Launching a new habit is hard, but keeping it afloat is even harder. Some research even shows that when a person makes a new habit, there’s only a 20% chance they’re likely to stick with that habit.
But don’t let this grim statistic get the best of you. According to James Clear, author of best-seller “Atomic Habits,” one of the Laws of Habit Change is to make the habit easy: easy to start, and easy to do.
There are several things caregivers can do to make starting and doing their new habits easier.
Starting the habit:
- Beat motivation slumps with temptation building and commitment devices
- Use your environment to make habit-triggering cues obvious
Keeping the habit:
- Leverage technology
- Incorporate your regular routine
- Reshape your environment
How to make starting the habit easy
Motivation is always a kicker when it comes to habits. Try these two evidence-based methods to stay motivated and beat the inevitable motivation slumps that happen to all of us.
Be ahead of the game: Beat motivation slumps before they start
- Temptation bundling: You’re more likely to perform a habit if it’s coupled with something you like to do (e.g., folding the laundry while watching Netflix).
- Commitment devices: Commitment devices make it more difficult to avoid the habit than to perform the habit. They’re an action you take in the present that guarantees you’ll do the habit in the future (e.g., scheduling a workout with a workout partner instead of going to the gym alone).
No excuses: Make the ‘cue’ obvious
Sometimes motivation and the best of intentions can fail due simply to forgetfulness, which is why it’s important to make the cue – or reminder of the new habit – obvious. You can do this by making simple changes to your environment – home, car, workplace – that will bring the cue front and center.
Make the cue more obvious by leveraging environmental design. You might find that even when you create strategic temptation bundling and commitment devices, you’re still not able to stick to the new habit. That’s when you might want to look around you at your environment.
How obvious is the cue?
The cue is the trigger that instigates the habit behavior. For instance, if a habit is flipping on a light switch before entering a dark room, the “cue” would be the darkness of the room.
Is your cue as obvious as a dark room?
If it isn’t, there are things you can do to make it so.
- Post-it notes: Using Post-it reminders is a time-proven and cost-effective method you can place just about anywhere.
- Google reminder: Use Google Keep to send yourself reminders that pop up in your browser. Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen.
- Send yourself a scheduled email, and don’t mark the email as “read” until the habit is complete. You can use Chrome extensions like Recurring emails for Gmail or free services like RightInbox to make these emails recurring.
- Create a separate “Habits” calendar in Google Calendar or iCal and set reminder notifications for each habit at the time you want to be reminded.
Clear has several creative suggestions for modifying the environment:
- Habit: Refill your water bottle every time it’s more than half empty.
- Solution: Use a permanent marker to draw a line at the halfway mark on the water bottle.
- Habit: Write in your journal for five minutes at 7 a.m.
- Solution: Keep the journal on the kitchen table so you see it when you sit down for breakfast every morning.
- Habit: Read a book instead of looking at your phone every time you’re bored.
- Solution: Set your phone’s lock screen photo to be a photo of the book you’re trying to finish.
- Habit: Go for a run every morning.
- Solution: Lay out your workout clothes and shoes the night before.
How to make doing the habit easy
Clear recommends “reducing friction” to master the pivotal decisive moment—the moment where you ask yourself, “Should I, or should I not, do the habit?” If you want to make the answer an easy and resounding “yes” each time, he recommends the following three techniques:
Reduce friction with technology
Technology can automate behavior—taking the responsibility of in-the-moment decision-making off your shoulders. It automates your behavior and thus your habits.
Here are several examples of technologies that can automate habits for caregivers:
- Habit: Eat healthy
- Technology: Meal prep delivery service apps (e.g., HelloFresh or Freshly) remove the friction of shopping for groceries. .
- Habit: Work out
- Technology: Home workout apps like Boostcamp, JeFit and Freeletics offer a blend of calisthenics (workouts that don’t require weights) and also weight workouts so you can use the app at home or at the gym. This removes the friction of having to drive to the gym: You can do the calisthenics at home, even if you don’t have weights. Calisthenic workouts are low-impact exercises that are easy on the joints.
- Habit: Drink water
Reduce friction by placing your habit along the path of your established routine
If your habit requires a location (e.g., a gym), then choose a location that’s along the path of your established routine. If you have to go out of your way to perform your habit, you’re less likely to do the habit.
Reduce friction by reshaping your home environment
Take that environmental design step further and make the environment conducive for the entire habit—the “starting” and the “doing” of the habit. You want to arrange everything around you to make your habit “the path of least resistance.”
Clear likens reshaping your environment to make your habits convenient and effortless to “removing the bend in the hose.” Rather than trying to overcome the friction in your life, you reduce it: Rather than buying a new hose, you simply unbend it.
Here are his ideas for rearranging the home environment to make it more conducive to good habits:
- Place apps that promote learning and mindfulness – reading apps like Audible and Pocket or Headspace – on the home screen of your phone, rather than filling it with distractions like email or social media.
- Invest in a home gym so you can still do a few sets at home, even if you don’t have time to get a full workout at the gym. Even just a few dumbbells are better than nothing at all.
- Clear your workspace of distractions that will take you off-task.
Caregiving is as difficult and demanding as it is rewarding, so it’s commendable you’re taking the time and energy to set positive and healthy habits! These healthy habits will pay off in the long run, not only giving you more energy for your loved one, but also giving you more energy to devote to yourself and to the things that bring you joy.