This Monday was Blue Monday, the third Monday in January. It goes back to a campaign created by Sky Travel in 2005. It’s the day you realize that you need to take action. It is a pseudo-scientific calculation that considers weather conditions, debt level (the difference between debt accumulated and our ability to pay), time since Christmas, time since failing your New Year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and feeling of a need to take action.
We all know the science of Blue Monday is dubious. Yet early in the year many lose their motivation with New Years’ goals. If you are in that space, wondering how to get back on track with the goals you set, creating habits may be the answer. Often people set goals without really looking at what is required to achieve them. (Anyone start a diet on January 1?)
I’ve read that as many as 25 percent of people give up their resolutions by the first week in January. Habits or rituals can be the answer to reach those goals. Habits can be negative, such as smoking, or positive, such as getting adequate exercise.
Some specific ideas on creating habits that can lead to success, plus a couple of easy examples that you might try to follow, can be found as you read on.
According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, a habit has three parts: the cue, the reward, the routine. If you want to change a habit or start a new habit, the same three parts are involved. You need to change your cue, your routine, or reward to change a habit.
According to Duhigg, “First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop … becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges.”
How do you create cues or triggers that become automatic? Exercising is an easy example. You need to look for an activity that would “cue” you to exercise. Cues could include putting out your clothes the night before or finding someone to exercise with. You may try several cues before you find the one that fits. I added early morning exercise to my day years ago. What is my cue? It’s the friends I walk with. I don’t want to let them down and they serve as my cue to get up when the alarm goes off in the dark.
If you look at a habit that you want to change, you could also look at what the cue is that drives it. For example, if you want to change how often you look at your email, ask why and when you check your email? Is it because you here an audible tone letting you know email is waiting? Is it because it’s become a ritual first thing when you get up? To replace this habit, you need to find a routine that can offer you the same cue and reward.
When you look for triggers, consider they could be time-based, such as one I have to write this blog post regularly. They could be people based, such as my walking habit. They could be triggered by a location such as the smart phone next to your bed in the checking email example. And, habits could be connected to each other. An example of this might be one that resonates with most people: you floss your teeth after you brush them. Another example might be that you journal after you make a cup of coffee in the morning. As you look at the triggers, also look at the emotions that come up.
The cue leads to the routine and if it is rewarded appropriately, it will continue to perpetuate the habit cycle. Think about what a reward would be for you to start a new habit. Going back to the exercise example, clearly you are taking a positive step toward optimal health. That intrinsic reward is not necessarily motivating, so think of a concrete reward. It could be watching a favorite TV show or reading a book. Duhigg even suggests a small piece of chocolate. The key here is to make sure it’s really a reward that works for you. If it doesn’t motivate you, try something else. For me, I read the newspaper when I finish my walk. They are so connected that I often won’t read the paper without the walk.
As you look at the habits you want to replace, also look at what the reward is that you get from the habit. This will help you substitute something in its place. In the email example above, you may find that connecting is your reward. You need to find something else that provides that same reward.
Once you have the cue, it reminds you of the routine. The reward serves as your motivation. It sounds simple, yet you may need to work on your cues and your rewards. It has to be what works for you.
Take a step back and look at the obstacles in your way. It would be great if you made a decision to create a new habit or eliminate an old one and that was it. It doesn’t work that way. If you can find a reward or trigger to combat the obstacles, you’ll be ahead of the game.
Obstacles can also be both external and internal. External obstacles are easier to identify, e.g., that plate of cookies you made for your kids that beckons you as you enter the kitchen. Internal examples aren’t always so obvious. Watch your self-talk, as it may urge you back to your comfort zone.
Two habit strategies to try
The Paper Clip Strategy
Habits can make a big difference as the following example shows. In 1993 a 23-year-old stockbroker named Trent Dyrsmid began working at a bank in Abbotsford, Canada. Not much was expected of him. He was inexperienced and worked at a small bank in the suburbs.
He instituted a habit that, despite his disadvantages, let Trent make tremendous progress in his job.
He placed two jars on his desk. The first he filled with 120 paper clips. The other started the day empty.
“Every morning I would start with 120 paper clips in one jar and I would keep dialing the phone until I had moved them all to the second jar.” —Trent Dyrsmid
I love the simplicity of this idea. You can see the cue, the routine, and the reward. How can you create your own paper clip strategy? How about making a specific number of gallery contacts per day?
Jerry Seinfeld’s calendar
Another example of a simple habit is the calendar system Jerry Seinfeld created to motivate himself to keep the habit of writing. He kept a large wall calendar that had the entire year on one page and hung it where it was clearly visible.
Everyday he took a red Magic Marker and put a large X over the day. Says, Seinfeld, “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
Again, a simple way to build a habit. The calendar block is your cue. It’s consistent daily action How can you use this calendar system to not break the chain?
What are your examples of habits that you’ve successfully created? What new habits do you plan to instill? What are the cues and rewards that work for you? Please share them on the blog below in the comment section; they can be of help to all of us.