How to Create Good Habits (and How to Stop Bad Habits)

By Beth Bogdewiecz | Marketing & Communications Specialist

We all have habits. Whether good or bad, we always seem to want to create more positive habits and break bad ones. We may want to spend less money, lose weight, get stronger, quit smoking, sleep more, or stop dating people who are bad for us. But why is creating a new healthy habit (or quitting a bad one) so darn hard? 

Wendy Wood, author of “Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science Of Making Positive Changes That Stick,” says that willpower is a common misconception when in relation to reaching goals –  especially among Americans. Especially with the topic of obesity, we think that trouble with managing weight or health is simply a lack of self-control. We think that if we could have a little more willpower, we would all be healthier and lose weight. 

However, having the will to change isn’t enough.

When it comes to creating healthy habits, the more important aspect is learning how to change our routines. It’s about understanding the mentality behind our daily habits, and adapting our behaviors to reflect the life we want to live. 

How to Create Good Habits and Make Them Stick

Make a declaration

Whether through a post on social media or simply telling your friends about your goal, making some kind of public announcement is a wonderful way to hold yourself accountable. Your friends and loved ones will voice encouragement and support as you post updates or talk about your progress, and on a mental level you’ll feel more obligated to meet the standards you set publicly. 

Remove or create “friction”

In order to create a new, positive habit you need to make it as easy as possible by removing anything that might cause “friction.” Friction is anything that causes that action to be even just a little bit difficult. 

For example, if you want to get up and run every morning, you could sleep in your running clothes. It removes a step (getting dressed to run), and makes it easier for you to get up and go. 

Another example is if you want to eat more fruits and vegetables, but you don’t really enjoy cooking or chopping things at home. Make it easier to reach for them by removing that “friction.” Purchase pre-sliced fruits and vegetables, or chop them the moment you get home. Store them in containers directly in eyesight on your refrigerator shelf, not in a drawer. Taking all of these steps makes them easier to grab, and easier for you to choose them over something less healthy. 

In the same way that you should remove friction to create good habits, you can create friction to help break bad habits. 

A great example of creating friction that Wendy Wood discussed in an interview with NPR was about smoking. When we finally understood the real dangers of smoking, it didn’t stop people from doing it. In fact smoking actually continued to increase well into the 1970’s. 

So how and why did smoking start to decline in the U.S.? We created friction. 

You can’t get cigarettes from a vending machine anymore, they’re behind a counter and you have to ask someone for them. There are bans on smoking indoors and even in certain outdoor public spaces. We created taxes on cigarettes. When these changes started happening, it made it more and more difficult for people to smoke and people began to quit. 

Replace with an immediate reward

The reason why bad habits are so hard to break is that they often provide our brains with a hit of dopamine – a fast reward – the moment we do them. For example, it’s difficult to resist eating a chocolate chip cookie when the reward from eating it hits so quickly. We forget about our long-term goal of weight loss because the feeling of satisfaction isn’t as tangible or immediate. The reward doesn’t come as quickly as it does with the short-term habit of eating the cookie. 

If you’re craving a sweet cookie, replace the cookie with something better like a cup of your favorite herbal tea or a fresh juicy piece of fruit. If you make the healthy option more enjoyable and immediately rewarding (the moment you have the craving), you’ll be much more likely to stick to those choices in the long-term. 

Devote your energy at first, then let it ride

Think about how many times you’ve driven yourself to work. The first few times, you probably needed a map and directions to get there. It took some thought and concentration at first, but now you barely put any energy or thought into your morning commute. 

Habits work the same way. The initial building of regularity takes time, but the important part is that you keep doing it. Even if you fall off here and there, the important part is starting back up again. Eventually you won’t have to even think about doing your new habit, you’ll just do it without any extra energy or thought. 

Remove the obstacle all together 

There are two men trying to lose weight: Bill and Ryan. They both love chocolate chip cookies. Bill always has a box in his cupboard, and is constantly working to resist opening it and eating all the cookies. Ryan doesn’t keep cookies in his house at all. 

Out of the two men, who will most likely have more success in resisting the temptation of eating the cookies? 

Bill is constantly having to exercise his willpower, but Ryan simply doesn’t have the option. The cookies aren’t even there to tempt him. The difference between success and failure in this example isn’t about resisting temptation, it is about whether or not the temptation is there in the first place. 

Final Thoughts

It is important to remember that when creating new positive habits it is not enough to have willpower alone to create change, it is more so about altering our behaviors. Changing behavior takes time, so be forgiving of yourself and keep practicing. 

Soon enough, you’ll be performing your new healthy habit without even thinking about it!

Ready to make a declaration about changing your habits? Tag us on instagram @bekn.co!

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References:
https://www.npr.org/transcripts/787160734
https://behavioralscientist.org/good-habits-bad-habits-a-conversation-with-wendy-wood/

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