The beginning of a New Year always brings inspiration of new beginnings to me. New opportunities to start fresh, revisit our goals and create a vision for the future. And, I’ll be honest - New Year’s Resolutions have never felt authentic or lasting to me.
For me, New Years Resolutions go like this:
1. A flash of inspiration!!!!
2. A week of being HARDCORE AF!!!
4. Back to doing the same ole sh*t
And, inevitably asking myself questions like:
"Why aren't I stronger?"
"Why does my willpower suck?"
"Why is it so hard to stick to my goals?"
"This habit was so easy for me years ago, what happened?"
"Is there something wrong with me?"
Here's where you raise your hand if you can relate :)
I'm a nerd, so I started researching. Stopped myself from buying 5 new Self Help books that I've probably already read. And found, unsurprisingly, answers in a scientific approach on habit formation from one of my favorite podcast hosts, Dr. Andrew Huberman.
Andrew Huberman, is a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at the Stanford School of Medicine. Dr. Huberman's pod, Huberman Lab, focuses on neuroscience; how our brain and its connections with our body control our behaviors and our health.
Dr. Huberman has an entire podcast on Making and Breaking Habits (listen to it here on Spotify)
I highly recommend listening to the entire podcast for a full breakdown of his research on the science of habits, but if you don’t have 2 hours to spare, I’ve broken it down for you below, directly from Dr. Huberman:
Studies show that 70% of our behavior is habitual. And, the things we habitually do, actually make up who we are.
The best science related to habit formation, isn’t as black and white as “It takes 21 days to form a new habit” What’s actually true, is that for the same habit to be formed, it can take as few as 18 days, to as many as 254 days for different individuals to form a new habit.
Meaning, it could take 1 person 18 days to form the habit of running 3 miles, 4 days a week, while it could take another person 254 days to form this same habit. This depends entirely on the individual 🤯.
A lot of habit formation has to do with being in the right state of mind, and being able to control your state of body and mind.
And, for most of us, we run up against one of two problems in habit formation:
We are too anxious to carry through on the daily goal.
We are too tired or unmotivated to complete the goal.
So what is the best, proven way to form new and lasting habits? I’ve broken it down for you (from Dr. Huberman) in 4 key points below (feel free to print this out for reference later):
Find your Linchpin habits: These are habits you always enjoy doing. Linchpin habits make doing other habits easier; you should strive to do your Linchpin habits early in the morning, as you are more likely to do the habits you don’t enjoy as much, after completing your Linchpin habits. If you enjoy meditation, for example, doing this practice early in the morning is going to make other habits easier to achieve as your day progresses. There is a huge body of evidence that shows that the time before and after you perform your habits is a highly influential time for new habit formation. Your brain is going to be primed to execute a new habit directly after performing an existing habit - you can think of it a snowball effect: you can use your natural neural chemistry to leverage the time after performing a linchpin habit to ingrain a new habit your trying to form, for greater success.
Visualize the steps required to execute your new habit: Walk yourself through, step by step, what it will take you to perform your new habit. If you want to go for a walk after dinner every night, visualize what it will take for you to do this: clean up dinner, put on your walking shoes, throw on a sweatshirt or raincoat, walk. This simple act of visualization has a huge, measurable impact on whether or not you’ll form this as a new habit.
Break your day into 3 parts: (this one was a huge eye opener for me!) Scheduling yourself hour by hour, is actually shown to be less effective than blocking out your day into 3 windows of time. Working with your body's natural circadian rhythm is going to be more effective in building long-term habits, than trying to follow a restrictive, disciplined hour-by-hour schedule.The science is clear on this: restrictive daily schedules aren’t effective for long term habit formation. Block your day into 3 segments, and aim to complete your daily habits during these periods of time instead.
Window 1: 0-8 hours after waking: your hormones, focus and energy (for the majority of the population) is going to be highest in the first 8 hours after waking. Exercise, meditation and difficult tasks are best to tackle in the morning, due to your natural levels of cortisol and dopamine. Aim to do the habits you’re trying to learn during these 8 hours. Start with your linchpin habits and build your day from there.
Window 2: 9-14 hours after waking: as the light dims in the afternoon, practice habits you already have a good foundation with. Reading, journaling, sauna-ing, floating and yoga nidra, are going to be most effective during this time, as your serotonin levels naturally rise, and cortisol levels naturally decrease, causing you to feel more naturally relaxed. Aim to reduce your light exposure, and avoid caffeine so you can naturally wind down for the evening and get a good night's sleep.
Window 3: 15-24 hours after waking: Rest and digest phase of the day. Figure out the amount of time you need to stop eating before going to bed to get a restful sleep. Opt for candle light before bed, and breathing exercises for relaxation.
Reward prediction governs all aspects of effort and learning (ie: forming new habits): When dopamine is released in the body, we experience a state change; we feel good. When trying to adopt new habits, it's extremely useful to leverage the dopamine response of reward to effectively form your new habit. Here’s how to do it: Think not only about the procedure of how you’re going to complete your habit (visualization), also think about the events that precede and follow your new habit. You're casting a spotlight around the period of time that dopamine is associated with. Positively anticipate the onset and offset of the habit. For example: if you find cardio exercise tormenting (but know how good you always feel afterwards) You should: positively anticipate how hard it will be at the beginning and how good you will feel after you’re finished before you begin your cardio session. The idea is to lean into the effort required to complete the cardio session and simultaneously prepare yourself for the reward of completion. Don’t lie to yourself: Be brutally honest about how it's going to feel to start your cardio session, but also be honest about how good your body is going to feel afterwards. You have experiential knowledge already. Use this to your advantage; you're priming yourself before you’ve even begun, for the hit of dopamine reward waiting for you once you’ve completed your session. This practice is proven to be highly effective in solidifying new habit formation.
If you found this useful, please feel free to share it by forwarding the link to our blog! Please check out Dr. Huberman’s entire podcast and website for more information and a more in depth guide to the science of habit formation!
To creating habits that last!