After this initial event, I read through The Power of Habit and was immediately interested in how I could practically apply these principles to my life. Part of my initial difficulty was that because my schedule was changing so often (from semester to semester and from changing living locations each semester, and then being home for 1-2 months between semesters, taking a semester off for an internship in California in Spring/Summer 2015, etc.), establishing routines, such as exercising, was difficult without consistency in my day-to-day life. However, after my internship California, and knowing that I would be abroad in the Spring, I took it upon myself to establish habit routines that could also be applied elsewhere, with different schedules and with different locations.
Since exercise is described as a “keystone habit” (which I elaborate on later), I decided to first establish a strong exercise routine. One of the few high-level consistencies in my schedule (regardless of where I was) was that calendar days are (obviously) split by days/nights. Nevertheless, I established the simple routine that go to the gym every single day. If a day occurred (cue), then I go to the gym, even if it was for 2 minutes (to start, which I elaborate on later regarding the “2-minute rule”).
When I first started the gym habit, given the need to start small, I began with walking on the treadmill with a 15 degree incline at 3.5 mph (5.6 km/h). Even though I was walking, the incline plus the speed makes you break a sweat relatively quickly. Each day, I would slowly increase the time I walked on the treadmill by only 10 seconds. Thus, after a month (30 days), I had added 5 minutes (300 seconds) to my walking time, making each treadmill workout burn at least 200-300 calories. As I established the habit, I also added in weightlifting, while keeping the treadmill each day, increasing by 10 seconds.
In the end, over the course of the Fall 2015 semester, I reduced my bodyfat percentage from ~23% to 16% (about 14 pounds or 6.4kg fat lost) and increased my muscle mass from ~40% to ~45% (gained about 10.5lbs or 4.8kg of muscle). Along with healthy eating, which I also implemented, I was able to reduce my needed sleep per night from 8 hours to 6.5 hours, while increasing the quality of sleep overall. Needless to say, the principles greatly helped my life, so I decided to teach them to the students as well.
Bundesrealgymnasium Wien 19: Teaching Habit Psychology
A few weeks after the two Habit Psychology lectures that I gave the students, I gave all of them a survey asking questions regarding the lectures, giving them statements and asking them to rate their responses, with answers being Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree. The statements were as follows:
- I thought the information was useful
- I am going to apply the principles to my own life
- I understood most of the material
- I personally liked the topic
- I think the topic should also be taught to other students in gymnasium (high school)
Proposed Structure & Content of a Practical Psychology Course
A habit is initially triggered by a reminder, such as “I am going to bed,” which triggers the routine of brushing one’s teeth, which then grants the reward of having clean, smooth teeth. This habit loop is how habits are constructed in our brain: actions can happen with a reminder and a routine, but if there is no reward, the brain has no reason to continue doing it. The opposite is true too: if an action brings a reward, then the brain may crave it; however, given that there are many rewards that the brain can crave, without the reminder, this specific routine and reward will die off.
Practically, this habit loop is seen often in everyone’s daily lives. A simple example is getting out of bed (reminder), showering (routine), and feeling clean and ready for the day (reward). Other simple examples include brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, going for a jog or working out/training, driving to work, snacking while watching TV, eating when stressed, and eating when bored (both with stress and boredom being reminders for the eating routine to take place).
Thus, establishing the identity first is the key to building solid habits. For myself with my treadmill example, while I started with only going to the gym for 2 minutes everyday, I was constructing the identity of “I am the type of person that goes to the gym everyday.” Even though I was only on the treadmill for 2 minutes, then 2 minutes 10 seconds, then 2 minutes 20 seconds, etc., I was validating my identity in that I go to the gym everyday. Even though it was for such a short time, after ~21 days, I had constructed the identity and the habits of being the type of person that goes to the gym everyday. Then, the results follow.
Focusing on the Process Vs. the Results
The solution, then, is to focus on the process, not the results. By starting small and establishing habits, such as going to the gym for 2 minutes, then one can celebrate the small victory that she went to the gym that day, irrespective of the results. If she continues to increase this everyday, as with the treadmill example in increasing the treadmill time by 10 seconds, then three months from the start date, she will be on the treadmill for 17 minutes per day, effectively burning roughly 800 calories every workout – only by focusing on the constructive process of establishing the identity of going to the gym everyday, rather that beating herself down for not having lost 50lbs of fat yet. This gives a psychological boost to the mind, by celebrating the process. This removes the need to compare oneself to others; it doesn’t matter that someone else is 50lbs leaner that you are: you continued the process today, which you should celebrate. Enjoy this small victory, and over time, the results will follow. Altogether, the methodology is to build the identity by focusing on the process, and the results will follow.
The 2-Minute Rule
2 Common Bad Habit Triggers
Eradicatin g Bad Habits
Beyond Habits: Growth & Fixed Mindsets
The study has many implications, notably that it is extremely important for teachers to compliment their students based on hard work, and not based on being smart or being born with a skill or certain level of intelligence. This can tangibly lead to improvement in ability. The reason for the first group (the “You must be smart at this” group) not performing as well on the moderate difficulty test is that many of them gave up when receiving difficulty questions, saying “I just must not be smart enough.” However, the second group (the “You must have worked really hard” group) saw the difficult questions as a challenge that could be conquered through hard work.
Applications of this Course
For socializing, and especially since school is such a formative time for social habits, people often think that they are born a certain way, such as being an introvert or an extrovert, and that that is “just the way they are” (recall the fixed mindset). However, as with the principles of the growth mindset, students can improve their social skills simply by believing that socializing is a learned skill, practicing it, and continuing to try, even in the face of failure.
Change the habits, change your life.