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How to Create or Change a Habit in 4 Steps

Well it is a new year, and for many of us, that means setting goals. I don’t know about you, but I am extremely awesome at setting goals! I can set goals all day long, like a boss. I’m like Oprah: A goal for you and a goal for you, and Hey! Here’s a goal for you too, buddy! (wink) It’s the actual follow-through that I get jacked up with. And don’t we all?

This past summer, I went on a mission to learn about habits. I am a very systems-oriented person. I honestly believe that most issues in our businesses and lives can be handled with strategic systems at the foundation. I knew that there had to be some kind of system or trick to creating healthy habits. Why do many people create healthy habits and others don’t? So I did some research. I fell upon an awesome book, entitled “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. It broke the science of habits down into a very simple system that can enable you to create and change any habit in your life. This also works if you are trying to change a bad habit. If you understand the science behind habits, you will actually be successful in changing them. So let’s jump in and take a look at what creates a habit.

It is a four part system: “The Prep”, “The Cue”, “The Routine”, “The Reward”. The very first part of creating or changing a habit is “The Prep”. Think about the habit that you want to create. Let’s pretend that you want to create a habit of going to yoga 3 days per week at 5am. (This is exactly what I did, so it is an easy example. Just jive with me here.) Think about all that you need to do in order for you to go to yoga: You will need to wake up, brush your teeth, get dressed, put your hair up, grab your mat, your block, your coat, your water, and your keys, and then drive to the studio. “The Prep” is preparing all that you can possibly think of in order to make it mindless and easy to choose when the time comes. Perhaps you set your clothes out the night before, lay your hair tie and headband out on the bathroom vanity, put your shoes next to the door with your mat, place your keys next to your bed to auto-start the car so that it warms up, make sure the gas tank is full. The idea is that you set everything up before the time comes, so the when it does, making the choice to CHOOSE the healthy habit is easy!

Step two in creating healthy habits is “The Cue”. “The Cue” is the thing that reminds us to start the habit that we are trying to create. Let’s revisit my yoga example. I downloaded a great app, called Sleep Cycle, which tracks my sleep and wakes me up at the perfect time in my…sleep cycle… so that I wake up feeling rested and alive. But the alarm does more than just wake me. It alerts me (or “cues” me) to begin the habit, which for me was yoga. It reminds me “Hey, it’s time to do the thing! Do it now! Go!” Set up something that will remind you to begin the same way every day!

Step three is The Routine. This is an easy one. The routine is the thing that you are trying to create a habit of: going to yoga class, calling your Grandmother, following up on business prospects, reading your bible, listening to a great podcast, taking a vitamin…. Whatever it is that you are creating, that is “The Routine”.

The final thing that creates a habit is “The Reward’”. One of the most important components of creating (and maintaining) a habit is the small win that you get along the way. The small wins keep you going. They give you something to aim for. They also give you an incentive to do it again and again. “The Reward” is something we miss all too often. We look for “the washboard abs”, which take months of training and hard work. When you don’t see those abs after three days, you become discouraged. Instead, set yourself up for a small win after you complete the routine. In yoga, at the end of the class, the instructor lays a freezing cold towel on your mat, which has been drenched in lavender essential oils. Let us pause for a moment and take that in. Inhaaaale. Exhaaaale. It is the most awesome reward after a sweaty yoga class! It is also small, easy to do, and honestly is what kept me coming back day after day until my body started to get used to the stretching and strength that I was practicing.

Earlier this morning, my assistant texted me a profound statement that she heard on a podcast that we listen to. I thought it would provide the perfect ending to my column this week! She texted me: “People do not decide their futures. They decide their habits. And their habits decide their futures.” Take that as motivation to start creating healthy habits in YOUR life! I wish you peace, love, good vibes, and healthy habit creating from my beach chair to your’s!


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