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How To Form Habits To Stick To Your Goals

Laying the foundation for the future is only possible if you are well informed about how to build habits. Since ebbs and flows are inevitable, sticking to the habits you form ensures that every action you take brings you closer to the end goal. It takes a certain kind of discipline to ingrain a pattern into your routine. However, the payoff lasts longer than your immediate goal. In this paper, I will discuss the science behind habits, how to build habits, and how to stick to the habits that you have built.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), chunking is the “process by which the mind divides large pieces of information into smaller units (chunks) that are easier to retain in short-term memory.” 

Chunking explains why tasks, concepts, or actions become more accessible with more experience and repetition. Case in point, muscle memory. Muscle memory is the phenomenon of the brain committing a motor skill to memory through repetition.  For example, we often don’t need to relearn how to ride a bicycle or drive motor vehicles. This is because the brain recognizes familiar patterns and commits the movement to memory. Therefore, when you pick up the activity again, you won’t be starting from ground zero. This is beneficial to creating momentum. 

Studies have shown that consistent effort and deliberate practice would ensure a certain level of success. This is only possible with the type of habits you have. 

James Clear’s best-selling book “Atomic Habits” is about building good habits, changing bad habits, and getting better by 1% every day. 

“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity,” said Clear. 

Understanding the fundamentals of habits will allow you to introduce new habits and change any current practices that would benefit your growth. 

In “The Power of Habit - Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg, it states that there is a neurological loop at the core of every habit. That loop consists of a cue, routine, and reward. 

A cue is any trigger that causes your brain to initiate a specific behavior. It usually indicates the outcome or the reward. For example, your stomach growls, so you get up to make a meal or grab food. 

Routine is the actual behavior or action that you do. In this scenario, that would be eating a quick snack or meal.

Finally, there's the reward. The reward usually satisfies our cravings or teaches us about which actions are worth remembering. For example, having a nice piece of cake could be the reward. Or it could be spending time with your friends over a meal. Recognizing this loop of cue-routine-reward will provide you with enough information to proceed with habit formation.

One method of forming habits is to start with something that you can do easily. Otherwise known as the Two-Minute Rule by David Allen. 

Allen’s book “Getting Things Done,” states that “If it takes less than two minutes, then do it now.”

This rule was designed to increase productivity, but it also is excellent for habit forming. Creating a gateway habit will instill the act of showing up and ultimately lead you to a more productive path. 

Any habit can be scaled down into a two-minute version. For example, exercising for 30 minutes turns into putting on your workout clothes. Studying for class becomes opening your notes. The objective is that once you start the activity, you are more likely to continue doing it, and it prevents you from quitting and not doing the action at all.

Another way of building habits is by habit stacking. Habit stacking is when you combine a new tradition with an existing one. For example, listening to a podcast every time you work out or drinking a glass of water before every meal. Essentially, you’ll be using the same cue to develop another habit. Doing this will allow you to gain traction using the momentum from the previous practice.

A branch off of the habit-stacking strategy would be the If-Then Technique. 

The If-Then Technique is what Clear describes as a “reducing the scope but sticking to the schedule” mentality.

Furthermore, this technique is used when life gets in the way and things don’t go according to plan. You use the phrase ‘If __happens, then __.’ For example, if I order delivery food for lunch, then I will cook a nutritious meal for dinner. If I can’t work out before work, I will work out immediately after work. It allows you not to be swayed by the unexpected and to stick to your habits.

In conclusion, recognizing the current loops in your life will give you enough data on how you should form or change any habits needed to obtain your goals. Then you can use methods like the Two-Minute Rule or habits stacking to introduce these habits into your life. Lastly, making an “If-Then_” statement will prevent you from not going too off track of your goals and making the habit a permanent part of your routine.

Edited By: Whitney Edna Ibe

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