3 R’s of Habit Formation



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We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” These words from Aristotle are a reminder that success doesn’t come overnight. It is a discipline that, with time, takes you from where you are to where you want to go.

Your life today is essentially the sum of your habits. How in shape or out of shape you are? A result of your habits. How happy or unhappy you are? A result of your habits. How successful or unsuccessful you are? A result of your habits.

What you repeatedly do (what you spend time thinking about and doing each day) ultimately forms the person you are, the things you believe, and the personality that you portray.

But what if you want to improve? What if you want to form new habits? Turns out, there’s a helpful framework that can make it easier to stick to new habits so that you can improve your health, your work, and your life in general.

According to behavioral psychologist James Clear, every habit you have follows the same three–step pattern called the “3 Rs”:

#• Reminder – the trigger that initiates the behaviour

#• Routine – the behaviour itself; the action you take

#• Reward – he benefit you gain from doing the behaviour

What a habit looks like when broken down

Here is an example using the 3 Rs to break down a typical habit. You see a commercial about food. This is the reminder that initiates the behaviour. The commercial acts as a trigger or cue that makes you think about what you may have to snack on. It is the prompt that starts the behaviour. You go to the kitchen (routine). This is the actual behaviour. You find some chips, cookies, a fruit or leftovers. This is the reward.

A reward is the benefit gained from doing the behaviour. You wanted to eat something and discovering that item in the kitchen is the reward for completing the habit.

Every habit follows this basic three–step structure.

Here’s another example:

Reminder – the traffic light turns green. Routine – you drive through the intersection. Reward – you make it closer to your destination.

Repeat the same action enough times and it becomes a habit. How can you use this structure to create new habits and actually stick to them?

Step 1: Set a reminder for your new habit

A good reminder does not rely on motivation and it doesn’t require you to remember to do your new habit. A good reminder makes it easy to start by encoding your new behaviour in something that you already do. Want to drink more water? Set an alarm every two hours to remind you to have a drink.

Step 2: Choose an easy habit

If you want to start a new habit and begin living healthier and happier, then start small. In the words of Leo Babauta, “Make it so easy that you can’t say no.”

How small? If you want to start flossing, begin by only flossing one tooth. Just one. In the beginning, performance doesn’t matter. Become the type of person who always sticks to your new habit. You can build up to the level of performance that you want once the behaviour becomes consistent.

Key point: Only go after habits that are important to you. It’s tough to find a reward when you’re simply doing things because other people say they are important.

Here’s your action step: Decide what want your new habit to be. Now ask yourself, “How can I make this new behaviour so easy to do that I can’t say no?” Give yourself credit and enjoy each success, no matter how small. It’s all a process.

by Christine Carey