Changing your behavior is hard. Yet building a new habit — whether that’s listening to an audiobook during your commute or going for a walk on your lunch break — can be good for your physical and psychological wellbeing. So it’s not surprising that many of us want to build a new habit. Unfortunately, it can be hard to make a new habit stick.
According to Forbes, one reason why so many people struggle with building new habits is because they don’t understand how habits are structured.
There’s an internal or external cue that triggers you to take action, the action itself and the reward your brain gets for taking the action. For example, if you always go for a run at six o’clock, then your body and mind are primed for exercise at that time, you perform the exercise and your brain is rewarded by the endorphins that make you feel good.
When you understand the structure of a habit, it’s easier to build a new one. But first, you need to become clear about why you want to build a new habit in the first place. Sometimes it’s because we’ll get an immediate reward, but oftentimes, things we want to change will only pay off over time. For example, if you want to learn a new language, it will take several weeks before you can have a short, basic conversation and months, if not years before you’ll be fluent. Or if you want to eat healthier, it will take a few weeks before you notice anything different about your weight or how you feel. Either way, you have to know your motivation before you can build a new habit.
Once you know what behavior you want to learn, you can give it the structure of a habit. For example, if you want to eat healthier, you have the internal cue, “I’m hungry.” So you order a salad and eat it. Then for your reward, you give yourself positive affirmations. Or let’s say you want to set aside time for a specific task each day. Once that time arrives — the cue — you can turn off your phone and perform the task. Then your reward is that you’ll have finished the job within the allotted time and have more time left over for something else.
It’s important that your new habit is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) and you also should reward yourself for doing it as you track your progress. In addition, only try to adopt one new habit at a time, and seek some kind of support — whether that’s by doing it together with a friend or finding a community of like-minded people.
Best of all — you only need to stick with your new behavior for 90 days for it to become a habit. So if you’re cultivating a habit that’s going to make you more productive or more knowledgeable, or better yet, happier or healthier, it’s good to know it will become automatic after just three short months.