10 Best Practices for Habit Creation – Part 1

Creating New Habits
(Exploring the first four of TEN “best practices”)

©Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Time & Task Management Series:
Habits, Decisions & Attention-5

click image for source

click image for source

Chicken? (or Egg?)

The study of habits has long fascinated scientists in many different fields for a number of reasons. They’re just not sure what’s cause and what’s effect.

The allure of the possibility of discovering the mechanism of action of the almost involuntary control of habits on behavior is intoxicating and seductive.

Our “automated” behaviors are scarcely available to conscious awareness. Our “volitional” behavior, on the other hand, is highly conscious. The contrast between the two is particularly intriguing to a great many of men and women of science.

Volitional control seems to be a result of a decision-making process of some sort. How human beings decide and choose is an area of study for more than a few scientists and researchers.

Many are especially curious about the workings of below-the-radar behaviors that seem to accompany a number of various neuropsychiatric and neurological disorders and illnesses — particularly those scientists and researchers who work with addictive behaviors.

Bottom Line: science is just not sure how it all works, exactly.  Not yet anyway.

Blog ON, my pretties!

MEANWHILE, hundreds of bloggers and self-help professionals are more than willing to chime in on the topic.

Most of their musings seem to be promoted as if they were THE hard and fast way to Handle Habit Creation and “UNcreation” Once and For All!

Not that I really blame them. After all, they’re probably correct in their assumption that no one would buy a book or sign up for a seminar promoted as “A few things that maybe, might, sorta’ kinda’ work for YOU.”

  • As I continue to say, people are simply not that simple.
  • One man’s “best” can often be another’s “worst!”
  • So don’t quote anything you read as a “best” way as gospel  —
    especially not anything you read on ADDandSoMuchMore, please.


Then why Best Practices?

The term “best practices” has been used and well-known in business circles for some time, and has now been adopted by self-help gurus. A lot of people know pretty much what to expect when they see something entitled “Best Practices,” and I wanted to use a title that would catch a lot of eyes.

Don’t let that word “best” hang you up.
What’s REALLY “best” will turn out to be whatever works for YOU.

In this three-part article I am about to give you a list of ten actions and principles that seem to underlie the behaviors of some of the most successful habit creators, along with a few things I’ve used successfully with clients and in my own life.

In THIS part of the article, we’ll tackle the first four of the Best Practices listed below.  In Part-2 we’ll handle three more. Part-3 will take on the last three.

Keep an open mind as you read, but tweak appropriately for your own lives, with a realistic assessment of your own functional challenges.

So, without further explanation, let’s get right to them!

If reading longer articles is overwhelming for you,
even when it is chunked into parts,
take it ONE Practice per day

Be sure to checkout the sidebar for how links work on this site, they’re subtle ==>

TEN Best Practices for Habit Creation

  1. Identify the brush-fires and hose them down
  2. Identify what you already do
  3. Drive habits with Goals
  4. Work with sub-goals first
  5. Keep a record of some sort – check in with yourself and cross things off
  6. Grease the Slide
  7. Limit Your Options (not your life)
  8. Be Consistent
  9. Think WHO, not what
  10. KEEP getting back on the horse


Habit Formation Basics

arrowgold1. Identify the brush-fires and hose them down

In Goals Drive Habit Formation, last Wednesday’s article in this Series, I used the above prompt to introduce a brief section on life planning and habit creation, beginning with this sentence: “Don’t run the risk of hyperfocusing on developing new habits as the rest of your life turns into the Titanic.”

I also use it to remind us all of the devastation that interruptions and distractions wreak on habit formation, productivity, job satisfaction, and-a-whole-lot-more.  That’s why it’s number one!

Do your best to eliminate as many “urgents” as possible ahead of time.

Distractions and interruptions are intentionality killers. In order to develop a habit, the action must follow the cue directly.  Oops!

Nothing really worth working for will ever seem urgent.
Important items rarely demand attention right now.
They require a sense of purpose, a clear direction,
and consistency over the long haul.
~ James Clear

Even so, urgency intrudes, even in the lives of individuals who could put fire marshals to shame.  Some days life seems to be little more than one darned interruption after another.

Even though they derail even the most committed of us from doing what we intended to do when we intended to do it (and can double the time it takes us to create one of those habits — a routine we can run through on autopilot), few of us can afford to wantonly ignore many of the items that suddenly must be done NOW.

The biggest problem for many of US is the sad reality that, in order to return to handling our original objective, we have to activate all over again! (IF we return, that is).

