How to form a new habit

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We’ve been speaking a lot about habits at work recently, all spurred by Charles Duhigg’s book ‘The Power of Habits’ which has been circulating the office. And it’s led me to face a fact which I’m ready to shamefully admit...

My declaration:
After enthusiastically (and rather proudly) writing about it previously here - yoga is no longer a part of daily life.

I know, I know - utter disappointment. But please don’t lose hope, I have a plan. One which can help you to nail that habit you’ve been wanting to form too!

What is a habit?
  • Thanks to those clever Neuroscientists, we now know that 40-45% of our daily behaviour is actually habit. All of those many decisions we make each day? Well almost half of them aren’t decisions at all - they’re habits. Automations the brain forms to save on mental energy.
  • Those automations, or habits, are made up of three ingredients: a cue, the routine (or behaviour) and a reward. The cue and reward are crucial for any new habit to form.
  • So when I was training for my marathon, it was easy to form a habit of practicing post-run yoga because I had a cue - my run beforehand, and a reward - a much needed stretch which felt oh-so-good after my run.
  • Post marathon though, both my cue and reward vanished.

How do you form a new habit?
  • Firstly you need a cue - some form of trigger. This trigger could be anything from a particular time of day, a location, a previous action, a physical reminder...
  • So my first plan of action is to create a new cue: I’m going to lay my yoga mat out the night before, so that when I get up in the morning I’m reminded of the intention to practice.
  • Secondly, habits need their reward. Now apparently, over time this reward becomes intrinsic - for me I’ll naturally recognise the enjoyment of yoga in its own right. But until that point, an external reward can be helpful to kick start that association.
  • For me this is going to be treating myself with something I already know I enjoy. Enter… COFFEE! I love coffee, so on mornings I practice yoga I’m going to treat myself to my (and many Londoner’s) favourite coffee - Monmouth coffee.
  • This level of organisation when it comes to forming a new habit - planning the cue and reward in advance - is key. This is because of what behaviour scientists call the ‘hot-cold empathy gap’.
  • Basically, we find it easy to have good intentions prior to the desired behaviour (for me this is last thing at night - thinking about how lovely it’ll be to start the day with some yoga). But when it actually comes to it you couldn’t feel more differently (I sleepily wake up in the morning and instantly decide that a bit of extra shut eye is far more attractive).


So, mat at the ready, Monmouth coffee stocked… yoga WILL be a part of daily life again!

If you want to find out more about habits, Charles Duhigg gave a great TED Talk on The Power of Habits, find it here!

What habits do you want to form or shake? And what cue and reward could you use?


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2 comments:

  1. Excellent words of wisdom! Now I need to put them in place...

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Emma! Yes that's the difficult part... the forced reward definitely helps ; ) good luck x

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