Creating Habits That Stick - A Step-By-Step Guide | Catrinel Girbovan | Skillshare

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Creating Habits That Stick - A Step-By-Step Guide

teacher avatar Catrinel Girbovan, Process Improvement Consultant PhD

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Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Science of Habits


    • 3.

      Essence of Time


    • 4.



    • 5.

      Keystone Habits


    • 6.

      Breaking Down Habits


    • 7.



    • 8.



    • 9.



    • 10.



    • 11.

      Class Project


    • 12.

      Summary and Conclusion


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About This Class

This class will teach you the fundamental science behind habit formation and the step-by-step method to implement new behaviors in order to turn them into habits. It will dig into why habits are so hard to incorporate into our daily routines and why most New Year's resolutions are dropped by the month of February.

Topics covered include:

  • What turns behaviors into habits
  • The three R's of habit formation : Reminder, Routine and Reward
  • How long it takes to incorporate new habits into one's routine
  • The importance of intention
  • Identifying keystone habits
  • How to break down a habit
  • How to identify triggers
  • How to anticipate setbacks
  • The importance of rewards
  • Why willpower and commitment are important
  • How to track your success

Meet Your Teacher

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Catrinel Girbovan

Process Improvement Consultant PhD


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My Story 

I am a Performance and Process Consultant. Having first earned a PhD in Experimental Psychology, I rely on scientific evidence to bring you emerging trends, methods that work and resources that can help you create and live your dream life.

I currently help my clients create more balance in their lives by making positive changes and letting go of limiting beliefs in their personal lives and/or in their careers. I take a proactive approach by guiding people in tweaking their beliefs and habits in order to find joy and fulfillment in their everyday lives. 

