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Every morning, the minute I wake up, I start to think about a cup of tea. I can literally taste it and feel more awake and relaxed just thinking about it. It doesn’t take long before I’m making a beeline for the kettle. The same thing happens at night, once my son is in bed, and “me time” starts (let’s just ignore the fact that me time usually involves cleaning, tidying, working or spending time with my husband, lol. Tea always comes first!).
These 2 cups of tea in my day are a long-standing habit that I thoroughly enjoy (and would argue, need).
What are your daily habits?
It’s an important question to answer, because our lives are the sum of our habits.
Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit”, says that although you may think that most of the choices you make each day are the result of well-considered decision making, they’re not. In fact, more than 40% of your daily actions aren’t decisions at all. They’re habits.
These habits influence who you are, what you believe, how you feel and how you show up in the world.
Pretty important stuff.
How habits form
“All bad habits start slowly and gradually and before you know you have the habit, the habit has you.”
Has a habit ever snuck up on you, forming without you realising?
Here’s how it tends to work. At 3pm one afternoon you feel really tired and so when you make your cup of coffee, you also reach for a sugar hit; a nice big chocolate chip cookie. You savour every bite of that cookie and feel happier and a little more energised afterwards.
The next afternoon, you’re still feeling pretty tired and you remember how much you enjoyed that chocolate chip cookie the day before. So again, you make a coffee and grab a cookie. Hmmmm, wonderful.
Before you know it, you’re craving and automatically reaching for chocolate chip cookies with your coffee every afternoon. Some days you even have 2!
Habits form when we repeat the same behaviour over and over, in response to a cue (tiredness and coffee) and experience a reward (enjoying the taste and sugar hit from the cookie). At some point, you stop making a deliberate choice and stop thinking about it so much, but repeat the behaviour anyway.
Don’t worry, you’re not weak and there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s a completely normal process. Your brain does this to conserve energy and redirect that energy to other tasks. It allows you to multitask. It’s the reason you can mentally plan your day while you brush your teeth, help your kids with their homework while cooking dinner, or hold a conversation while driving.
Here’s a really critical point; once your habits are encoded into your brain, they will always be there.
That’s fine for the good habits, but what about those that aren’t helpful? Your brain actually can’t distinguish between whether a habit is helpful or not, so it treats them the same.
That means, your afternoon cookie habit, will always be lurking around in the depths of your brain, waiting for that cue.
This begs the question; can you change that habit?
You just need to create new habits that are stronger, so that you can push that old habit into the background. I’ll come back to that in a moment.
Helpful and unhelpful habits
Are your daily habits helpful or unhelpful?
I’ve been reflecting on mine and my most essential helpful daily habits happen at the beginning and end of the day.
- Make the bed
- Have a cup of strong black tea (or two)
- Get dressed properly
- Complete my (simple) skin care routine
- Unload the dishwasher (so dirty dishes can go straight in there during the day, instead of piling up)
- Have a cup of tea after my son is in bed
- Prepare for the next day (pack bag, prepare snacks, take any dinner ingredients out of the freezer)
- 15-minute general tidy up of the house
- Shower before bed
- Complete my (simple) skincare routine
I also have a few helpful habits that happen during the day, including always cleaning up the kitchen straight away after eating, and snuggles after my son’s nap time.
Of course, there are some unhelpful habits or inconsistent habits that I’d love to change:
- Going to bed too late and not getting enough sleep
- Screen time before bed
- Not enough stretching
- Inconsistent reflection time.
What are yours, lovely mum?
If you’ve got a solid list of helpful daily habits, then that’s wonderful!
If not, don’t worry, it’s never too late to start. When you change your habits, you change your life.
How to change a habit
Let’s use our afternoon cookie habit to work through this one.
Instead of thinking that you need to eliminate your afternoon cookie habit (remember it’s always stored in your brain), think about changing it to a healthier habit.
1. Understand the craving that’s driving the behaviour.
This is important, because if you replace the unhelpful habit with a new one that doesn’t actually address the underlying craving, then it won’t overpower the old habit.
In this example, we want the cookie because we’re craving a little burst of energy, and also some comfort or enjoyment when we’re feeling flat.
2. Keep the same the cue and reward, and change the routine.
This is the easiest way to change a habit.
In our example, we need something else that will give us a little burst of energy, with some comfort and enjoyment. The right choice depends on what will work for you personally. Some options would be to take the coffee outside to get some fresh air at the same time, or select another enjoyable yet healthier snack.
3. Every time you experience the cue deliberately choose the new routine.
Over time, the new routine will replace the old routine.
Sounds so simple doesn’t it?
It is indeed a simple approach, but you have to persist to allow it the habit to stick. You might have heard that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Well, that’s not exactly true. Research has shown that it can take 2-8 months.
You may also have to trial different new routines to see what works.
How to create a new habit
The most effective way to create a brand new habit is to anchor it to an existing daily habit. The existing habit becomes your cue in the cycle. And because it’s already a habit, it’s easier, because you’re not leaving it to memory or chance.
Let’s say you want to start using affirmations every day. You could anchor this to your daily habit of brushing your teeth in the morning. Write your affirmations on a card and stick them up in your bathroom, next to the sink. Every time you brush your teeth, say your affirmations.
Of course, there needs to be a reward. In this case, saying the affirmations may give you a confidence boost and help you feel more positive about your day. It might also give you a sense of accomplishment. These are rewards. You could also reward yourself by congratulating yourself on adopting this new helpful habit. Simply saying “great work” or “success!” to yourself can work.
And then, again, it’s about persisting over time until the habit is formed and you repeat the same routine without thinking about it so much or deliberately choosing it.
Extra tips for success
Here are some extra things to consider to make the new or changed habit stick.
1. Make sure the habit you’re trying to build is something you believe in.
Otherwise there’s really no point and you may find it difficult to identify a reward that makes it worthwhile.
2. It’s difficult to create a daily habit that conflicts with how you see yourself.
For example, you’re trying to eat better, but you’re telling yourself that you’re an unhealthy, person who makes poor food choices.
You need to change the way you see yourself first, speaking about the end goal as if it is reality now.
So, tell yourself that you make healthy eating choices. Then set about creating habits that prove this.
3. Keep things simple and realistic.
If you want to read more, but it’s a struggle to find any time at all, you don’t start with aiming for an hour a day. Your first daily habit could be reading for 5 minutes before bed.
5. Start with ONE habit to create or change.
Once it’s in place, then choose another.
6. Focus on consistency.
Don’t worry about the quality of your routine at this point. If you want to do some form of exercise daily, but today you only did 5 mins, that’s ok. Even 5 mins will help you establish a daily habit of exercising and then you can work on increasing the time.
Research also shows that missing an opportunity to perform the behaviour doesn’t significantly affect the formation of your habit. Just extend yourself some self-compassion and get back on track.
So, lovely mum, what daily habit do you want to create or change to create the life you want?
You only need 1 to start with.