I have read many books and watched many videos on habits and a book I read this year now tops all other resources I have found when it comes to making positive changes to your life through habits. The book is - How to Change - The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be By: Katy Milkman.
Katy Milkman is a behavioural scientist and Professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She currently co-directs the Behavior Change for Good Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania and hosts Choiceology. Where some authors talk about studies that look at behaviour change Milkman has actually run many famous studies herself.
Key Takeaways from How To Change
What I loved about the book was its simplicity. It is short (272 pages), the chapters are specific and contain an excellent “chapter takeaways” section at the end of each chapter. Below I share with you what I found to be the key takeaways:
- "Temptation bundling" involves pairing a task we need to do with something we enjoy, making it more likely we'll stick to it.
- This strategy can be particularly effective for tasks we tend to procrastinate on or find boring.
- By making our desired behaviours more enjoyable, we can increase our motivation to stick to them.
- "Implementation intentions" involve making specific plans for how and when we'll take action toward our goals.
- This strategy can help overcome procrastination and make it easier to stick to our goals.
- By breaking down our goals into specific actions and planning when and where we'll take those actions, we can increase our likelihood of success.
- "Pre-commitment" involves making a choice now that limits our options in the future to prevent us from making choices that go against our goals.
- This strategy can help overcome present bias and increase our self-control.
- By making a plan and committing to it ahead of time, we can increase our chances of following through on our goals.
The Fresh Start Effect
- The "fresh start effect" refers to our tendency to be more motivated to make changes at key points in time, such as the start of a new year or the beginning of a new week.
- This effect can be harnessed to help make lasting changes and break bad habits.
- By recognising and taking advantage of fresh starts, we can increase our motivation to make positive changes.
- "Action-sabotaging beliefs" are the thoughts and beliefs that hold us back from taking action towards our goals
- Identifying and challenging our action-sabotaging beliefs can help us overcome them and take action towards our goals.
- Techniques such as cognitive reappraisal and reframing can help us shift our thinking and overcome limiting beliefs.
- By recognising and addressing our negative beliefs, we can increase our self-efficacy and improve our chances of success.
Forget About Willpower
- Relying on willpower to achieve our goals can be challenging and unsustainable.
- "Automating" our behaviors by creating systems and routines can help us make lasting changes.
- By making our desired behaviors easy and automatic, we can reduce the need for willpower and increase our chances of success.
- "Friction" refers to the obstacles and challenges that make it difficult to take action towards our goals.
- By reducing friction and making it easier to take the right actions, we can increase our motivation and stick to our goals.
- Techniques such as simplification, optimisation, and environment design can help reduce friction.
Plan for Failure
- Planning for failure and anticipating potential obstacles can help us be better prepared to overcome them.
- By imagining worst-case scenarios and planning how to overcome them, we can increase our resilience and improve our chances of success.
- Embracing a "positive pessimism" mindset can help us prepare for the worst while still maintaining a positive outlook.
How you can implement the key takeaways
Using the key takeaways above, here are some real life examples of how you can set and sustain positive habits in your life:
- If you are relying on willpower to do something or not to do something each day create a system or structured routine for it instead. For example, I did this with my habit last year to read each day. I had a minimum number of pages to read, I would read at lunchtime, at the start I also had a phone alarm to remind me and I had a list of books to make my way through.
- Use the start of a new week or the start of a new month as a fresh start to reignite a habit that may have dropped off.
- Create an implementation intention for something you want to start - eg I will get up at 6.00am each morning and take the dog for a walk - rather than I will go for a walk each day.
- Make a pre-commitment to a productive day - before you go to sleep go step by step through your day and what you are going to work on and what outcomes you want. Do this again in the morning - it will make it harder for you to deviate away from this plan if you have thought it through a number of times.
- Reduce the friction - if your habit is adding something to your life make the set up for it as easy possible. For example, I like to have a greens powder drink each day but would often forget it because it didn't taste great and I never craved it. I then changed where I put the greens powder to in front of protein powder so each day when I make my smoothie for breakfast I see the greens powder have that first then make my breakfast. This makes it super easy for me to have it each day.