“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~ Aristotle / Will Durant

Our lives are a summary of the choices we make. Habits are choices on autopilot. Since many of our everyday choices are habits, then we spend much of our lives on autopilot. We strive to make positive changes in our lives, but it’s hard, especially when it comes to habits. Nearly half of Americans usually make New Year’s Resolutions, but only 8% are successful in achieving them. In the early 20th century, habits were considered fixed. Thankfully, we now know better – with the right tools, we can change our habits to better suit our goals. It can be confusing trying to find a place to start – this site alone has hundreds of research papers, articles, and resources to help with habit change. Our goal at The Habit Digest is to transform confusion into clarity, making your habit change journey easier and evidence-based. With that in mind, welcome to our beginner’s guide to habit change!

Step One: Learn how habits work

Understand the nature of habits before you start your new habit journey.

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  • Bandura, Albert. “The primacy of self‐regulation in health promotion.” Applied Psychology 54.2 (2005): 245-254.
    1. Achievement of widespread health benefits requires merging the unique contributions of three models, each drawing on a different knowledge base. The first is a theoretical model that provides the guiding principles. The second is a translational and implementational model that converts theoretical principles into effective health practices. The third is a social diffusion model to promote widespread adoption of successful practices by functional adaptation to different life circumstances.

Step Two: Clearly define the new habits

Write down exactly what you will do.

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  • For each habit, use SMART criteria and the cue -> routine model as guidance to write down exactly what you are going to do. (Note: For more on the T in SMART criteria, “Time-bound”, see “Set a time boundary“.)

Advice

  • “Piggybacking” the cue for the new routine onto an existing habit (like flossing right after you brush your teeth) is widely recommended (per BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits).
  • Using an “if-then” implementation to map your cues onto routines can make writing out your new habits easier.
  • Frame the routine as actionable to-do’s, along with any detailed information needed to complete the task, to minimize any mental barriers and ambiguity (via Getting Things Done).

Examples

  • Nutrition: I will include vegetables with my dinners. I will cook at home on Sundays so I can bring lunch to work instead of eating fast food.
  • Fitness: After I have my coffee on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I will go to the gym and do the specified workout.
  • Mental Health: When I wake up, I will sit on a pillow and meditate, then journal on my laptop.
  • Sleep: 9 hours before I have to wake up the next day, I will get into bed.

 

Resources
SMART Worksheets

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Step Three: Make it easy

“Rig the game so you win.”

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  • For each habit, ask yourself, “What is the minimum effective dose?” that must get done to make the desired goal a reality.

Advice

  • Focus on one change at a time.
  • Scale up habits incrementally.

Examples

  • Nutrition: Go to the grocery store once a week. Eat one bite of vegetables at dinner.
  • Fitness: Put on my workout clothes and swipe my membership card at the gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
  • Mental Health: Sit down in a quiet place right after I wake up.
  • Sleep: Close my laptop at 10pm.

 

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Step Four: Create a reward system

Associate your habits with positive feelings and experiences.

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  • Plan a specific reward for success in each of your habit routines, both for short-term performance and long-term milestones.

Advice

  • Make your rewards something you really enjoy.
  • Rewards that are variable in nature, like different types of rewards received or lottery dynamics, can make the new behavior more enticing.
  • Bundling your new behavior with a temptation can improve adherence.
  • Ensure that your rewards are not harmful or cause backsliding related to your desired behavior.
  • Framing rewards as losses vs. gains can improve efficacy.

Examples

  • Nutrition: While I cook my week of lunches, I watch one of my favorite movies.
  • Fitness: While I workout, I listen to my favorite podcasts.
  • Mental Health: I read my favorite news website after my mindfulness time.
  • Sleep: When I go to bed on time, I read my favorite author while falling asleep.

 

Resources

Commitment Contracts

WayBetter

WayBetter

We make games that motivate people to achieve their goals.

www.waybetter.com

Pact

Pact

Commit to you. Earn cash for living healthy, paid by members who don’t.

www.pactapp.com

stickK

stickK

stickK empowers you to better your lifestyle. We offer you the opportunity, through ‘Commitment Contracts’, to show to yourself and others the value you put on achieving your goals.

www.stickk.com
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For the complete set of evidence-based habit change concepts, see our Habit Blueprint.

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