Having Trouble Building a Good Habit? Then Prep the Space
Habits are an automatic response to a specific situation. It is a routine of behavior that's repeated regularly and usually occurs subconsciously. Most of us have the habit of brushing our teeth in the morning. Or tying our laces when we put on our shoes. Habits make up a big part of our day. If it didn't we would be overwhelmed with how many little decisions we'd have to make throughout the day. Habits can be good or bad. A good habit, like flossing is created the same way as a bad habit, like smoking a cigarette.
As we all know. It is easy to create a bad habit but difficult to breaking it.
Creating a good habit, like exercising seems difficult but once established, it becomes natural.
As we all know. It is easy to create a bad habit but difficult to breaking it. While creating a good habit, like exercising seems difficult but once you establish it, it becomes natural.
The author James Clear in his worldwide best seller, Atomic Habits goes into the four processes of building a habit:
Cue which triggers your brain to initiate a behavior
The craving is a motivational force behind every habit, desire to change your internal state;
Response is the actual habit you perform; and
The reward, the end goal of every habit.
In order to change your habits there are four main laws, each based on the process above. There are four laws for creating a good habit, and four for breaking a bad habit.
For creating a good habit:
Cue - make it obvious
Craving - make it attractive
Response - make it easy
Reward - make it satisfying
I won't be summarizing the book or explaining what I've learned from each chapter. Like I did with Cal Newport's books Digital Minimalism and Deep Work. You can view the respective articles for Deep Work and Digital Minimalism: How to Focus and How I Broke My Addiction to My Phone. Instead I will be talking about the biggest takeaway I took from the book. If you'd like to view my book notes click here.
Learning the process of building a good habit changed my life. It helped me establish an exercise routine (after falling off the wagon), and I began eating healthier.
The first step to creating a good habit is to make it obvious by having two cues: (1) time; and (2) location. There are a few key points for building good habits. The first is associated with cues. Focus on environment (or systems), motivation is overrated. For good habits you want an environment that cues the behavior. For a bad habit you want to reduce exposure to the cue that causes it. This also ties into the idea of the third law (at least for good habits): you want to make the habit easy.
"If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your systems instead. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems"
The best way I've found to do both of these is to "prep the space".
One of the biggest challenges I've faced in building habits is getting started. For example if you want to start exercising by going to the gym. There's barriers between you and the gym, you have to change into your gym clothes, travel (walk/bike/drive) to the gym. All of those obstacles in the way of working out is friction.
One way to reduce the friction is to make the habit easier, reduce the barriers between you and exercising. Instead of going to the gym you could workout at home. But instead of taking out your gym equipment every time you workout, have a permanent place to house your equipment. This can be as simple as permanently keeping a yoga mat rolled out. In October of 2020 I created my own home gym in my garage by having a set of gymnastic rings hung from the ceiling and a kettle bell. The friction between me and working out was minimal, I keep all of my equipment out. Every time I needed to workout I would have to change in my workout clothes and go to the garage.
It's like the idea of mise en place which is a term used in French cooking. It refers to the setup required before cooking, where you organize and arrange the ingredients that's required for the item. It makes the process of cooking easier, you don't waste time gathering ingredients.
To create a sustainable exercise routine I focused on prepping the space to workout. Since then I haven't missed a workout (except when I got Covid) since I set this up.
If you're struggling with building a good habit think of ways you can "prep the space". If you're interested in eating healthier have an accessible bowl of oranges to eat and don't keep unhealthier snacks in the house. Or if you want to journal more keep a notebook out on your desk. Make it easier to do the habit.
I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Atomic Habits:
Your identity emerges out of your habits. Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.