 I believe every single person has something to offer and teach to the rest of th... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction : The great Greek philosopher Aristotle has been quoted as saying, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit." Aristotle was onto something. We are creatures of habit and we excel when we perform automatic behaviors, and it turns out 40 percent of the behaviors that we do perform are repeated every single day. My name is [inaudible] and I'm a life and business coach, but was first trained as a researcher and hold a PhD in Experimental Psychology. From as far back as I can remember, I've had an insatiable appetite for learning about human development. After completing my PhD in psychology and having studied neuroscience and behavior, I was left with more questions than answers and I longed for deeper understanding of how we thrive and work as human beings. I dove into the world of self-development and behavior science and found that there were scientifically supported methods that have been proven to be effective at changing behavior. I've designed this class to provide an effective strategy to introduce new behaviors and habits into one's life. By digging into the science of behaviors, we'll uncover why it is so difficult to drop unwanted habits and pick up new ones. Believe it or not, exercising can become as easy as brushing your teeth in the morning and is automatic. But before we get there, we need to understand a few things about behavior. In this class we'll cover things such as, what is a realistic time-frame or how long does it actually take to introduce a new habit into your life? More importantly, is there a way to make it easier? Can we anticipate certain setbacks? Lastly, are there top habits or certain habits that once adopted could make it easier for us to pick up other habits? In a nutshell, this class provides a clear and practical strategy for students to effectively form new habits. The class project that students will have to complete is to pick a habit and integrate into their daily routines while tracking it for 30 days. I'm hoping that armed with the tools that this class provides, they'll feel confident about pursuing new habits that reflect their values and their goals. 2. Science of Habits: Habits, we all have them. Moreover, I'd say there's a lot of us out there that would like to drop a few of them and pick up new ones. Dropping unwanted habits can be difficult, and adding new ones could be equally as hard. I'm sure I'm not the only one that's made New Year's resolutions. Again, probably not the only one that has not kept up with them. Turns out that most of us do end up dropping new years resolutions come February. That's because number one, we take on too many and we go hardcore for two weeks, then we run out of steam. That's just natural. It's a natural thing to happen. We need to understand how we can maximize our power, our willpower, our brain's power in introducing new habits into our lives. Habits, by definition, are not innate, they are learned behaviors and therefore, a significant amount of time and effort must be put into repeating a behavior enough times for it to become second nature. Repetition is key here. By repeating a behavior enough times, we strengthen the neural pathways in our brain that are responsible for that behavior, which eventually make it easier to perform and turn it into a habit. A habit is an acquired behavior pattern, regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary. Let's begin by digging into the science of habit formation. A lot of researchers have spent a lot of time trying to break down the mysteries of effective habit formation. It only seems fitting that we spent some time reviewing what they found. You may have heard of the three R's of habit formation or the habit loop. This sequence has been proven again and again by behavioral psychology researchers as the three necessary steps to effective habit formation. First, we have the reminder or the cue trigger that initiates the behavior, which is then followed by the routine, the behavior itself, or the action you take in response to the trigger. Lastly, there's the reward, the benefit you gain from doing the behavior. Therefore, a cue has to trigger a habit. Otherwise that habit isn't going to run. In this way, habits are similar to if and then statements in coding language. A condition needs to be met for the code in the statement to run. Almost all habit cues fall into one of five categories. The location or the context in which the behavior is to be performed, the time, your emotional state at that time, whether there are other people around and immediately preceding action. If you have a habit of eating a donut during the day, the cue for eating that donut can be any one of these. Maybe you get a little hungry around 3:00 PM in the afternoon or maybe you pass a donut shop on your way to work. Now that we know what type of cues can act as reminders to initiate the behavior, let's take a final look at the habit loop. One final note on the actual reward. The reward needs to be positive. If it is positive, you will have a desire to repeat the behavior the next time the reminder is present. Eventually, the positive feedback loop makes your brain wants to repeat the behavior in order to achieve that positive reward, which will turn your behavior into a habit over time. 3. Essence of Time: Now, I'm sure most of you must wonder by this point, well, how long does it actually take to introduce a new behavior into our lives? Is there a magic number? and I think most of us must have heard of the 21-day rule by now, in that, it takes about 21 days when a behaviors performed daily to introduce it as a habit, for it to become a habit. Now, I don't want to burst anyone's bubble, but turns out it's a little more complicated than that, because behaviors vary in difficulty. I think we can all agree that brushing your teeth is a little more intuitive and easy than putting on gym clothes and heading to the gym and exercising for an hour. Is there a right amount of time to repeat certain behaviors before they turn into automatic behaviors? Or how long does it actually take to incorporate a new habit into our lives? 21 days is the common answer however, it turns out that it's more complicated than that, because habits or behaviors vary greatly in difficulty to perform, some are more elusive than others. Exercise would be such an example. A study published in 2009 found that on average, it takes about 66 days to form a new habit, but that easy ones could take a short as 18 days whereas hard to incorporate habits may take up to 254 days to form. Is your habits would be behavior such as drinking a set amount of water daily or flossing your teeth? Whereas harder ones would be incorporating exercise routines, or a daily meditation practice into your life. Moreover, it was found that skipping one day, did not significantly affects success of picking up that habit, so get back to it and don't beat yourself up over skipping a day. Consistency is key even in the face of a minor setback. 4. Intention: In this section, we're going to talk about the importance of intention. It is best to have a purposeful intent on why you wish to pursue this new habit. Motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, once said, "We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment." For this reason, the pain of discipline bears lighter on our conscience than the pain of regret. Reconnecting with your why will help you connect with your intentions in the first place. As a tip, I do encourage you to pick habits that are selected on the basis of internal motivation rather than external, because they're easier targets to achieve. Internal motivation or a habit's personal value, intrinsic value that it brings to you stems from doing something because it brings you joy and fulfillment. Whereas external motivation is doing something because somebody expects you to do it. For instance, taking your pills every day is something that your doctor expects you to do. You're less likely to comply to that than if that was something that you decided on because there was something that was important to you because you care about your health, for instance. So try to pick habits that are internally motivated rather than doing things for other people. Once you've determined your intention, the next step is to commit in writing, and that is writing your goals down. This first step is crucial. You need to determine why you want this behavior change to occur and visualize the steps you will take daily in achieving it. This serves both as motivation down the road and as a starting point. I've created a habit formation form that should help you get started. The beginning is extremely important. In fact, I'd say it's as important as repeating that behavior enough times to turn it into a habit, and this is one place where many do get lost. 5. Keystone Habits: In this section, we're going to discuss keystone habits, a concept that author Charles Duhigg, discusses at length in his book The Power of Habit, why we do what we do in life and business, which I highly recommend. What are keystone habits? Some habits once built have a tendency to help people build other habits. These are called keystone habits, and they do so by helping people create small wins or victories in their lives. These small wins though, have an interesting purpose in that they create motivation, and momentum, and they create a certain structure for building other habits around them. What's important to note about keystone habits is that they are not a cause and effect relationship, in that if you introduce one habit, it will lead to introducing another one. They do not necessarily need to be related, but they are correlated. One example is exercise and better nutrition. In that, if you start exercising and taking care of your body, you are also more likely to be in tune with what it is that you put into your body and what it is that you eat. These two habits although very different are not in a cause and effect relationship, but they are highly positively correlated, in that people that eat well also tend to exercise and vice versa. Let's take one last look at the definition of keystone habits. They prepare the ground for major habit change through small wins and by creating structures that help other habits flourish. There are not related in a cause and effect way, but they can create a chain reaction. Now let's take a look at some examples of keystone habits. First we have willpower, followed by daily planning, meditating, developing a daily routine, tracking what you eat, exercising regularly, making your bed every morning, and having family dinners. Now willpower is a learnable skill, something that can be taught. It all comes down to self-discipline. Some consider willpower to be one of the most important keystone habits, in that it lays the groundwork for integrating other habits. Because learning how to manage the effort you exert to do something or how to restrain certain impulses becomes an extremely valuable skill with regards to habit formation. Daily planning, this boils down to sitting down for a few minutes and developing a detailed plan for the rest of your day, or the next day for that matter. It can help you highlight and focus on the most important tasks. In the best case scenario, you can use this keystone habit to set aside time for another habits such as exercising or meditating. Now meditation, meditation could put your mind at ease for the rest of the day if you were to practice a morning meditation routine. Plus, it's been shown to provide health benefits like reduce blood pressure, and a stronger immune system. It is also correlated with increased memory and awareness, reduced stress and anxiety, as well as increased goal setting. Developing a daily routine. This goes hand in hand with daily planning, as suppose. Whether it's getting to bed at the same time every night or following a irregular morning routine, having consistency in your day produces a cascade of positive effects. The way we organize our thoughts and work routines has an enormous impact on our health, productivity, financial security, and happiness, as Charles Duhigg explains in his book. Now say you wake up every morning at 7:00 AM, drink a homemade smoothie and read the newspaper, day in and day out, this exercise will provide a consistent jump-start to your day. Next we have tracking what you eat. In 2009, the National Institute of Health came out with a study in which participants with food journals lost twice as much weight as those without. Why? Well, they began noticing routines and their eating habits, like what they would eat regularly at one specific time. Participants would keep a snack like an apple or a banana handy during those times. It allows them to plan for a healthy snack in advance. The food journaling created a structure that helped other habits to flourish. Regular exercise. Exercise triggers people to start eating better. People who exercise have been shown to have increased patience, are less stressed, and are more productive at work. According to the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, exercise is correlated with better mood, more confidence, and better sleep. Making your bed every morning. Why waste the time making your bed if you're just going to mess it up again at night? Wrong. Making your bed is correlated with increased productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and better budgeting skills, research suggests. Turns out bed makers are also more likely to like their jobs, own a home, exercise regularly and feel well rested. Having family dinners. Having family dinners that revolve around eating home cooked meals leads to significant additional benefits for all parties. Eating dinner together as a family also encourages healthy eating habits and provides a model for children to carry with them into adulthood. Therefore, sitting down for nightly dinner is good for the spirit, the brain, and the body. Research also shows that shared meals are tied to many teenage behaviors that parents pray for, reduced rates of substance abuse, eating disorders, and depression. As well as higher grade point averages and self-esteem. 6. Breaking Down Habits: In this section we're going to discuss the importance of breaking down habits into smaller, reachable goals. Start small. If you're planning to incorporate an elusive habit, such as exercise or better nutrition, you have to start small. There is a reason most New Year's resolutions are forgotten by the end of January. People tend to go hardcore for two weeks and then give up. Failure can be extremely discouraging and may make future habit formation difficult to even begin. You need to commit to one small change at a time. Exercising daily for five minutes is better than not exercising at all. Know that you can increase in small increments each week or two depending on your progress. It's also important to know that simpler actions become habitual more quickly. Therefore, forming one small habit may then increase your self-confidence for working towards other habits. Remember, you're doing this for you, and you want to see yourself succeed. So breakdown the goal into smaller goals. Pursue one habit or goal at a time until it becomes second nature. For example, if your intention to get fit means undertaking an exercise program, you might want to start with a series of long walks to test the waters first. Don't have ambitious expectations how your health journey will take shape. Start slow and gain momentum is a far more beneficial strategy than quitting altogether. Allow the strength of the goal or habit to propel you towards consistent action. As the saying goes, slow and steady, tends to win the race. 7. Setbacks: In this section, we're going to discuss identifying triggers, and how to anticipate setbacks. Identifying triggers. What types of cues will help initiate the behavior in question? You have to set yourself up for success. In that regard, why not placing cues that will trigger a desire to start the behavior in easy to view places. Also, you should remove temptations that are likely to derail your progress. If your new habit is to curb eating unhealthy foods, be sure to have your fridge and pantries stocked with healthy food options. While this may seem trivial during times of emotional need, the conscious brain is irrational, which might lead to the probability of cheating. So set yourself up for success. Why do we need to address setbacks? Setbacks are incredibly important in habit formation. Because by not anticipating setbacks, when that motivation lacks, you are more likely to quit and stop performing the behavior. However, by creating an action plan on how you will react in response to different setbacks, you are less likely to quit. You are prepared. You know what you need to do if those setbacks arise. So this is going to be key in developing your habit. Anticipating setbacks. You have to learn to anticipate setbacks or set up possible scenarios where you might fall off the wagon. Decide on how you will handle these situations and set yourself up for success. Now, as we previously discussed, habit formation is also tied to the context in which the behavior is performed. The context or the location facilitates and primes your brain to get started on the actions required to perform the behavior. In the event that the context changes, for example, you're working on integrating a irregular exercise routine into your life and have been exercising at home or at the gym, a vacation or a weekend get away could become a potential setback on the sole premise that the context changes. Be prepared, and plan for this. How will you tackle a change in context? Now as a tip, I arrange a number of tools as motivational aids. For instance, I purposely place colored Post-it Notes around the home and place where I'm likely to see them to motivate me to start the behavior in question. I encourage you to take some time and try to find ways in which you can motivate yourself. Whether it's doing what I do with the Post-its, or it's setting daily reminders, including this behavior in your daily planner, find what works for you. 8. Rewards: In this section we're going to talk about the importance of your words, and habit formation. Do you reward yourself. Whether you pick a small or large reward, it is up to you to decide, but do something nice for yourself to reinforce that behavior. This includes rewarding the behavior every few days at the beginning, or once a week. It is important to celebrate small wins as these will fuel transformative change by showing that small patterns can lead to big changes. Now, here's a few tips that I have on rewards. Do not pick rewards that will derail you from your habit or goals. For instance, rewarding yourself for having decreased your screen time during the week by binge-watching a series during the weekend would be counterproductive. I would also point out that you should avoid falling into the trap of rewarding yourself with food, instead, opt for your words that are non food-related, such as learning a new skill, watching a movie, taking in a festival, or visiting a new exhibition at a local museum, meeting up with friends one night, enjoying a bubble bath, and some downtime. If organizing brings you joy, your reward might be to organize a closet or two. Could also be going to the library or a bookstore, or even getting yourself some new workout clothes or shoes if exercise is the habit you want introduce into your routine, and that regard, these are just a few examples, so pick rewards that, you know will motivate you to perform the behavior in question. 9. Commitment: Another important aspect of commitment. It's one thing to commit on paper, and that's great. That's the first step, is committing publicly. I don't mean shouting on the top of rooftops, but committing in front of family and friends, your significant other, discussing it even with people that may have already picked up that habit and it's part of their daily routines. Because by committing publicly, you can hold yourself accountable. 