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How to create effective, simple, and lasting habits

How to create effective, simple, and lasting habits

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Creating habits – and good ones – isn’t an easy thing to do. While some of our habits are more or less ingrained into our daily routines (like brushing your teeth), others are much more difficult to stick to, like going to the gym, or remembering to get your car’s oil changed every so often.

When it comes to things like our health and our finances, creating and sticking to good habits seems to be particularly elusive. It’s easy to give in to temptation by eating a cupcake, or spending $70 on an Xbox game when you know that you really shouldn’t. You shouldn’t beat yourself up over it, of course, unless you’re absolutely derailing your life over these otherwise minor missteps.

But creating good habits, particularly when it comes to money, is one of the foundations of a solid and healthy financial picture. You need to be able to save money regularly, for example, and invest it, too. Blowing your budget on a routine basis isn’t going to help you get anywhere near your goals, after all.

So, how can you do it? What’s the secret to creating good, lasting habits? You can begin by dissecting habits to see what makes them tick.

The 3 parts of good habits

There are three parts to a habit, as outlined by Charles Duhigg in his book “The Power of Habit”:

  • Cue
  • Routine
  • Reward

Pretty simple, right? On paper, yes. But in the real world, not quite. What we have here is essentially a neurological loop that’s at the center of all of our habits. There’s a cue, which inspires some sort of action on your part, then there’s the routine (the action itself), and the reward, or whatever you get out of it.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you simply can’t help but buy a pack of Starburst every time you’re in the grocery store. You love Starburst – so, you always buy some, eat them, then regret it, both for health and financial reasons.

So, your cue, in this case, would be standing in the check-out line at the grocery store or mini-mart. Your routine is purchasing the candy, and then the reward is the delicious sugar-rush you get as a result.

The problem, though, is that this is a bad habit, and one you’d like to kick. The solution? Disrupt the loop! You can, for one, will yourself to not buy any more candy (maybe you don’t go to a store with any cash or credit cards on you). Or, you can avoid mini-marts, grocery stores, and other places that sell Starburst altogether. That may be difficult, but you get the point, which is that you’re disrupting the chain of events that cue you to buy and eat a pack of Starburst.

Creating good habits

Creating good habits is a hell of a lot more difficult than sticking to bad ones – so let’s get that out of the way. Creating a new, good habit is going to take some work and focus for some time, so don’t feel discouraged if you need to start over more than once.

With the disclaimers out of the way, here are a few tips for creating good habits:

  • Tie new habits to existing ones: Try “stacking” your habits by looking for ways to tie the new habit into existing patterns of behavior. If you want to start saving for retirement, start transferring money manually into your retirement account every time you, say, pay your student loan bill every month.
  • Make realistic goals: You’re not going to start hitting the gym every day after having never gone before in your life, so don’t kid yourself. Instead, set realistic goals that you can actually achieve, such as going to the gym twice per week, to start.
  • Track your progress: We track everything these days, so track your progress in creating a new habit – however that may look. For instance, count the number of days that you successfully implemented your new habit into your daily routine. You won’t want your streak to end after several days, and may spur yourself to keep going.
  • Be patient: The time it takes for a new habit to “stick” is longer than most people would like: A median of 66 days. In some cases, it can take more than 250 days, according to one study. That’s all to say that patience is paramount!

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