The 4 Most Effective Rules to Build Habits
There are 4 easy to remember rules that I aim to live by when it comes to my fitness routine:
1. Never miss a Monday.
2. Never go 3 days without exercise.
3. Workout at least 3 days a week.
4. Never give up.
When I first saw these rules on an Instagram post, I immediately felt that developing a habit of regular exercise was doable. Plus at the time, I was desperate to do something to shed my unwanted pounds, improve my energy levels, and overall just feel good about my body. So, I gave these simple rules a chance as I started on my weight loss and fitness journey. Maintaining a fitness routine has always been a consistently, losing battle for me. However using these rules, I've managed to maintain an exercise routine for 6 months exercising 3 to 4 times or even more per week, consistently too! This 6-month streak was the longest I've ever maintained some sort of physically active lifestyle since high school! Right now, I can say that I have gained energy, strength, and stamina, though the pounds are still shedding slower than I'd like.
4 simple rules can set a foundation for creating your ideal lifestyle.
You may have seen these rules you when searching for your own #fitspo quotes and images. Before I dive into my reasoning that these 4 simple rules are applicable to other areas in our lives, I need to share with you a quick science lesson on The Habit Loop first.
The habit loop is your brain's way of reinforcing rewarding behaviors to the point where your behavior becomes second nature. However, your brain does not differentiate between positive or negative behaviors. Your brain only cares about wiring your habit loops to get to the reward (i.e. happiness, relaxation). There are 3 elements that creates a habit loop: the cue, the routine, and the reward. The habit loop is reinforced through a 3-step process that begins with your brain being triggered by a cue (i.e. stressful day at work) that urges you to carry out a routine behavior (i.e. drink a glass of red wine, maybe 2, after work) in order to receive a reward (i.e. the feeling of relaxation).
Okay, now on to my thoughts...
Rule #1 "never miss a Monday" is actually very practical. Not only is Monday a great way to start working towards your habit immediately, but also Monday can be your forever consistent cue to trigger, reward, and thus reinforce your new lifestyle habit. A cue for a habit can be anything that triggers your habit: a time, a location, a person, an emotional state, etc. If you are wanting to develop a new habit, your habit loop may lack a cue or you may not even have a loop for this habit at all. Instead of waiting until next month, or even next year, give starting your new habit on this Monday a chance.
When developing lifestyle habits Rule #2 "never go 3 days without" comes into play. Reinforcing your habit loop often and regularly will eventually result in a successfully developed habit that is demonstrated throughout your week. Conventional wisdom says that it takes 21 days to develop a habit. However, science says that to create a new habit takes time, on average closer to 66 days or even a year. Though once a week may be all that you may desire for some habits (i.e. checking investment accounts), you should work to reinforce your developing habit loop frequently for more lifestyle-oriented habits.
A way to make your goal more digestible and seemingly attainable is to develop micro-quotas related to reaching that goal. Rule #3 "at least 3x a week" does just that in a straightforward way. Have you ever made a goal that seemed unattainable because of your current lifestyle? We will call this a macro-goal; and yes, I agree sometimes macro-goals can be quite overwhelming. Once you have already enforced "never miss a Monday," you can now focus on meeting your micro-quota by rehearsing your habit loop at least 2 more times that week-- which doesn't seem too daunting. Plus "never go 3 days without" permits you some wiggle room, especially when you may be too busy or even unmotivated.
Lastly, Rule #4 "never give up" is a reminder that building a habit is not an all or none process. It is okay to slip up along the way, as long as you don't give up! If you are committed to developing a lifestyle-habit, when you falter use that as another trigger to complete your habit and enjoy the reward!