80 - Habit-building 8: A surefire way of starting a habit that will last



I’ve decided to start eating healthy several times in my life. Any success has only lasted a short period. And then, like a rubber band, I’ve snapped right back. This is called regression to the mean but you don’t need to know that to get what I’m talking about. Because we’ve all been there.

My cues fell short by not being specific enough. When you’re trying to start a new habit, you don’t want to leave any room for doubt or second-guessing.

We find it easier to make choices if the _when _and _where _are clear, not so much the why or what. When and where clarify the context for action beyond doubt. That’s the thinking behind this way of cue-based planning, called implementation intentions. They leave nothing to doubt by spelling out the time and place for a desired behavior.

I will do X at time Y in location Z.

I will meditate/write/exercise at 7am in the bedroom/study/gym.

Making an implementation intention elevates the power of the cue. Once you’re comfortable using implementation prompts, you can think of stacking a new habit on top of an existing habit.

After [Current Habit], I will [New Habit].

**Habit stacking **lowers the chances of you flaking out by bookending desired routines. The statement _I’ll eat healthier _hangs suspended by sheer intent. It has no time or place and therefore no context attached. In contrast, consider: After I break for lunch, I’ll do ten push-ups. After doing push-ups, I’ll serve myself greens before I put anything else on my plate. All your desired behaviors are held securely within one tight structure. You are shielded from impulses.

Finally, while specific habit stacks are great for cutting down decision-making for entire stretches of the day, **general habit stacks **can do the same for recurring cues. They do so by replacing when with anytime and where with anywhere.

Anytime/Anywhere I see a flight of stairs, I’ll take them.

Anytime/Anywhere I read a book, I’ll write down what I learned.

For long we have evaluated ourselves and those around us on intentions. But the best intentions aren’t always enough and the strongest motivation wears out. What works for creating consistent routines is context. Implementation intentions lend context better than anything else.

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