Good habits are the key to success in any endeavor. If you want to reach your goals and succeed in business, good personal habits can help make it happen. After all, as philosopher Will Durant said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” (Many attribute this quote to Aristotle, but it was actually Durant who first wrote this phrase in 1926.)
So, how do you create a new habit and keep it? As most of us know, it’s not enough to just decide you want to do something. Few people can choose to start a new habit and just make it happen. Creating and keeping a healthy routine requires a deliberate strategy and a plan of action. According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, there is no one formula for habit change that works for everyone. Our lives and habits are all different, and the specifics of our behavioral patterns vary from person to person. To determine what works for you, you need to identify and tap into your own personal habit loops.
Your Existing Habit Loops
All habits are governed by a psychological pattern made up of three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward. Duhigg calls this pattern the habit loop. The individual components of a habit loop vary greatly from person to person, or even from one habit to another.
Let’s say you want to get into the habit of exercising more. If you just try to add exercise into your daily routine without changing anything else, you probably won’t be successful. I always say the key to achieving success is to replace bad habits with good ones. See if you can identify an existing habit that isn’t helping you move closer to your goals.
Maybe you’re in the habit of going out for a few drinks after work with your friends. What is the cue that is triggering this habit? You’re likely tired at the end of the workday and looking for a way to relax. This cue triggers a routine — going out for a drink — which then provides a reward. In this case, the prize may be twofold: you get the enjoyment of spending time with your friends, and you get the relaxing effects of the alcohol.
Now let’s look at how you can use the same cue and the same reward to trigger a different routine. Instead of joining your friends for a drink, see if you can find a few people who are willing to go for a walk or a jog after work. The cue is the same: you’re tired, and you need to relieve stress. The reward is the same, or similar: to get to enjoy the company of your friends. While you don’t get the relaxing effects of alcohol, you get something even better: the natural high that comes when your body releases endorphins. Over time, you’ll have more energy, along with the satisfaction that comes from taking better care of your health.
Experimenting With Rewards
You might not always be able to identify a new habit that delivers the same reward as an existing habit. In these cases, you may have to try different rewards. When experimenting with rewards, it can help to determine the craving behind the habit. If you always head to the vending machine for a candy bar in the afternoon, you might think you’re hungry, but you could be acting out of boredom. Rather than replacing the candy bar with a different snack, a walk around the block could provide the short break away from work that you’re craving.
Obviously, changing some habits will be more difficult than others. Try using the habit loop framework to start small. Once you gain a better understanding of your personal cues and rewards, move on to changing or adopting greater habits.
Learn more about creating new habits with my FREE guide, The Art of Goal Setting. It’s full of actionable steps to help you achieve your goals faster and replace bad habits with good ones.