Updated: Aug 18, 2021
Research tells us that anywhere between 50% to 90% of our daily activities are habitual, which means that for most of us, we’re running on cruise control over half the time we’re awake.
The great news is that you get to choose your cruise control settings, and the right settings can significantly improve your performance, and quickly develop strong mental and physical health.
To dial up your cruise control settings you use simple yet effective habit creation and positive behaviour change techniques used by many of the world’s most exceptional people.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Will Durant
The challenge that you and I have, is that if we believe the habit creation myths, and are using the wrong instruction manual, then driving positive change in our lives is just damn hard.
That’s why in the following sections, I’ll define each myth, then give you simple actionable insights and tips that you can start using today to drive positive change.
If you’re looking for the ‘instruction manual’, then check out Thriverapp’s 3-Step Positive behaviour Change Program designed by Mindhabit.
This myth-busting article is reasonably long (good things can take time). Now, if you only have 5 minutes - out of the 1,440 available to you today 😊 - then you can read the condensed version here. The condensed version of this article gives a quick summary of the four myths, and shares a few key takeaways and tips from each.
Personally, I think your time will be well spent reading the full article.
Let’s get start debunking these myths…
Myth 1: Motivation is critical
Motivation is complicated and unreliable, even the experts cannot agree on the importance of, or type of motivation needed* to help your new habits stick. While motivation is an important piece of the positive behaviour change puzzle, it is definitely not the best place to start.
With motivation there are a heck of a lot of elements at play, and as Beata Souders, MSPP, ACC explains in her recent article for Positivepsychology.com, motivation does not live in a vacuum:
“Our physiological and psychological needs drive us, our cognitions direct us, and emotions land intensity and energy to our pursuits. When the combination of antecedent conditions and the internal motives align, they create a ripe environment for engagement, which propels the action behaviour.”
So, rather than relying on the unreliable, there are better pieces of the puzzle you can focus on to dial up your cruise control settings! Here’s a few tips to make sure you’re focusing on the right pieces:
TIP: Make your new habits so small that they are micro.
At Thriverapp and Mindhabit we call them micro, others call them mini, small, tiny, nano, and atomic — you get the idea. One of the most popular self-improvement books of the last few years has been Atomic Habits by James Clear, however, my personal favourite book on habits is Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg. Call them what you will, nearly every habit expert agrees that the smaller you make your new habits (under 2-min to finish your new habit is a good place to start) the better.
Creating a micro habit means that your new habit doesn’t take long to complete (so you rely less on motivation to finish). And if your new habit is micro, then it’s unlikely you’ll need to learn a new skill, or stretch your ability, to complete it. Again, relying less on motivation.
In this case size really does matter, and micro is magnificent!
TIP: Link your new Micro Habit to a cue.
Your habit loop** is made up of 3 elements: 1] cue, 2] routine (behaviour), and 3] reward. One of the best ways to rely less on motivation is to find a ‘cue’ in your daily routine that you can link your new habit to. This cue acts as a trigger or prompt for you to start your healthy new habit.
As an example, my cue for drinking a glass of water every morning after waking up is brushing my teeth. That’s a great micro habit I’ve been doing this for about six months now and it’s now an almost unconscious decision. i.e., it’s become a regular and easy habit!
Don’t rely on motivation to embed new habits, instead make them ‘micro’ and link your first new habit to an everyday activity which you’re already doing (cue).
* The science of motivation, Psychological Science Agenda | June 2018
* The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, published 2012
Myth 2: Go big or go home
In debunking this second myth let’s talk about your ego and compounding interest . Both are two reasons why going big or going home is a really bad idea.
Speaking of bad ideas, as covered in the previous section debunking Myth 1, the first thing you do with a new habit is rather than going big, make them really small (micro).
TIP: Don’t let your ego trick you into thinking you need to ‘aim high’ to achieve anything.
Sure, goals are great (more on them in the next myth), however, if you aim too high you are more likely to take a misstep or fall. Missteps and falling are often demotivating, and common reasons why people stop embedding a healthy new habit.
The problem with the ego is that he is a sneaky little devil. If you are like me, after a week of adding your new micro habits into your daily routine, your ego will start telling you that you should be doing more; “come on buddy, is that all you’ve got?”. If you listen to your ego, you’ll increase the quantity, difficulty or frequency of your micro habits too early so that you end up breaking your new habits. Because at some point they’ll become too difficult, so you miss a few days, then maybe a week, and all of a sudden those healthy new habits have disappeared.
The trick with your ego and habit creation is to set the micro habit as a ‘baseline’. So, that even if you’re up to thirty push ups every morning, on a bad day you can still do the five you started with (five push ups is another great morning micro habit). Over time, of course you can increase the quantity, difficulty or frequency of your new habits, however, do not lose the ‘micro-base’, so that even after a sleepless night, you can still get up and do those five push ups!
In this case, keeping five push ups as your micro-base will help you continue your ‘streak’, build repetition and continuity into your morning routine, both of which help make that new routine become second nature.
TIP: Compounding interest is one of the most powerful forces on earth.
Leverage compounding interest when creating healthy new habits so that your micro habits are not just easy, but transformational!
If you invested $100 and applied daily compounding interest of 1%, by the end of one month you have $135, by the end of six months $615, and believe it or not, by the end of one year you have over $3,778 in the bank account! That is the power of compounding interest.
Another way of looking at compounding interest, is the elephant eating analogy. Now we’re not into eating elephants here at Thriverapp and Mindhabit, however, if we were, we’d make sure we didn’t bite off more than we could chew in one sitting… We’d start one bite at a time.