You only need to know 3 things to create or break (replace) any habit:
A group of researchers at MIT discovered this while working with rats. The more the rats ran the maze, the less they had to think about it. Running the maze and knowing where and when to turn became automatic.
This is what happens to us. When you get dressed in the morning, do you think, “My right leg goes into my shorts first, and then my left?” Nope. You do it automatically (but you didn’t when you were 2 years old!) The more times you got dressed, the more automatic it became. This freed up your brain (the cerebral cortex part) to focus on more meaningful activities (higher order thinking.) Our brains love to do things automatically and there are a TON of examples. I bet you could think of at least ten things that you automatically do everyday, right now!
Now that school is in session, it might be time for you to think about the habits you developed during summer, that might not help you during school. If you’re anything like my kids (age 10 and 8) then you might have spent more time playing video games, less time reading, and more time staying up late.
Here’s how you change all of that!
When you get home from school, you see the computer/game console/TV. You immediately want to play a game, watch YouTube videos or TV, right? Seeing the computer/game console/TV is your CUE!
You could cover them up so that you don’t see them right away. Or, you could change your ROUTINE.
How? I’m glad you asked!
If I was trying to change this habit, I might put a sticky note on those items that read:
Have you completed your homework? OR Have you read your book?
Or, I might set a timer for 30 minutes when I walk into the house. No computer, gaming, or TV until the timer rings. Or, maybe I ALLOW myself 30 minutes and have to stop when the timer rings.
The reward for not playing/watching is knowing that I could resist the urge to do it. That can be powerful enough for some people. The reward also could be better grades on my completed homework because I didn’t rush through it. Better grades makes me feel good about myself.
You can experiment with different rewards. The critical part is
- figuring out what gets you to do a certain thing (gaming), and
- then changing the routine (what you normally do.) You’ll probably mess up a few times. That’s okay.
If you want to practice adding or breaking a habit, try adding tiny habits to your day. These take less than 30 seconds to do, and often (but not always) are sandwiched between good habits you already do everyday.
For example, you brush your teeth every morning. Now you want to make sure that you floss your teeth. For one week, you floss one tooth everyday. The next week, you add one or two more teeth to your new routine. After you floss your tooth (teeth) maybe you already have the habit of washing your face. This last part isn’t important, but it let’s you see where you can anchor the new habit.
Here are a few good habits to consider adding to your life: