Whether you’re one of those self-disciplined Jedi masters who managed to find a self-care silver lining in all these months of enforced at-home time — or one of those people who are just about to get on top of their snacking and start meditating in the mornings — building and maintaining healthy habits in the face of life’s curveballs can be very challenging. If we relied on motivation and willpower alone to govern our lives, many critical tasks such as taking care of our kids, going to work, and flossing might never get done … or get done well. The good news? Lasting behavioral change requires only one tiny step at a time.
BJ Foggs, a social scientist at Stanford University, wrote in his book Tiny Habits about the three essential steps to lasting behavior change:
Get specific: What is the behavior you want? Identify the key target outcomes and aspirations for the specific behaviors.
Make it easy: How can you make the behavior as easy as possible to do? Simplicity is the key to behavioral change. For example, if you want to work out in the morning, lay out your workout clothes before you go to bed.
Prompt the behavior: No behavior occurs without a prompt. And the idea here is to use an existing habit — one that’s already easy for you — to trigger a new, desired habit.
Using this mental template may be helpful in continuing with or even starting a new habit. Think: “After I [existing habit], then I will [insert new behavior].” The existing habit should be something you’re already doing that doesn‘t require high levels of motivation, willpower, or special ability. For example, simple ingrained habits like taking a shower, reading the news, or packing lunch for the kids may be habits you don’t need to think twice about doing. From there, tie on a new habit you want to establish. In practice, it may look something like this:
Behavior: Eating a healthy snack in the afternoon: Template: “After I pack healthy snacks for the kids, then I will make an extra one for me.”
Behavior: Increasing exercise by scheduling it. Template: “When I check my calendar for the upcoming week, I will also block out a 30-minute windows for exercise each day.”
Behavior: Meditating more. Template: “After I wake up and turn off my alarm, then I will complete 10 minutes of meditation to start my day.”
Finding tiny, specific, and easy ways to cement your healthy habits is essential to keep moving toward your health and wellness goals. Behaviors that you perform consistently and sustainably will eventually become a habit. Before you know it, something that was initially challenging to perform will become a walk in the park.