“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.”

– Aristotle

Did you know that only 8% of people actually stick to their new year’s resolutions? Most of us start the year off with high ambitions and determination, but within weeks our determination seems to fade and our resolutions are a thing of the past. The reasons for this are varied and complicated, but one important factor is that we have not established the habits necessary to support our resolution.

If you haven’t given much thought to your habits, it’s time you do. Habits run our lives. They influence our actions, thoughts, and feelings. Habits become automatic and allow us to do things without expending a lot of mental energy. In fact, scientists believe habits emerge because the brain is constantly trying to conserve energy. 

If our habits are healthy and productive, this can be a blessing! But if the habit is unhealthy, it has a negative impact on the quality of our lives and can make us miserable! And to make matters worse, once a habit is formed in our brain, it is stored in our brain forever. The good news is that we can learn new habits that override the old, unhealthy habit. And we can break the pattern of the bad habit. But in order to make meaningful change, we must first understand how habits are formed.

According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, there are 4 Stages of Habit: the cue, the craving, the response, and the reward. Our brains run through this four-step pattern every time we repeat a habit. The cue is what triggers our brains to initiate a behavior. The brain is constantly looking for bits of information indicating that a reward is within sight. That information is the cue. 

Once we have the cue, craving sets in. Cravings are what motivate us to make change. What we crave is a change in our internal state, not the actual habit. For example, a smoker craves the relief that comes with smoking a cigarette, not the actual cigarette itself. Some people crave sweets because eating sugar releases huge amounts of dopamine in the brain, which makes us feel momentarily satisfied. It changes our internal state. Every craving we have is driven by a desire to change our internal state. 

Next is the response. The response is the actual habit that is performed, which can be a thought or an action. According to Clear, “whether a response occurs depends on how motivated you are and how much friction is associated with the behavior.” If there are obstacles in the way and the habit requires more work that you are willing to do, or if you are not capable of doing it, you simply won’t perform the habit. 

The final stage is the reward. The reward is when the internal state has been changed. Rewards serve two purposes: to satisfy the craving, and to teach us which actions/thoughts are worth remembering in the future. 

According to Clear, we can create good habits and eliminate bad habits by simply altering our perception of these stages. If we want to create a healthy habit, we need to ask ourselves these four questions:

  1. How can I make it (cue) obvious?
  2. How can I make it (craving) attractive?
  3. How can I make it (response/habit) easy?
  4. How can I make it (reward) satisfying?

Let’s say you want to establish the habit of making your bed every morning. You make the cue obvious by putting a neon post-it on your alarm. The moment you wake up, you are reminded that this is an important goal you have set for yourself. You can also put a vision board (with a picture of a beautifully made, comfy bed) on your nightstand. This will serve to remind you that taking the time to make your bed looks attractive. It also reminds you that there is a sense of accomplishment upon completing this task (reward). You make it easy by keeping your bedding choice simple – a duvet, and two pillows. Once the habit is established, you may then choose more elaborate bedding. But when beginning a new habit, you must set yourself up for success by keeping it simple.

We can also invert these questions to learn how to break a habit. If we are trying to break a bad habit, we would strive to:

  1. Make it invisible.
  2. Make it unattractive.
  3. Make it hard.
  4. Make it unsatisfying.

Living an organized life is 100% about habits. When we slow down and take the time to be mindful about what we are doing and why we are doing it, we have a much better chance of establishing healthy habits that last a lifetime. At Create Calm, we want to inspire you to take control of your physical surroundings, so that you can live your best life. Life can be messy, but your environment can be your oasis. In order to achieve this, we simply must consider our habits. Change is never easy, but often worth it. Know that we are here to support you along your journey. 

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