Find habit forming hard? My habit hacking might just help! Habit Hacking simply either adapts or re-engineers an existing habit or routine.
Habits are how you live your life. They make it easier because you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you repeat tasks often. The downside however is also that you don’t reinvent the wheel, therefore performing the habit without thinking at all. Researchers believe at least 40% of our days are lived this way.
Which is why at midlife, it’s really important to check in to make sure your routines and habits are serving you well, and haven’t passed their sell-by date. We create habits in a number of ways: absorbing them from our families, cultures or partners; forming them for a specific time or reason; and falling into them because of a circumstance such as an illness, or global pandemic lockdown! So the first question to always ask is: Is the reason I created this habit still relevant?
You will have formed a vast array of habits, and established many routines to keep your day running smoothly…. or so you think. But many will now be either redundant, or worse, holding you back.
“Your habits will determine your future,” claimed Jack Cranfield, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, and he was right. We think goals bring us the future we want, but in actual fact, it’s the day to day habits that take us there.
Once you’ve located the source of the habit, ask yourself, how does this habit or routine make me feel?
Then crucially, how do I want to feel?
And then, what small change can I make to make it work better for me?
Then get hacking! There are two ways.
Hack an existing habit.
A quick and easy way to introduce a new habit is to use an existing habit as a prompt.
I’ve a client who is trying to build greater awareness into her day. Rather than expect her mind to suddenly start checking in with herself at regular intervals, we looked for a habit that can be used as a prompt. She isn’t changing that habit, but using it as a trigger to create a new habit alongside it. This could be every time she goes to the loo, puts the kettle on, or finishes a work call. She chose the kettle option and initially placed a post-it beside it so that every time now she makes a cuppa, she’s prompted to check in with herself.
Another client wanted to start a new gratitude practice, but not keep a journal in case someone read it. So we found a suitable habit to use as a prompt. Now, every morning and evening while she cleans her teeth, she thinks about the things she is grateful for.
When I decided I wanted Michelle Obama arms, I balked at the 364 gym visits a week I reckoned that would require. As I perused my repertoire of habits, I chose the kettle as well. I now have a pair of hand weights beside it and do my arm crunches every time it boils. (My arms may never look like Michelle Obama’s but they’re definitely a lot firmer than they used to be!)
Hack an existing routine.
Your routines are created from a series of habits, and once set in motion, huge swathes of your day can be run on automatic. Morning, get ready for work, exercise, post-work, after dinner, evening, bedtime, self-care routines, are all made up of a series of habits.
Hacking a routine either removes or replaces a habit within it, adds a new habit, or shifts habits to get a better result. It’s a bit like inserting new code into a programme, or upgrading your phone.
Recently, I decided to create small pockets of quiet throughout my day; little bubbles that weren’t filled with noise, chatter, or thinking. I knew that trying to find spaces for that in a packed and busy diary was going to make the feat a failure before it started. So I found a routine where I could insert this new habit easily. When I’m walking the dog, running or going anywhere, I listen to the news or a podcast. I’ve hacked that habit slightly by switching the programme off for 15 mins during (the sports and business news!) or before the end, to experience silence, tuning in to birdsong instead. Also, instead of putting the radio on first thing in the morning, I wait ten minutes. Instead of immediately opening my book when I sit in the garden, I wait ten minutes to sit quietly listening and watching the nature round me. It has been utterly transformative, yet it hasn’t required a gigantic effort.
Simple shifts are much more likely to work than seismic overhauls.
Take your after dinner routine for example. A habit of flopping down on the sofa to watch TV straight after dinner maybe began because that’s what your parents did, or what you and your partner did when you had small children. Even within that routine, you’ll have a number of default habits - where you sit, how you sit, what you eat and drink.
How does that routine (and each habit within that routine) make you feel? How do you want feel? What small changes can you make?
You could insert a habit into the routine - going for a quick walk first.
You could replace a habit by changing the glass of wine to a camomile tea during the week.
You can delete a habit - having snacks you only eat because you always eat them!
You might even split the routine and use the first hour to sit somewhere quiet and read. Challenging this routine might even unearth that extra hour of time that’s been alluding you!
Habit hacking is a powerful way of making small but seismic changes to your day to day, moving you towards your goals with proactive intention.