6 Science-Backed Techniques for Building Habits That Create Lasting Change [ep. 55]
Have you ever found yourself frustrated by the struggle of building new habits? If you’ve experienced the disappointment of setting a goal only to watch it fade away, you’re not alone. I’ve been there too, facing the challenge of making positive changes that seem to crumble under life’s pressure.
Throughout my personal growth journey, I’ve heard countless tips about habit-building. Yet, these days, I rely more than ever on the science of habit-building to steer me in the right direction.
In today’s episode, I’m sharing with you six science-backed techniques to build habits that last, creating changes that become a natural part of who we are.
Join me on this ride into the science of habit formation, broken down into bite-sized, easy-to-apply wisdom for your everyday life. Let’s dive in together and make these positive changes stick for good.
Before we talk about how to build healthy habits, it’s important to understand how habits are formed in the first place. At the heart of this understanding is something called the habit loop. This concept, discovered by psychologists at MIT and explained by Charles Duhigg in his book “The Power of Habit,” has three key parts: the cue, the routine, and the reward.
First, there’s the cue – it’s what triggers a habit, like a specific time of day or a certain feeling. Then comes the routine – the actual habit, whether it’s meditating, exercising, or snacking. Finally, there’s the reward – the good feeling we get after completing the habit. This positive feeling reinforces the habit, making our brain want to do it again in the future.
With time, these elements become connected in our minds, making the habit feel automatic. Whether it’s your morning coffee, a meditation session, or reaching for a snack, they all follow this same habit loop.
Creating new habits isn’t just about willpower; it’s also about setting up your environment to make the new habit the easier choice. A study at Massachusetts General Hospital showed how a simple change in the cafeteria could influence people’s choices. By putting water in a more visible spot than soda, they made the healthier choice the easier one – and it worked.
This idea applies everywhere. Want to eat better? Keep healthy snacks visible and stash the unhealthy ones out of sight. Want to read more? Put books where you can see them, not hidden away. Personally, I’ve found that swapping my phone for my Kindle on my desk helps me read more. When I want a break, I can easily pick up a book instead of getting sucked into the Instagram vortex.
The key is to make the cues for your new habits obvious and hard to ignore. Shape your surroundings to support your goals, whether it’s at home, work, or your favourite hangout spot. Small changes can make a big difference in making your new habits stick.
When you’re building a new habit, understanding your cues is like unlocking the secret code that sets your habit in motion. These cues can be as simple as a specific time of day, a familiar spot, or even a certain feeling.
Think of cues as the triggers that kickstart your habits. They’re the silent signals that tell your brain, “It’s time to start that habit now.” To get good at building habits, you need to become your own detective.
Here’s something practical you can do: grab your journal or open the notes app on your phone. Whenever you notice yourself doing a habit, jot down what made you start – was it a particular time, a specific place, an object, or a feeling? Keep doing this for the next few days or weeks. Soon, you’ll start spotting patterns, those familiar cues and emotions that always seem to precede your habits.
Once you’ve figured out your cues, you’ve basically unlocked a superpower for changing habits. You can adjust these cues to make forming new habits much simpler. For instance, if putting on your workout clothes in the morning triggers your exercise routine, lay them out the night before. That way, the cue is right there, nudging you to get started when you wake up.
Discovering your cues is like finding a treasure map for your habits. It’s the first step toward creating a setup that makes building new habits feel natural and effortless.
Focusing on one habit at a time is a game-changer in building lasting changes. It might seem tempting to tackle a bunch of habits all at once, especially when you’re all fired up to make positive shifts in your life. But here’s the catch: science tells us that trying to juggle too many changes together is a bit like juggling too many balls – eventually, one is going to drop.
Research shows that our chances of success take a nosedive when we attempt several changes at the same time. We humans only have so much mental and emotional energy to go around. Spreading ourselves thin across various habits overwhelms us, saps our willpower, and splits our attention.
On the other hand, if we pour all our energy into one specific habit, something magical happens. Focusing our efforts like this increases our chances of success. It’s like shining a spotlight on that one thing we want to change – it stands a much better chance of sticking.
So, if you’re wanting to pick up some new healthy habits or kicking out the old ones, it’s super important to PRIORITISE. Choose the one habit that really matters to you right now, and give it your all.
Once that habit is firmly in place, you can move on to the next one. This approach not only boosts your chances of nailing that new habit but also lays a solid foundation for long-lasting change.
From my own life lessons, I’ve come to realise that less really is more when it comes to building habits. Instead of trying to change a bunch of things all at once, focusing all your energy on one solid habit tends to have a ripple effect.
When I put all my focus into one positive change, it tends to spread naturally to other areas of my life. But when I try to change too many things at once, it feels like I’m pushing against a wall. So, remember, in the world of change and habit-building, simplicity and focus often lead to the best results.
Habit stacking is a simple yet transformative technique that can turbocharge your efforts in forming new habits. If you’ve read the book ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear, you’re probably already familiar with this concept.
Picture it like slipping your new habit into the pockets of your daily activities. Our brains are wired to recognise patterns – those activities we do almost automatically, like brushing our teeth. These routines create neural pathways in our brains, making the actions second nature.
Habit stacking capitalises on this natural process. By inserting a new habit into an existing routine and repeating it consistently, you’re essentially training your brain to adopt a new behaviour.
Let me illustrate with an example of habit stacking I teach in the Mindspo Meditation Course to help my students incorporate meditation into their daily routine. If you already have a morning habit of washing your face and applying sunscreen, just tack your meditation session on afterwards. Every morning, after your skincare routine, you meditate.
By linking your new habit with an existing one, your brain recognises the pattern and effortlessly incorporates the new habit, making it feel like second nature. It takes the effort out of building habits and seamlessly integrates them into your day.
Making life simpler can make a world of difference when it comes to building habits. Think of it this way: the fewer decisions you have to wrestle with, the more mental fuel you have to power your new habit.
Ever heard of decision fatigue? It’s the mental exhaustion that arises from making numerous choices throughout the day, big or small. Picture yourself like a phone battery that slowly drains with every decision.
To demonstrate this concept, let me share a fascinating study about parole boards in Israel. Researchers found that as the day progressed, these judges became less likely to grant parole. Why? Because the strain of making tough decisions earlier in the day made them more hesitant later on. This phenomenon is decision fatigue in action.
So, what’s the solution? SIMPLIFY. Cut down on unnecessary choices. Plan your meals for the week, prep your healthy snacks, or place that intriguing book right by your bedside. Less decision-making means more mental energy for your new habits. Imagine having your book ready to read instead of endlessly scrolling through social media. By reducing the mental clutter, you’re giving your chosen activities the room to seamlessly become habits.
Affirming your new habit is like giving it a powerful boost. Research shows that speaking your goals out loud can significantly increase your chances of achieving them. It’s not just positive thinking; it’s about rewiring your brain to believe in your potential.
Here’s an action step for you: think of the habit you want to integrate into your life and create a fitting, simple affirmation. For example, “I’m a daily meditator,” or “I prioritise my mental well-being.” Your affirmation should resonate with your intention and empower you.
Now, here’s where our podcast’s sponsor, Manifestie App, comes in. It’s a manifestation app you can download from the app store, and inside, there’s a custom affirmation maker. Input your affirmation, and let the app send you positive notifications throughout the day.
Treat these notifications as gentle reminders. When your affirmation pops up, say your affirmation out loud, really believing in your words. Then, follow through with your healthy habit.
By incorporating these practical strategies into your routine, you’re paving the way for long-lasting habits that can truly transform your life. I hope you found these insights helpful and motivating, and I’m excited to hear about the habits you’ll be working on after this episode!
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