t require much conscious thought and conscious thought requires a lot of energy. Habits are automatic. There are three parts of a habit. A trigger, an action, and a reward.
The trigger might be going downstairs in the morning. The action might be making coffee and the reward is a jolt of energy from the caffeine.
To form a good habit try this.
1 Decide on a goal that you would like to achieve for your health.
2 Choose a simple action that will get you towards your goal which you can do on a daily basis.
3. Plan when and where you will do your chosen action. Be consistent: choose a time and place that you encounter every day of the week.
4. Every time you encounter that time and place, do the action.
5. It will get easier with time, and within 10 weeks you should find you are doing it automatically without even having to think about it.
(This is from an article by Gardner, Lally and Wardle in the Britiish Journel of General Practice.)
What may be more effective and kill two birds with one stone is to REPLACE the bad action in an established habit with a good action. So if you go out for a frappuccino with a friend every afternoon, suggest going for a longer walk instead of grabbing the sugary drink. You still have the trigger and the reward (energy boost and social interaction) but the action is different.
This is actually the best way to get rid of negative habits. Identify the triggers and rewards and substitute some other action. If you grab a smoke or a candy bar when you get bored, try playing a song or going for a walk around the office instead.