Creating Instant Habits

06/30/2010 at 5:24 PM Leave a comment

According to Merriam-Webster, a habit is “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.” Research states that it takes 21 days to create a new habit. That’s three weeks of working on a behavior to make it stick. What if we could create instant habits? Wouldn’t it be great to get one habit under your belt and get on with the next?

In the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard authors Chip and Dan Heath describe “action triggers” as being able to create instant habits. Action triggers are when you associate a desired change with an existing habit. The existing habit then becomes a reminder to do the new, desired behavior, essentially piggybacking off it. So, “When I do _____ (your existing habit), I will do ______ (desired habit).”
The success rate of this strategy is much higher than attempting it without the trigger.

Two things to note are that 1) the desired change has to be a hard one. If it’s an easy one, the rate of success is no different than when not using an action trigger. 2) both have to be very specific.
i.e. You have a very hard time remembering to eat breakfast before you leave for work. You typically pour a cup of coffee. Drink it while you read emails and then rush off to work. An action trigger might be, “When I turn off the TV at the end of the day, I will prepare my breakfast and set it in front of the coffee maker.” This is actually a double trigger: turning off the TV leads to preparation and getting your coffee leads to eating breakfast (since you can’t miss remembering breakfast when it’s sitting in front of your coffee habit.)

Look at the behaviors that you have been having difficulty changing and see if you can create action triggers to form those instant habits.

I’d love to hear about your successes.

Best wishes, Mark

Mark Nutting, CSCS*D, NSCA-CPT-AR*D
NSCA 2009 Personal Trainer of the Year
Connect with Mark on Facebook and Twitter

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Entry filed under: Fitness, Nutrition/Diet. Tags: , , , , , , .

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