Use the habit loop to establish new daily habits that will help to achieve a desired outcome. Follow a five-step approach to creating new, goal-oriented habits with success.
Step 1: Establish Goals and Milestones
Contrary to popular belief, habits do not take 21 days to form. According to researchers the time varies greatly from person to person and can be as long as 66 days. Forming a new habit is a long process that requires consistent implementation.
Often, we set ambitious goals, like losing 60 pounds or lowering blood pressure. These objectives can seem overwhelming. It’s important to “chunk” a goal into smaller, less daunting, more manageable outcomes. For example, instead of focusing on losing 60 pounds, a good first milestone is to lose 5 pounds in the first month. Establishing smaller milestones helps increases the likelihood that a habit will form.
Step 2: Identify Motivational Factors
Motivation can be both intrinsic and extrinsic. Someone who wants to lose 60 pounds may have been told by their doctor that it is crucial they lose weight. This scare tactic is an extrinsic motivator—the motivation comes from an external driver. This form of motivation is a powerful way to get someone started on a new behavior, but the long-term effectiveness is poor.
Intrinsic motivation involves doing an activity for the inherent satisfaction, not for a separable consequence. Losing weight may be intrinsically important to you because you gain a sense of accomplishment, feel more self-confident or find a mate. Intrinsic motivators are long-lasting compared with extrinsic factors.
Choose the right motivational factors for yourself and be sure to reward yourself as you reach your goals.
Step 3: Pick a Goal-Oriented Behavior
Studies have found that focusing on one simple habit at a time may lead to greater behavior change. For each goal set a few behaviors which will reinforce helping you to reach this goal.
For example, if the goal is to lose weight set achievable goals:
- Walk and track 10,000 steps per day. Researchers have found that regular, “incidental” physical activity is effective for weight loss and overall health.
- Workout at the gym three times a week.
- Drink 2 cups of water before every meal. Not only can this help with satiety, but water is calorie-free, and proper hydration may aid in fat loss and contribute to overall well-being.
- Get to bed by 10 p.m. every night. A good night’s sleep supports the body’s ability to lose weight.
Step 4: Create the Cue
Create a few potential cues that will trigger the goal-oriented behavior set in Step 3. For instance, if the goal is weight loss and the goal-oriented behavior is to drink two cups of water before every meal, you can trigger the behavior by:
- Setting a reminder alarm.
- Keep a water bottle next to the computer screen.
- Schedule water consumption on a calendar.
Step 5: Eliminate Disruptors
Using the example in Step 4, not having water readily available and accessible disrupts the behavior of drinking two cups of water before every meal. Therefore, the first action should be to purchase a water bottle that’s easy to fill and to transport. For each goal-oriented behavior eliminate disruptors which impede your progress.