I am unbelievably excited because today, July 1st, we are kicking off the Stress Less Habits Challenge. If you’re completely new to this, the Stress Less Habits Challenge is where each month we’re going to take on a new MICRO habit change, master it, then the next month we add on a new habit.
These micro habit shifts will help you to stress less, live more and build resilience.
I know that lasting change doesn’t come from a week at the spa or a weekend getaway. Those things are great, trust me I love a vacation in Mexico too, but most of us use them as the band-aid to solve the problem. You don’t want a band-aid, you want habits and changes that will last.
If you want to join in on the challenge at get all the emails with info and bonus resources, go to http://stresslesshabits.com and sign up. July’s challenge is to find 5 minutes of pure joy a day. I explain in the email why this is so important, so I’m not going to repeat myself here.
This podcast episode is all about the four principles you need to make a habit stick. What I’m describing comes primarily from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. If you don’t already have a copy, buy one. Buy a physical copy, because I guarantee this is a book you’ll want to highlight, bookmark, you name it.
Whenever I chat about habits with audiences in my stress reduction workshops, I ask them how long they think it takes to make a habit stick. I always get some sort of variation of 21 days, 30 days, 60 days or 90 days. My guess is that most people are basing those numbers off of diet books or other proclamations by experts that this is “how long it takes”.
Now, I’m willing to bet you committed to something full force for thirty days… and then something petered out. You lost steam.
Wait a second, wasn’t thirty days the magic number? Why didn’t it stick? Because you didn’t have the key principles in place.
According to James Clear, there are four principles you need to make a habit stick. If you don’t have those, it’s unlikely to stand the test of time.
James Clear calls these the Four Laws of Behaviour Change. In short, if you want to make something stick you have to “make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying.”
Let’s break these down further.
Make it obvious sounds really simple, but you need to make your environment work FOR you, not against you. I used to suck at taking my daily medication. The knock on effect of not taking that medication is that I get more tired and it’s harder to lose weight. You’d think those would be motivation enough to remember to take it every day, but I just forgot… constantly.
In order to make taking my medication obvious I did two things. First, I placed the pill bottle next to the coffee maker, because you KNOW I am not forgetting my morning coffee. And to take it a step further (since I’d still occasionally forget), I now write a letter ‘P’ next to our daily meal plan. That way when I’ve taken my pill, I erase the P so that I don’t second guess myself later.
So, if you’re participating in our Stress Less Habits Challenge, how can you make it obvious? July is all about five minutes of joy a day. Why not schedule it in on your calendar? Or set an alarm? I can already hear you saying “but Victoria, shouldn’t joy be spontaneous? Shouldn’t it just happen?” Yes, in a perfect world joyful moments should just happen, and they WILL. But first you need to make it a habit.
Can you write the word on a sticky note and place it somewhere obvious? Can you make Joyful July your screensaver? Do this with each monthly habit and you’ll find making it obvious makes it happen.
Next, make it easy. Unless something is truly satisfying (more on that in a second), we don’t like a challenge. How many swear words have escaped your mouth when trying to build IKEA furniture that comes with a forty page manual? I know profanities have flown like rockets from my mouth.
You know why I used to go to Starbucks daily? Because it was easy. It’s right by my house, the drive through was never busy, and the app made it so simple for me to spend a lot of money on a daily luxury.
Enter COVID-19 and the store front closed, the line up at the drive through took 20-30 minutes, and my budget was tighter, so that easy, joyful daily luxury became difficult, time-consuming and a budget line I could no longer enjoy. COVID-19 made it hard, so the habit fell away – hopefully for good!
How can you make a new habit easy? What barriers can you take out of your way? A big component to making something easy, in my opinion, is to break it down. Don’t set the day’s goal so gargantuan that it’s too intimidating to even tackle. Break your list down into micro-tasks which feel easy, then knock them down one by one. That’s why I’m making these micro challenges small, so that they feel easy in terms of time.
Make it attractive. You can tell me kale is a super food all day long, but I find it bitter. Same with the benefits of fermented food – it does not appeal, so it’s not going to stick. This is a key reason why diets fail. They’re not attractive to stick to.
Going to the gym – not attractive to me. I don’t like the bright lights, the clinking of weights or the feeling of comparing myself to others. An at-home (or even in-studio) barre workout is MUCH more appealing to me based on the community, activity and environment.
How can you make a habit attractive? First off, if you find the habit so repulsive that you don’t even want to do it, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. Food for thought.
Maybe if you’re trying to quit a habit, like smoking (shout out to Evan who I chatted with about quitting smoking this week), then the first step to making it more attractive could be to take it down from two cigarettes during a break down to one.
Sometimes just by making it more obvious and easy that increases the attractiveness. Another way to make something more attractive is to tie it to something you already do or enjoy doing. James Clear calls this habit stacking. So, for example, I hate meal planning, but I enjoy my Friday night cocktail. So, I meal plan for the week, order groceries online, then I get my cocktail. Or for when I did go into the grocery store, it wasn’t always the most fun to shop, but what was attractive was that I could listen to a podcast or an audio book and get a break from my energetic kiddos. Sometimes it’s not about making the habit itself more attractive, but what comes with that more attractive.
Finally, make it satisfying. Remember I said earlier that we don’t like to do hard things unless they are satisfying? Case in point all my self-isolating friends who are taking on 2,000 piece puzzles. I even saw on Instagram yesterday a friend who is doing a CLEAR PLASTIC PUZZLE. I kid you not. But she wouldn’t do it unless it was satisfying.
If at the end of doing the habit you feel worse, then it’s not satisfying. There are days that I don’t want to workout, or that I don’t want to have a hard conversation, or that I don’t want to do a key part of my work. But 95% of the time once I do it I feel better… satisfied.
Again, I’m not saying don’t do hard things, but there has to be some element of it that satisfies you, whether in the moment, the after effect, the progress you’re making or the way it makes you feel.
So, again, make it obvious, make it easy, make it attractive and make it satisfying. When those key principles are in place, you can build a new habit. We don’t have time to go into it today, which is why you should buy James Clear’s book, but if you want to break a habit, do the opposite. Make it invisible, make it hard, make it unattractive and make it dissatisfying. Seriously, go get that book.
Okay, friends. As you tackle the Stress Less Habits Challenge, always keep these four principles in mind. They will help you really master these habits without waiting for magical number of days to pass. Use these principles for all the other habits in your life that you want to develop and you’ll see massive change.
Make sure you sign up for the Stress Less Habits Challenge to stress less, live more and actually enjoy your daily life.