How do you create new, desired behaviors?
We need cues in the environment to trigger the new desired behavior.Many people have all kinds of competing cues for unhealthy habits. The key to change is to “embed cues that signal or prompt a person to exhibit the new desired behavior,” says Cook.
Behavior-environmental cue relationships are critical to habit formation. Cook uses breaking the habit of nail biting to illustrate how to create a new behavior.
- If you want to give up biting your nails, first you need to become aware of when you’re prone to biting your nails.
- Embed cues during those time when you’re likely to bite your nails.
- Set up cues that signal or trigger an alternative competing behavior—that is, the new habit you’re trying to form.
For example, if you’re prone to biting your nails while driving, tape a question near the steering wheel that says “Do you know what’s under your fingernails?” This is your cue to, for example, begin chewing gum (alternative competing behavior).
Why is it so difficult to maintain a new, healthier behavior?
Habits form out of repetition. Most people initially engage in a behavior to form a healthy habit (for example, going to bed earlier to get more sleep) but don’t repeat it enough to form the habit. Repetition is fundamentally a part of the habit formation process.
Have an accountability partner
“Creating situations that involve positive peer pressure from trusted, respected and valued others is a good way to create accountability to stick with a new behavior,” says Cook.
To think pragmatically about this one, finding a peer accountability partner or embedding oneself within a group of respected and valued others helps create positive peer pressure to engage in the behavior.