Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: What is the best way to create new habits? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.
There are two parts to the performance of a habit: consistency and quality.
So, for example, you could brush your teeth every night but fail to align the toothbrush with your gums in the way that your dentist instructed. That’s a habit poorly done.
For the consistency piece, I use the Tiny Habits framework from BJ Fogg at Stanford. BJ calls his key framework BMAT. Essentially, to get a Behavior you need to combine Motivation, Ability and a Trigger.
For the quality piece I use a concept called Deliberate Practice. Normally a habit is in service of some bigger goal. So the quality matters a lot and I’ll end up redesigning my habit over and over again to be as efficient as possible. In Deliberate Practice, how you practice is as important as how much you practice.
You are your own habit designer. And it’s pretty easy. You just need to address all three areas.
You chose this habit, so presumably you have a starting level of motivation. The problem is that this motivation may wear off later. So, most motivational tricks are about stopping you from falling off the wagon.
My favorite motivational hack is to adopt a version of the “don’t break the chain” method. Use a journal or a goal tracker like Coach.me to build a streak.
Once you have a streak, three things happen:
- Because of loss aversion, you won’t want to break the streak.
- Your confidence will go up. Essentially, the streak is proof that supports having a growth mindset.
- You can change because you are changing.
Ability measures how difficult the habit is. You probably assume ability is internal. But a lot of your ability to do something is external. Do you have the tools?
Imagine starting a gym habit. You don’t have the ability to do this habit until you join a gym. That’s obvious right?
But where is this gym located? My gym is right across the street from my office. So my ability to go to the gym is about as easy as it can get. But it could still get easier if I devoted a room in my house to exercise equipment.
There are tons of good examples of making your life easier by redesigning your environment. Stop snoozing by putting the alarm clock further away from your bed. Stop eating sugar by throwing it away.
You can’t do something if you forget to do it. The Tiny Habits method has people write down the trigger along with their habit. The ideal is to tie your new habit to an existing habit.
For example, my habit for setting priorities is tied to sitting at my desk.
When I sit at my desk (existing habit) I will write down my priorities in a new Evernote note (new habit).
Having the habit isn’t really the full story. You have to decide if you like the habit or if you can improve on it.
That means you need to measure it. And sometimes what you measure isn’t the thing that actually matters. So trial and error is a big piece of forming habits.
When I first designed my morning routine, I measured only how long it took. So I wrote down all of the steps. I think there were almost thirty steps in total. Then I took a Saturday afternoon and practiced three times in a row.
During the practice I showered exactly like I would normally during each practice run. I dressed. I brushed my teeth. And I timed it to see how fast I could get ready.
But then when I put this routine into my actual life I found myself dreading it. It turns out that a fast morning routine isn’t the most exciting thing to wake up to.
So I redesigned it so that my first step was spending time with my dog. That was something happy that could get me out of bed. Until then I’d never thought to measure how fun my routine was.
I think this is the missing piece when most people talk about habits. You need to practice the habit, not just hold yourself to it. And in practicing, you need to decide whether to refine it or redefine it.