10. Tracking: Tracking your success. Now that we know it can take a serious amount of time to incorporate a new habit. How do we make one stick? We discussed that repetition is key, but how do you ensure repetition? Habit tracking is one way to hold yourself accountable. Track your success. How satisfying is it, the cross off a day on a calendar once you've completed your behavior and to keep track of your streaks? You can use my habit tracker printable in order to track your journey. Daily action is paramount for maintaining motivation rather than intermittent application. Aim for at least a 90 percent strike rate during the first month. As mentioned previously, the 21 day rule has been popularized, but is not accurate and certainly cannot be generalized across all habits. Researchers now recommend around 10 weeks for elusive habits, such as healthier eating and exercise habits. Don't get discouraged by the numbers. Time will pass anyway, you might as well be doing something that brings you joy. Also, remember there will eventually come a time when tracking no longer becomes necessary. This is when the habit formation has culminated into the stability phase, where the habit has been formed and its strength has plateaued, and it will persist over time with minimal effort or celebration. Now, you can use the old pen and paper to track your behavior or one of the many apps on the market. I like to use loop. However, be cautious of habit formation apps. It turns out they're not as helpful as we would like them to be. Even though they do claim that they help you form new habits with set daily reminders or e-mails. As it turns out, they're quite effective at helping you implement new habits. But app dependency can become a problem, making the habits incredibly fragile once the app is no longer used. 11. Class Project: The class project that students will have to complete is to pick a habit and integrate into their daily routines while tracking it for 30 days. I'm hoping that armed with the tools that this class provides, they'll feel confident about pursuing new habits that reflect their values and their goals. The class project is very straightforward. Pick a habit that you would like to integrate into your routine and track it for 30 days or longer. You may use the habit formation and habit tracker forums that are included with this class and fill out the habit formation form so that you can help out others that might struggle with how to anticipate certain setbacks based on the behavior and how to tackle those setbacks once they do arise. I wish you the best of luck, and let's see what you've got. As an example, I chose exercise as a habit that I would like to incorporate into my daily routine. First and foremost what we need to do is to define why this is important to me. Tap into that intrinsic motivation we talked about and explain why I would benefit from introducing this habit into my life. In terms of exercise, I chose to say that it would make me feel great. It would give me energy, allow me to sleep better at night. It would be something that would help me de-stress, clear my head whenever I feel overwhelmed, but it would also be something that would help me maintain great mental and physical health. Now in terms of the reminder to cue the behavior, there are a few things that I choose to do to set myself up for success or to queue the behavior. In my case, laying out my workout clothes the night before is probably going to help in that I can just reach for them and put them on more easily. Also, selecting the workout video or the workout plan for the week might be a little easier in that there's not that choice that I have to make in the morning and deciding what work out I need to perform that day. Also, I most likely will have to add an early alarm to my schedule and waking up a little earlier in order to perform my work out first thing in the morning. The action or the routine that I will take at that moment when the alarm goes off is going to be to get up, change into my workout clothes which are nearby, put on the video that I pre-selected the night before and get going on my workout routine. I would also make sure that I have a water bottle on my nightstand so that I can stay hydrated during my workout. Again, doing everything I can to maximize the likelihood that I would perform the behavior. As a reward, I choose to reward myself every six days in that I plan to work out six days out of seven and take the seventh day as a rest day and maybe watch a movie as a reward. As a big reward for completing the behavior for a full 30, 60 or 90 days, I choose to buy myself some new workout clothes, or perhaps even some new Bluetooth headphones, which would make exercising more fun. Now we get into the setbacks. What is it that I anticipate would potentially decrease my motivation and performing this behavior? One thing that it can see happening is that I might be unable to wake up that early, having gone to bed too late. This is a direct impact on my night-time routine as well, and that I need to make sure I go to bed early enough to be able to wake up when that alarm goes off at 5:00 In the morning. Next, there might be the possibility of injury, which might prevent me from working out. Getting sick might be something else that's out of my control that I might have to anticipate. Lastly, traveling. That might be something that could interfere with my workout routine. However, if I feel unmotivated to do the behaviors and I want to give up, instead, I will do one or a few of these things that I lay out for myself. Number 1, I will make sure that I reread this paper that I have it nearby so that I can tap back into that intrinsic motivation of why I picked up this behavior to begin with. Next, I will make sure I have a great playlist ready to play and put that on, and that might get me going. Then I would remind myself how energized, amazing and more productive I feel once I complete a workout. In terms of dealing with the possible setback of traveling, I'm going to make sure that I have workout clothes with me, that my workouts are planned and downloaded onto my tablet or phone so that I can perform them anywhere. Seeing with my music, make sure that everything's downloaded, ready to go in case that'll have Wi-Fi. Lastly, turning this behavior into a habit will make me feel, in this case, amazing. It's something that I've wanted to integrate into my routine for a very long time and accomplishing that would definitely make me incredibly happy, proud, and fulfilled. 12. Summary and Conclusion: Now let's quickly go over the step-by-step guide for forming a new habit. First, you need to decide on a habit you'd like to incorporate to your life. You will then have to define your intention by tapping into that intrinsic motivation we've discussed at length. Define your reminders or cues that will help you initiate the behavior and get clear on your routine or the action steps you will follow once presented with the cues. Now don't forget to pick a reward for following through your action steps for a set amount of time. Also, spend some time outlining and anticipating possible setbacks that may derail your progress. More importantly, what steps will you take to combat them? Lastly, don't forget to commit publicly by sharing your journey with family and friends or other people that have already incorporated that behavior as a habit. Your next step is to begin and track your progress. I hope this has helped you understand a bit of the science behind habit formation and has provided you with a road-map on how to effectively incorporate new habits into your routine. I wish you the best of luck on your journey. Don't forget to download the habit tracker and habit formation forms, and be sure to share your progress.