I've written about habits quite a few times before (see my own methods for building habits and four different approaches you can try), but I only realized recently that my research could apply to work habits, too. After all, who among us doesn't want to develop better habits at work as well as home?
Let's take a look at how the research can help us work smarter and healthier.
BJ Fogg is the king of starting small with new habits. His program, Tiny Habits, focuses on this approach. The idea is to focus on building the habit itself, rather than worrying about how big the impact is. Here's a good example: say you want to start a habit of flossing your teeth every night. To build a successful habit, start with something tiny: flossing just one tooth. I know it sounds crazy, but it works. If you're building the habit of flossing just a single tooth each night, three things will happen:
Once you've built up the habit, then you can add to it incrementally. In our example, you'd start flossing two teeth per night, and then three, and soon you'll be flossing all of your teeth without having to think about it.
Let's look at some examples of how you could apply this method to building healthy work habits.
One of the most powerful methods for building new habits is to stack them onto existing habits. You have lots of existing habits that you probably don't even realize. Getting your coffee every morning, logging into your computer, walking to the train station after work, having a mid-morning snack. You do these things without thinking about them because they're habits you've built up over time.
Now that they exist, you can use them as triggers for new habits. Here are some examples.
Here are some of the habits I've stacked together in the past:
Obviously, there are plenty of ways to stack your habits together. Start with something you do every day around the same time and use that as a trigger to remind you to do your new habit. A habit so small you might as well do it and a trigger that happens every day at the same time is a good start for creating strong work habits.
Another of my favorite tricks to building habits is making the habit obvious by putting the tools you need right in front of you. Having whatever equipment you need easily available takes away the hurdle of getting started and acts as a reminder.
Lastly, the most fun part. Every time you complete your habit, celebrate it. Reward yourself for putting in the effort. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, is a big proponent of rewarding yourself after completing a habit. Duhigg's approach to habits is based around cycles consisting of a cue, or trigger, the habit itself, and then a reward.
After building up enough of these, Duhigg says, "when your brain is exposed to a certain cue, it'll kind of go on autopilot because it craves the reward it expects to come at the end."
Building up habits over time means focusing on doing something small every day (or very often, if not every day). Celebrating each time you complete a habit reinforces the value of doing that small thing over and over, rather than reaching for a far-off goal. For instance, if you're trying to lose weight, focusing on the scales will probably get you down after a while if you don't see much movement. Rewarding yourself every time you go to the gym, on the other hand, helps you to build up a lasting habit of regular exercise, regardless of what the long-term consequences are.
Rewards can come in whatever shape and size makes you feel good about sticking with your habit. It might be stopping for a break, having a snack or simply telling yourself, "Well done!" Here are three suggestions to try this week:
A good way to make sure you're staying on track and rewarding yourself for your progress is to use an app like Lift or Balanced to check off your habit each time. If you struggle to stay on track or you need a bigger reward to stay motivated, try grabbing an accountability partner. Find a colleague or friend who will keep you accountable and cheer you on when you succeed. I always tell my co-founder when I go for a run and his support makes me feel even better about sticking with my habit.
Most importantly, just pick one habit to build up at a time. It's really easy to get overwhelmed by trying to make several changes at once. Plus, once you've built up one habit successfully, you've got another starting point for stacking on a new one!
More articles on habit change:
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