We all know what habits are, and I think it’s safe to say most of us know that building good habits can help us achieve goals.
So why do we set really good intentions to start a new habit and then fail miserably when it comes to following through?
You just might be wearing the answer.
The biggest factor in setting yourself up to achieve a goal is your environment. We’ve all heard this one… “if you’re going to change your eating habits, you should remove all the junk food from your house.”
Sounds easy, right? Just change the environment.
What that really means is “change the trigger”. You need to identify what causes you to make a bad choice and eliminate it.
But what about creating triggers that help you make a GOOD choice? A choice that will lead you closer to achieving your goal.
Creating triggers is a little harder at first because you have to stop to think about what your trigger should be, then plan out the action steps to set it up. But once you get a few of them working for you, it’s hard to stop!
A few months ago, I decided I needed to do more pushups. As an older adult in advanced Taekwondo class, pushups were one thing I struggled with and something I could easily improve on my own. So I told myself I would start with 10 good pushups a day and work my way up. Sounds like a plan!
But nothing happened.
I never did pushups outside of class. Do you know when I remembered that I wanted to do pushups outside of class? When I was IN class struggling to do pushups. Not helpful!
So I moved on to step two and decided I just needed to plan WHEN to do pushups. So I thought… I’ll do them right before I shower in the morning. Perfect idea!
That didn’t happen. Because once again, nothing in my environment reminded me of that goal… until I got to class and struggled with pushups.
So I realized I needed a visual cue. I strongly dislike things like sticky notes on mirrors or any kind of paper or written reminders because over time (at least to me) these just become visual clutter that I ignore.
I thought about what my routine was like right before I shower to see if there was something I could latch onto in that series of events. What was one thing I did every time before my shower without fail? And there it was…
I open my underwear drawer.
Now, the act of opening my underwear drawer was not going to be strong enough trigger by itself. Why? Because I do that every day without thinking twice about it. So telling myself that I would be somehow be reminded to do pushups when I opened my underwear drawer was a lost cause. I still needed a visual cue.
Should I put a paper note in the drawer? Probably not. Family members who help with laundry might throw clean clothes on top of it and then my trigger is buried out of sight. What about an object?
Would a small trinket be a good reminder or would it, too, become visual clutter that I eventually ignore.
And then there it was… literally right on top of my dresser.
The reason I wanted to start this habit in the first place… my Taekwondo belt. It was neatly rolled up next to some sparring awards and a stack of broken boards from my last testing… right where I left it after my last class.
That would become my trigger. I would place it right on top of my underwear and every time I open that drawer before I shower, I would see the belt and remember to do my pushups.
And if any of my family members threw clean laundry on it, I would be retrieving it for class the next day anyway so it would never stay buried for long.
My belt is not only a trigger to do the thing that achieves my goal, but it’s a strong symbol of the goal itself. All I had to do was reposition it in my environment and a brand new GOOD habit has now formed.
This technique is called “habit stacking” and it simply means adding something new to an existing routine. Eventually, it will become so engrained in your current routine that you won’t even need a trigger.
It’s not automatic for me yet. Some mornings, I start to do the pushups before I even reach for the drawer, but other times the sight of the belt stops me in my tracks and I drop to the floor. The new habit is slowly forming. Soon, I won’t even need the belt to remind me.
That’s how you set yourself up for success.
What new habits can you start in your life right now simply by making a small change in your environment? I’d love to hear your ideas below!