Building Habits

Making habits rewarding

One of the challenges in building ‘healthy’ habits, is that the reward for engaging in them is often delayed in comparison to ‘less healthy’ habits. A new gym regime isn’t rewarding until you start feeling those gym gains, but lying on the sofa and watching Netflix gives us immediate reward in relaxation and distraction.

When we don’t feel the immediate impact of our efforts, we rely solely on our motivation and willpower to keep going – and these can often let us down. By thinking about how we can make our habits rewarding we stand a greater chance of successfully establishing them.

Here are five ideas to help make your habits rewarding:

Habit stacking

Pair your new habit with another activity that brings you pleasure. Combine your morning run with listening to your favourite podcast or allow yourself to eat that brownie once you’ve studied for an hour.

Develop a positive mentality

Telling yourself you ‘have to’, ‘should’ or ‘need to’ workout makes it feel like a chore. Thinking about the language you use when you talk to yourself is powerful. You might tell yourself ‘I get to workout today’, I’ll ‘treat myself to a workout today’ or ‘I’ll benefit from a workout today’ instead.

Focus on long-term outcomes

Consider what it is you are working towards, and clearly visualise what it will look, feel, sound, taste and smell like when you get there. Take a moment to visualise this image each day to remind yourself of your longer term goal.

Keep a habit tracker

Download a habit tracking app to record your progress, or use a wall calendar and a different colour Sharpie for each of your habits and tick them off each day.

As you build up a streak of consecutive days of performing your habit it becomes more and more satisfying to record your progress.  You’ll also be much less likely to sack one of them off if your 14 day streak is at stake.

Streaks is a great app for tracking habits, and seeing the screen flash on a day you achieve all of your habits is super satisfying.

Find a buddy

Most things are more fun when we do them together. Finding someone to accompany you as you build your habits can help keep you both on track, and you can encourage each other to keep going on those days you really aren’t feeling it. If you can’t be together, start a WhatsApp group to keep in contact and share your progress with each other.

How might you make your habits more enjoyable and rewarding?

Building Habits

Progress over perfection

“We don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

I love this quote because it perfectly captures the vital role our habits and systems play in helping us achieve our goals.  To turn the long term vision of who we want to be into reality, we need to design and create habits that are in alignment with our desired identity.

The most conservative estimates from studies suggest that at least 45% of our daily behaviours are habitual. When these behaviours are working with us towards our goals, progress can feel easy, but when they are in opposition, thats a whole lot of resistance.

The trouble with habits though, is that they can be hard to change, which leads me to one of my favourite ideas for behaviour change:

Striving for progress over perfection

A great place to start with building a new habit, or changing an old one, is with the idea of +1…

Imagine a continuum from 1-10, with 10 being perfect, and identify where you would score yourself in an area of your life you’d like to work on (or score multiple areas and decide from your scores).

Often when we decide to change we go all in, and feel that we should strive for an 8, 9 or 10. Whilst our intentions are good, for many of us this isn’t sustainable.

To create new, healthy habits or eliminate unhealthy ones, the desire for change must be greater than the resistance. A sudden, dramatic increase in effort can create internal resistance and as soon as our willpower fades, so too does our new habit. The moment we fall off the wagon we lose focus, confidence and motivation and scrap our plans altogether. How many New Years Resolutions have ended this way?

Gradual improvement over a longer timeframe is more sustainable, so taking your score, consider what a +1 improvement would look like and how you could build this into each day.

Marginal improvements feel achievable, provoke less resistance, and when you achieve them you feel good (all that lovely dopamine), making you more motivated to repeat those actions.

Over time and through repetition these new actions can become habits, which we can build on again with our next +1, and our next, and so on…

Reading for 10 minutes a day, walk-running around the block each evening, or drinking one glass of water each morning when you wake up are all +1 examples that can be gradually built upon.

What is one small thing you could do every day to move towards the version of yourself you’d like to be?