Step-by-Step Method on Forming New Behaviours and Habits That Last
Why is it that we struggle with keeping good habits and easily fall into unproductive rituals?
I'm sure at one point in your life or maybe every year you inspire yourself and get motivated to make some changes. Do those new changes or habits last?
Did you know that the habits that don't last could be because you went about it the wrong way?
In NLP, I learned a few things that helped me understand that we can control our patterns to excel at anything we want. We all have patterns or rituals and these have either been ingrained in us, or at one point in your life you just decided that doing something in a certain way works for you.
To form new habits, you have to keep two things in mind:
Process: A person who is successful at what he or she does has a process. These are habits. You'll notice that people who are healthy have a routine of eating a certain way or exercising at a certain time each day. Writers tend to prefer writing at certain times of the day because they know when they're creative.
Identity: To become the type of person you want to become you have to believe in your capability, be in alignment with your values and change your habits according to the person you want to be, and not according to a short-term goal you have.
There's a lot of science behind the process of habit formation and this has been proven by Stanford professor BJ Fogg, called the Fogg Method. In addition, Charles Duhigg, wrote about his process of forming habits in his best-selling book, The Power of Habit.
Both sources have great information and I highly recommend them. However, I'm going to share with you an NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) model that has helped me install useful and powerful new habits easily or even change old habits into more productive habits.
When I hit puberty, I started struggling with my weight and like most people I started trying different diets. At the age of 16, I went on The Scarsdale Diet, at the age of 19, I tried the Herbal Life program and then finally I broke the cycle at age 29.
I did the very two things I mentioned earlier - changed the process and changed the way I thought about myself - identity.
I worked an hour away from home then and I created a ritual of going to a famous coffee franchise and getting my breakfast so I could have it on my way to work. For lunch and dinner, I'd have whatever was available and because I reached home at 6 p.m. every night, I'd be exhausted and never exercise.
I started gaining weight and my work clothes didn't fit me anymore. I started getting frustrated and hated myself. That was it! I decided to work with my identity as a healthy person and I promised myself that I wasn't going through another diet and this time I wanted to create habits that would last me a lifetime.
What I Changed
Breakfast: Woke up 15 minutes early and prepared a protein smoothie that I could drink on my way to work.
Lunch: Packed a salad with a protein the night before. Eat the salad after working out at the gym during my lunch hour. I'd never been to a gym before in my life so going to the gym for the first time was intimidating, but I had to crush my fears.
Snacks: instead of having muffins and donuts I switched to protein bars, yogurt and fruits.
I noticed my weight dropping and my body toning, but more importantly, I started feeling HEALTHY. The biggest mistake people make is changing habits for a goal instead of changing habits for their identity.
If losing weight was my only pain, then when I reached my goal, I'd have stopped eating this way and even reduced the times I went to the gym, but I didn't. I continued eating the same way and didn't compromise my lunch hour even though I had reached a size 8 in my pants and I'd never been able to wear that before. The reason I continued was because my habits were now tied to my identity and not to an end-goal. My identity was that of a person who looks after her health and her body.
The strategy of working with your identity to find a solution or make change easier is called 'Logical Levels' in NLP, and I'll cover that in another blog post. The strategy of forming new habits and behaviours is called 'Behaviour Generator'.
How to Create a New Behaviour or habit, Step-by-Step (Behaviour Generator)
Open your mind to a new way of thinking and doing this may feel a little strange, but trust when I say that this process was developed by the founders of NLP by modeling people who were highly effective in learning new things. They found that effective learners had an ability to rehearse something in their mind before actually doing it and these mental rehearsals allowed them to easily install new habits.
This process may not work if you have a mental or emotional block or even a belief that resists this new habit or behaviour you want to implement. Therefore, I suggest using this strategy for making simple changes like waking up earlier, taking your supplements, drinking water, keeping your keys in the same place everyday when you get home or responding to someone effectively.
Read through the process first and then practice. Nothing comes without practice.
1. Identify a behaviour you want to change or a new habit you'd like to install.
2. Watch a mental movie of what you're doing now. Notice how you typically behave in that situation.
3. Identify what you want instead. Create a clear picture of what you want by:
- Finding a role model
- Remembering a time in your past that you were doing this behaviour
- Find a counter-example, which is another context where you are doing something similar
- Making it up
4. Watch a movie of you doing this new behaviour.
5. Now, step into the movie and be in it and experience it as if you were actually doing it. Move your body, say things to yourself and get into the act of doing the behaviour.
6. As you fully experience this, identify an external trigger or cue for the behaviour. For example, making my smoothie in the morning, my external trigger was taking a shower. This trigger of getting ready to take shower reminded me that I had to make a smoothie and keep it next to my purse so I could take it on my way out. I knew that after my shower I'd get ready and head out and may forget to make my smoothie because I was so used to going to this coffee franchise.
7. Imagine doing this new habit in the future. For example, think about how you'll do it tomorrow and the next week. Think of the external trigger that will remind you to automatically use the new behaviour. Now imagine that external trigger and feel yourself using this new behaviour in that situation.