Three Ways to Build Good Habits
Yesterday, you selected a positive keystone habit to build. Today, you’re going to start building it.
There are many approaches to building new habits, but not all are equally effective. As with breaking bad habits, the best approaches all leverage the psychology of habits by targeting some part of the habit loop. Here are the three best ways to build new habits.
Since every habit begins with a cue, that’s a good place to start. However, if you tried to build an entire habit loop from scratch, the problem you would run into is that building a new cue would be a whole other habit in itself. That’s where cue piggybacking comes in.
Here’s how this technique works: you choose an event that already occurs on a regular basis to act as the cue for your new habit, then start doing the routine every time your chosen cue occurs.
As an example, one of my fitness coaching clients wanted to do a couple minutes of bodyweight exercises several times a day on work days. She knew she had to use the restroom about five times a day, so she used that as her cue—she would do her exercises every time she exited the restroom.
Chaining works in much the same way as cue piggybacking; the difference is the nature of the cue you choose. Instead of some event that happens on its own, the cue is another positive habit. In other words, you use chaining to build two or more habits that you’ll be doing one after the other.
As an example, you might use leaving work as your cue to go to the gym, entering the gym as your cue to work out, and leaving the gym as your cue to eat a healthy meal at the restaurant next door to the gym. Or you could use opening your laptop as your cue to check your emails, and then when you’re finished with email, that could be your cue to start working on a project.
Chaining is the best technique to use when you already have one good habit built and want to add more. As you get better at this, you’ll probably want to chain several good habits together so you can fill your days with high-value activities.
While the previous techniques create good habits where no habit existed before, routine substitution allows you to replace a bad habit with a good one. You simply replace the old routine with a new one, leaving the other components—the cue, reward, and craving—in place.
The classic example of this would be replacing junk food with healthy food. Other ways to use this might be replacing TV watching with educational reading, or video game playing with working on a project of some sort.
The key requirement here is that the new routine has to be rewarding, and it has to fulfill the same craving as the old routine. If you eat junk food because it tastes good, the healthy food you replace it with also has to taste good. If you watch TV to relax, you have to replace it with something else that relaxes you.
Exercise: Start Building a Good Habit
Now you’ll start building the keystone habit you selected yesterday. Pick one of these techniques to use. If this habit could replace the bad habit you’re getting rid of, use routine substitution. Otherwise, use cue piggybacking or chaining to build your new keystone habit. Keep a log of this, along with the other habit you’re working on.
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