The alarm starts buzzing at 5:30 am.
You are barely awake. You're able to animate your body just enough to stumble into the washroom, slide open the shower door and turn on the water.
You turn the hot water knob first, all the way up.
Then the cold water knob, a quarter turn.
Next comes the body wash, followed by the shampoo.
After your shower you brush your teeth. You use your right hand, as always. You stand in the same place, spit at the same point during the process, and put the brush back in the holder.
How much conscious thought went into this process?
First off, you were half asleep. Second, you do the exact same pattern every single day. Your brain knows it can rely on the habits and switch into auto pilot.
It all starts with the alarm. Once it buzzes, you execute the same old pattern, and in completion, you receive some sort of reward.
In this case, that reward is probably the fact you feel clean, smell good, and you're now awake enough to function (or you're awake enough to get coffee, then you can function).
These automatic habits make up the majority of our daily lives.
Want to lose weight and put on some muscle? You're going to need new habits.
Before we can create a new habit, we need to know what makes up the anatomy of a habit.
The Habit Loop
Trigger --> Action --> Reward
The trigger is what cues you to do the action. Your mind knows when it receives that trigger, it's time to perform the same action that it always does.
In the case of the morning routine, the trigger is the buzzing alarm. Without thinking, you find yourself showered and your teeth brushed.
Following the action is always a reward.
This reward is what really drives the habit home. Without a reward, a habit has a pretty low chance of sticking.
When a smoker has a cigarette, he/she enjoys the reward of more focus, energy, sharpness, and relief.
When someone with a habit of eating sweets has a donut, he/she enjoys the instant rush of sugar and delicious donutty taste.
When a habit is really sticking, you will find yourself craving that reward before you even receive it.
In the case of healthy habits that are in line with your goals and your mission, this is a very good sign.
Building a New Habit
Now that we know what makes up a habit, we can begin to build them into our everyday lives.
One of the most effective ways to add in a new behavior is to sneak it between triggers and rewards that we already have in our lives. A Trojan Horse strategy.
Here's an example.
If you wanted to create an exercise habit, using an existing trigger to cue you to exercise would work best.
Let's say that after work each day, you go home, crack open a beer and hit the couch in order to relieve the stress of the day.
In this case, the trigger may be when you leave work. To make this trigger work for you, leave your gym bag and sneakers in your car. That way, when you see them after work the light bulb goes off.
Now go to the gym, and reap your reward.
The reward for going home and sitting down with a beer is stress relief. The gym will offer that exact same reward (only much more effectively).
The key here is to make sure to consciously acknowledge that reward.
Remember, the reward is what drives a habit home and allows it to become automatic.
Once you finish your workout, always acknowledge how good you feel compared to when you walked in the gym door.
With enough repetition, you will begin to get that great feeling before even finishing your workouts.
This formula is applicable to any habit you want to create.
As for the triggers and rewards that will work best for you: this is personal, and will depend on you, your lifestyle and what you value.
I encourage you to take a quick inventory of your day, and you will see that the triggers and rewards already exist. All you have to do is insert the new habit between them.
Replacing unhealthy habits with new habits by hijacking the original trigger and reward is a very effective strategy.
Habits not only dictate what you do on a daily basis. They also dictate who and what you become.
If you want to take control of your life and become the person you know you can be, the right habits will be the foundation for that.