• Jessica Warren


Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash
“Your life today is essentially the sum of your habits.” - James Clear, habit expert and author of “Atomic Habits”.

Habits are actions we regularly perform automatically, without needing to consciously think about them. Many of us, for example (if we are honest about it!), reach for our phone without consciously thinking, when we are feeling bored or stressed. As a positive example, we might also automatically change into workout clothes and go for a run when we get home from the office.

We all have a unique set of habits, that can positively or negatively affect our well-being. They can also evolve throughout our lives because, even as adults, our brains are an ever-changing landscape of neural connections.

We may want to start a new habit like going to the gym, meditating, eating more healthily, or reading a chapter of a book every day; or stop old habits like smoking, mindlessly scrolling on social media, drinking too much alcohol, or eating too many cakes! However, as many of us know from our own strings of well-intentioned-yet-abandoned resolutions, they are often difficult to maintain, especially if we don't know the tricks behind the psychology of habit formation.

In his 2018 podcast with Rich Roll, James Clear explains that it's better to visualise the type of person we would like to become (for example, someone who is physically fit) rather than only focusing on a specific action we are going to take (like going to the gym three times a week). Relating to a positive new identity makes the rewards of a new habit seem more tangible and the implications wider-reaching:

“Every action you take, is a vote for the type of person you think you are.” - James Clear

"Atomic Habits" recommends making a new positive habit obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying to do (and the opposite for “bad” habits we wish to break)! Unsurprisingly, it has been shown that making positive actions simpler and less challenging to do can help us develop them into regular habits more quickly. It's often useful to plan out big goals into actionable steps, so that we don't get overwhelmed by them.

Other tips for new habit success include:

  1. Associating it with an existing habit in our routine (like meditating before we brush our teeth) or a set time of day (such as when we get home from work);

  2. Making as many decisions as possible in advance (such as when and where you will perform your habit every day);

  3. Choosing an activity that’s accessible and enjoyable (like a sport that you like and can do near your workplace for regular exercise);

  4. Tracking your progress and checking off days with an online course, app or journal;

  5. Have an accountability buddy who starts and continues the habit with you;

  6. Rewarding yourself right after each time you do the new positive action; and

  7. Setting a reminder on your phone, or as a note on your desk or fridge.

It’s also worth making sure a new habit fits in to your lifestyle, so you’re less likely to have to give up on it. Psychologist BJ Fogg suggests starting with sustainable "tiny habits" (such as meditating for just five minutes a day) to get into the groove of a new behaviour, and building from there.

If you're interested, here are some of the best resources to learn more about successfully maintaining new positive habits, and getting rid of the ones you feel deep down it might be time to leave behind:

  • James Clear’s Atomic Habits book and blog are some of the most interesting research-based actionable resources on habits. He also has a habit tracker journal here.

  • The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is another awesome read that “translates cutting-edge behavioural science into practical self-improvement action.”

  • For help quitting smoking, you can check out Allen Carr's “Easyway” books or workshops (also for alcohol, gambling, and tech addiction) that have already helped millions of people to stop.

  • NHS’s alcohol support website has extensive advice on reducing alcohol consumption; and Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous provide helplines and meetup groups around the world, for when drinking or drug-related habits feel out of control.

Jessica is Co-Founder of Mind: Unlocked. If you're ready to build a meditation habit, you can also see Mind: Unlocked's 21-day online course.

To find out more about Jessica's work, check out www.jessicawarren.co.


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