Behavioral patterns are considered habits when they meet the criteria laid out in the well-known habit loop: (1) trigger, (2) recurring behavior (the habit itself), and (3) reward. The trigger prompts the habit to occur pretty much subconsciously. It can be a regular time, circumstance, location, emotional event, smell, sound, or anything else you associate with the habit. The reward is a payoff you desire. Rewards are often an emotional response, like feeling elated when you complete your morning exercise or pleasure from a bite of chocolate. A reward can also be the opposite, an escape from emotion, such as that achieved from consuming too much alcohol.
Once you decide on the reward you desire and the habit that will provide it, discovering what trigger works for you is imperative. A trigger that works for one habit might be a poor cue for another, or you might need a combination of triggers. For example, when I was adding meditation as a habit, I forced myself to meditate at the same time every day. Unfortunately, a consistent time was not providing me the rewards I wanted, which were new ideas, solutions to problems, better mood, and increased focus. So, I tried several new triggers and discovered a beneficial combination. I consistently meditated in only two locations, one indoors and one outdoors, which meant I associated the locations with meditation. I used a headset to play background meditation music and burned incense. Using calm music put me in the right frame of mind and helped to mask any distracting noises. I burned the same incense so I associated the specific smell with meditation.
In addition to choosing a good cue, it is also valuable to identify roadblocks to your success. When I was establishing an exercise habit, it affected another already-established habit. I was altering my old habit of having a fairly boundary-less open door policy, so I was accustomed to interruptions. I’d stop in the middle of exercising to respond to phone calls, texts, and knocks on the door, which often caused my exercise to be cut short or never even get started. Once I recognized my behavior was the roadblock to creating a successful new habit, I had to decide which was more important to me and prioritize it accordingly. It meant sticking to my guns when an interruption popped up. I scheduled exercise as if it were a meeting, silenced my phone, and announced to anyone who was around that I would be unavailable for 30 minutes. I had to continually remind myself the rewards I desired were worth fighting for.
Creating a new habit takes time and most of us falter a few times. Stay aware that roadblocks may occur and trust you can triumph over them. Focus on the reward and not on the mishaps. If a trigger isn’t working, try something different. Be creative and find what works for you.