A written habit plan = a lot more success!
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 Post & Asian Efficiency. We are more likely to take small steps down a path that is clear.
Choose to start a positive habit, or end a negative one…and make it SMART
Small steps: outline the steps that need to be taken
Timing: link triggers to daily routines
Reminders: other reminders set
Resources: obtain any tools needed
Incentives: add positive or negative incentives
Motivation: employ strategies to overcome procrastination
Obstacles: if possible, remove temptations to fail, or have a plan for dealing with them
Track data: studies show it takes an average of 66 days to establish a habit
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Resources. Round up any equipment or other resources you might need.
- 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.
- Motivation. Use more strategies for motivation at Tip the Scales To Master Motivation: Visual Strategies to Overcome Procrastination.
- 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.
- 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.
- Printable Daily PlanIt Seinfeld Charts (pdf)
- A one page printable Habit Tracker from the Daily PlanIt or other habit trackers at the Household Notebook Pinterest Board.
- Goal Charts at Goal Master List can also track progress.
- 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