Mike's random thoughts and ramblings

How to Quickly Create New Habits in Your Life

A friend of mine mentioned that she was having trouble getting in the habit of going to the gym every morning, so I promised an explanation of how I have created so many beneficial habits in my life in the past year.   I thought that the email that I sent her might actually be useful for others who are having the same type of issue.  Not that anybody out there has trouble creating habits that improve their life at all.

My email is below...

My reading of the latest research says that forming a habit comes down to three things (with an optional fourth):

  1. Turning that habit in to a precise behavior (instead of "I want to get in shape", "I want to go to the gym 3x per week").
  2. Deciding on an "anchor" for that behavior within your life.  The anchor point determines the behavior that immediately precedes the new behavior: "After I brush my teeth upon waking on M/W/F I will put on my gym clothes and walk to the front door to leave")
  3. Repeatedly be triggered to perform that behavior at the right anchor point
  4. (Optional) To really make it stick, it helps to create (social) accountability around that behavior
There are a bunch of tools to do this.  If the habit is small, start with BJ Fogg's latest research project, called "Tiny Habits" (http://tinyhabits.com/).  Joining BJ's project is the easiest and best way for you to get a really solid understanding of how to form interesting habits in your own life and perform the first two steps.
Once you're good at doing the first two things for yourself, all you really need to do is the third.  There are a few sites that have popped up to help with that:
Note that Habit Forge has built in to it the ability to create "teams", which provides the fourth step I mentioned earlier.  21Habit uses a financial accountability model, costing you money for every day that you don't complete your habit.  Each of these strategies is more or less likely to work, depending on the individual.   But neither of these are really needed as much as the first 3 steps.
So, if you want to start going to the gym, here's what you do.
  1. Decide what the target behavior is.  (I like the one I chose above, but it could be anything: "")
  2. Decide on the anchor point in your life.  An example could be: "When I get in my car to leave the office, I will drive to the gym and walk in the front door".  (Notice that your goal doesn't have to be related to actually working out: if you walk in the front door, you're likely to, but you may just walk right out again.  This is what BJ Fogg calls "baby steps" - we don't have to do the entire behavior, just the part of it that is cognitively easy enough to create the habit)
  3. Set a trigger to remind you at that time where you're going.  Could be one of the services above (that work by email), a calendar reminder, or a sticky note on your steering wheel.  As long as you're reminded close to the time that you actually leave the office.
  4. If you want to make it even more likely, find something to hold you accountable: it could be a workout buddy or someone else who you want to impress, it could be your entire Facebook friend list, or it could be one of the services above.
Since meeting BJ Fogg last year, I've used this same format to implement a whole pile of new habits in my life, from improving my workout routine to changing the way I eat and the way that I floss my teeth.


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Michael Murray

Michael Murray