Make Good Habits Easy, and Bad Habits Hard

A written habit plan = a lot more success!

HabitWorksheet

Download the Habit Plan Worksheet (pdf)

A written plan for implementing a habit can increase the likelihood of forming it by 2 to almost 3 times, according to articles at Huffington PostAsian Efficiency. We are more likely to take small steps down a path that is clear.

    1. Choose to start a positive habit, or end a negative one…and make it SMART

    2. Small steps: outline the steps that need to be taken

    3. Timing: link triggers to daily routines

    4. Reminders:  other reminders set

    5. Resources: obtain any tools needed

    6. Incentives: add positive or negative incentives

    7. Motivation: employ strategies to overcome procrastination

    8. Obstacles: if possible, remove temptations to fail, or have a plan for dealing with them

    9. Track data: studies show it takes an average of 66 days to establish a habit

    10. Benefits: clearly envision why you want to create the habit

An understanding of what habits are can be helpful before beginning to plan for behavior change.

The words “resolution,” “habit,” and “goal” are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are differences.

Goals are an end toward which effort is directed. They add value in a life area, and they have a clear end-point.

Resolutions are a declaration of our firm decision to do or not to do something. A typical resolution is not very SMART.

Habits are acquired behavior patterns that are regularly followed (for good or ill.) They may be something you want to start (positive) or stop (negative). While creating or changing a habit can be a goal, they are something we want to continue indefinitely, so habits have no clear end point. Have a sustainable plan for a lower intensity after a habit has become well established, and move on to other things.

A good written plan to establish a habit includes:

  1. SMART wording. A resolve to establish a habit needs to be SMART like any goal. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time bound. Getorganizedwizard shows how to do this step-by-step, with another example here.
  2. Small Steps. B J Fogg advocates baby steps in his TED Talk, “Forget big change, Start with a Tiny Habit.” He also has created a helpful tool called the Behavior Wizard.
  3. Timing. Trigger a new habit by connecting it with other routine activities according to the desired time or frequency. Morning meditation after breakfast is an example of a trigger. A more frequent habit can connect with something you do more often, like taking a deep breath each time you take a drink of water. Read more about habit stacking from James Clear. Since willpower is a limited resource, tackle a new habit early in the day before it is depleted. Exercise earlier in the day also gains feel-good benefits throughout the entire day.
  4. Reminders. Other ways to remind yourself can include setting a timer or automated reminders with one of many Habit Tracker apps that are available for smartphones and tablets. The Blip Blip Android app is a gentle hourly reminder.
  5. Resources. Round up any equipment or other resources you might need. Incentives
  6. Incentives. Incentives can also be positive or negative. Behavioral economics shows how things like accountability and social sharing can shape behavior. Watch Can You be nudged into saving money? from pbs.org to learn more about behavioral economics and how the Stickk app uses negative incentives.
  7. Motivation. Use more strategies for motivation at Tip the Scales To Master Motivation: Visual Strategies to Overcome Procrastination. 
  8. Obstacles. Make good habits easy, and bad habits hard. To increase a positive habit, remove obstacles. Shawn Achors’ 20 second rule says that lowering the barriers to change by even 20 seconds dramatically increases chances of success. To increase a positive habit, make it easier. See the interview with Shawn Achor, New Harvard Research Reveals a Fun Way to Be More Successful at Barking Up the Wrong Tree. If you want to exercise first thing in the morning, set out everything you need. To decrease a negative habit, add obstacles. Google decreased the amount of M & Ms employees were eating, simply by making it slightly more difficult. If you want to watch less television, remove the batteries from the television remote.
  9. Track Data. How long it takes to establish a habit likely will vary depending on how difficult it is. One study showed on average, it took 66 days to form a new habit. Jerry Seinfeld’s Don’t Break the Chain Strategy is one well-known method for creating a habit. Each day that you do the task you have set for yourself, simply mark a calendar each day with a big red x. Then keep it going and don’t break the chain. Getlifemaps.com shares a video on how to use a Seinfeld Chart. Read more about Jerry Seinfeld’s Don’t Break the Chain Strategy from Entrepreneur magazine.

    SeinfeldCards

  10. Benefits. Focus on why you want to create the habit. The benefit of a goal must exceed the resources required to obtain it. – read more at my post on The Economy of Goals.

3 Steps of Habit Change from “The Power of Habits.”

Charles Duhigg shares a flowchart from his book “The Power of Habits,” at his website that outlines the 3 steps of habit change: Pick the cue, choose a reward, execute the routine. Learn more about the Science of Willpower at the Science of People.

Pairing and Personality Type

Gretchen Rubin, author of “Better Than Before,” describes how personality type can effect our approach to changing habits in Breaking Bad Habits from Parade Magazine. Take her quiz here. Pairing is a strategy that couples two activities, one that you need or want to do and one that you don’t particularly want to do. Hear her talk at 99u on The Four Ways to Successfully Adopt New Habits.

See also: Habits 101 video from Brian Johnson, How to Build Good Habits at Sparring Mind, Habit Stacking from Farnam Street, 6 Best goal-tracking apps that will kick your butt from Today.com

The Science of Goals Infographic and What’s the Motivation? from the Daily PlanIt

Delicious Links on habits

I enjoy finding great information, combining it in new ways, and packaging it creatively. I'm highly interested in the areas of goal setting, time management, and skills to improve life.

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11 comments on “Make Good Habits Easy, and Bad Habits Hard
  1. […] In his book and TED Talk, Peter Bregman uses an example to illustrate this. His family thought they would eat outdoors at a table, but found they never used it…until they moved it a little closer to their door. Make good habits easy, and bad habits hard. […]

  2. […] first two examples are resolutions, or habits. There is no end point, they are on-going actions you intend to continue. Once they become a habit, […]

  3. […] also Game On! The Rules of Setting Goals, Make Good Habits Easy, and Bad Habits Hard from the Daily […]

  4. […] types of goals. Pick the right Goal Chart (pdf) to keep track of your progress, or you can track habits with an app or a calendar to implement Jerry Seinfeld’s Don’t Break the Chain […]

  5. […] now show that habit change takes an average of 66 […]

  6. […] establish productive habits, use a to-do list, plan a […]

  7. […] relationship building. Perhaps there are small Daily Disciplines that you want to develop into habits for a daily routine to maximize your […]

  8. […] Many resolutions involve establishing habits, so learn strategies at Make Good Habits Easy, and Bad Habits Hard. […]

  9. […] In the afternoon, check that all daily routine items have been done. Check off completed daily goals, on the habit chart. […]

  10. […] also Make Good Habits Easy, and Bad Habits Hard | The Science of Goals […]

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