By now, you’ve probably heard a thing or two about the habit loop. It tells us a habit is formed by a cue, routine, and a reward. But there’s one more factor that determines your success with a new habit: its simplicity.
Photo by Jellaluna.
In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Behavioural Medicine, researchers looked at what it took for people to stick to their exercise habits. In the abstract, they reported that the following characteristics predict a change in habits over time:
- Affective judgments
- Low behavioural complexity
The first three are definitely related to the habit loop: routine is essentially consistency, and you also need environmental cues, and affective judgments is where rewards comes in. But the habit also has to be simple, as fitness site Brawn for Brains points out.
They further explain:
Let’s look at the most common pitfall of all. We all know someone that has said this (usually after a few drinks):
“… and on Monday I’m going to start eating healthy and going to the gym everyday and drink less and quit smoking…”
And by Wednesday they’re using their gym card as a beer coaster and ordering pizza. They didn’t fail because they’re destined to be unhealthy, they simply tried to change too much at once. Why does this usually result in failure? Well if we examine the quote above we see 4 difficult goals all brought under one umbrella. 4 goals disguised as one where failing one sub-goal means failure of all four… Suddenly failure seems like a certainty.
This is why I got my “drink more water” new year’s resolution to stick so easily, while my other resolutions failed fast. The others were too overwhelming and behaviorally complex — they took a lot of work!
The takeaway here? If you’re having trouble establishing a new habit, you want to implement the habit loop, but you also want to make sure that habit is easy, at least at first. Start slow and work your way up. If your habit goal is to read a book in a week, for example, you might start by focusing on the simpler task: read one paragraph before bed. It may seem like you get there slower on paper, but you won’t get anywhere without sticking to the habit.
For more detail, check out the study and the article below.