1) Thoughtfully choose your goal:
- Take your time with choosing your goal.
- The inner critic is not going to suggest helpful solutions so don't engage.
- This isn't about Mom's or Dad's or some magazine's advice, this is about what/how you want to enhance your life. So instead of 'improve dental hygiene', say ‘I want nice breath in the morning. No more bad morning breath.’
- Answer these two questions, and be honest with yourself, even if the inner critic has a fit: How important is this goal, and why is it important?
- When answering those questions, be specific. "It's really really important that I have fresh breath every morning. I'll relax about bad breath when I kiss my spouse good morning. I don't want it to be gross and a turn-off."
- Mountain climbers do not look at the peak while they are climbing, they are looking at their hands and feet and the next small step. They see the next small step is possible, so they take it. Over and over and over. If they looked at the peak all the time they'd get discouraged because there would be no obvious progress. When they want to see progress, they look at the steps below/behind - "wow - look at how many steps I've taken up this mountain! I'm definitely making progress". So, set a goal that can be achieved in small observable steps that are repeatable and believable rather than large bold leaps. "Every night before bed I'll brush, rinse, floss, rinse, and lastly mouthwash to get nice morning breath."
- Write your goal, and even better, find a picture that portrays its achievement. "I'm calling this goal 'fresh breath preparation'." For example a photo of clean sparkly teeth.
2) Emotionally prepare:
- Imagine you're planning on walking across a football or soccer field. If you walked in the direction you're looking, you'd end up at some point on the edge of the field way over there. Suppose instead you changed where you're looking by just a small angle, and then started walking. You'd end up at a significantly different place over there on the edge of the field. A small change in direction over time yields a big difference in destination. A small change can bring big results. A small change is easier to implement and stick with. A small change is believable. You learned how to read one word at a time, and look at you now!
- Appreciate what you've been doing (or not doing) and how it actually served you. "I've put 'fresh breath preparation' way down on my priority list because I wanted to put my time and energy into maximizing household chores and reading before sleep. I've done a lot of household work before bedtime and I've had some great reading time instead of 'fresh breath preparation'. It's been a terrific way to get extra time from the day."
- Release it as no longer needed. "When it comes right down to it, my relationship with my spouse is actually more important than household chores or reading. “I hereby release my need to complete a 'to do list' before bed".
- Invite yourself to be open to the new aspect, begin appreciating it by imagining and feeling the results you desire. "So I am now deciding to redistribute/shuffle some before-bed time around to include 'fresh breath preparation'. I can feel my clean fresh morning mouth, and my spouse smiles at me cause it's not stinky."
3) Implement the change and make it a habit:
- This is the "how to do it" step and it isn't about willpower, or some type of character strength, or intelligence - it's just about a process. It’s a well understood process that takes the form of a cycle.
- The cycle starts with a cue, also called a trigger that stimulates a craving. The craving stimulates a set of behaviors, called the routine. The routine leads to a reward that satisfies the craving. That satisfaction in turn rewards the cycle. After a while, this cycle is a habit.
- There is a mistaken belief that if you remove a cue or trigger, you can reduce a habit. This is a temporary, shall we say superficial, approach. Habits cannot be deleted from our brains! Once you have a habit, it’s there for the duration. Sorry for that bad news. But there’s good news - many times we can swap the old routine for a new one. Keep the cue/trigger, keep the craving, keep the reward, just change the routine (the set of behaviors). The cycle stays in place but the routine is upgraded.
Upgrading an Existing Habit
I’ll deal with creating a new habit below but for now let’s get into the ‘how’ to upgrading a routine inside a habit you already have. Here’s the four steps:
(a) Understanding and identifying the habit’s parts. You’re going to be changing the routine, so you need to know what that is. And you need to get a reward, so you need to know what that is in the existing habit
(b) Changing the routine (behaviors)
(c) Testing it so that you get the satisfaction/reward that reinforces/drives the habit
(d) How might I sabotage myself, or let something sabotage this change? What steps can I take to prevent this?
For example: I already have a habit of brushing and rinsing my teeth before bed. The trigger is walking into the bathroom. My reward is the clean tingle feeling. I will add flossing to the routine. I have doubts that the clean tingle feeling will be enough reward, so I add a water rinse, a mouthwash rinse, and a another final water rinse to really feel a snap-pizzazz. I test the new routine after lunch and yes indeedy it is rewarding. As a final cherry-reward I smile at myself in the mirror and say ‘fresh breath preparation for a good morning feeling’. Is this doable? Yes. Do I believe I can do it? Yes. Do I believe I will do it? Yes. How and when could this get sabotaged? When I’m on a trip away from home, not being cued by my own bathroom. Or I could fall back to the old routine if I fail to have mouthwash or the floss I like available. Solution: Have an inventory in my travel kit.