Once we’re up-and-at-em once more, the transition back into the state of focused concentration on the intended task can take thirty minutes or more for many of us here in Alphabet City.  Until then, we’re essentially piddling.

According to a study of digital distraction by Gloria Mark, University of California, Irvine, informatics professor, it takes an average of 23 minutes for the average office worker to return to the original task after an interruption.

Here’s the kicker:  that average office worker has only about 11 minutes before the next interruption. (Source: interesting article on interruptions and distractions here)

Kinda’ makes you wonder how industry runs at all, doesn’t it?

Try to do better by yourselves than most most of your bosses and managers seem to do — don’t follow their model.

Anticipate as many obstacles to “follow-through on your objectives” that you can, with an eye toward moving them out of the way, one way or another.

Where are the breakdowns likely to occur?  In what circumstances?  Following what triggers? As I advised in an article posted almost six months ago, Predict them to Police them.

“An obstacle often is very easy to deal with ahead of time, and very hard to deal with at the moment it occurs. Study after study shows that if you [anticipate obstacles], you’re much more likely to successfully build a new habit.”
~ Charles Duhigg (author of The Power of Habit by way of James Clear)

arrowgold2. Identify what you already do

If you been following along with the Habit Series, you already know that habits are a product of an “urge to respond” that is a below the level of consciousness, cued by a setting or circumstance that triggers an almost automatic action.

The two most common triggers for BAD habits are boredom and stress, for example.

Think about what cues your GOOD habits – perhaps, your habit of brushing your teeth or washing off your make-up before you go to bed.

  • Does your cue come immediately after eating, or are you a right before I hop in the sack kind of guy?
  • Does the make-up come off the moment you’re out of the public eye for the day, or do you wait until some nightly grooming ritual before or after you put on your pjs?
  • Do you wash your face before or after you brush your teeth?  THEN what?

Even if you catch yourself in the act of performing one or the other of your habitual behaviors, you probably don’t recognize your triggers – those cues for your actions – because you probably don’t stop to evaluate the situation in the moment.

After all, habits are automatic behaviors – below the radar of the conscious mind.

Bring those habits into your conscious awareness and pick through them for the detail that makes them “automatic.”

  • Can you recall a time when they weren’t automatic?
  • Recently, or many years ago when you were a kid?
  • What did you do to develop your good habits? WHY did you put them into place?
  • What are the pieces that keep the habits in place NOW?

New cues from old habits

As you sherlock, think about the possibility of allowing something that is already systematized to cue a habit you are struggling to develop.

One of my clients,
for example, “forgot” to brush her teeth at night until she was so sleepy it was all too easy for her to decide to do it in the morning. After the nightly clean-up ritual that followed the family dinner, there was “always something” that kept her from going to the bathroom to brush her teeth until, once again, she was in bed before she realized that she’d dropped it out again.

After listening to the details of her nightly routine, I suggested she try moving her toothbrush and toothpaste to the kitchen. It worked like a charm. She now keeps them in a glass in an upper cabinet right next to the sink.

NOW, she brushes her teeth as soon as the supper dishes are in the dishwasher, right before she shines up the sink for the night.  Problem solved!


arrowgold3. Drive habits with Goals

As I began in last week’s Habit Series article on this topic, habits are useful “in order to”-s.

  • We don’t set them for their own sake.
  • They’re useful because they make it easier for us to take consistent action toward something else we want in our lives.

What is it you really want?  What’s the objective — the end goal?  A hottie-body by summer?  More time to play with your kids?  Or maybe to make sure your next performance review comes with a raise – or to keep from getting fired.

Identifying what you really NEED to put into place in order to accomplish what you really want (the objective) will make it easier for you to come up with some strategies that will prime your list of “habits to develop.”  (Make one!)

  • Once you decide on the good habits you would like to adopt, it becomes easier to set about identifying the triggers that will work best — your cues.
  • You can also more easily identify where you are getting in your own way so that you can look for the cues that need to be tied to something else.
  • In his award-winning book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg recommends keeping the cue and the reward as similar as possible, by the way. Habits can be so ingrained in your brain that they’re easier to “shift” when they don’t have far to go.

For more on this concept, click over to read last week’s article, if you haven’t already:
Goals Drive Habit Formation 

arrowgold4. Work with sub-goals first

Habits are easier to install when they aren’t far from what you are already doing — baby steps, not heroic leaps.

Start gradually. Strengthen your habit muscle slowly.

Baby Steps (and picking raspberries) -- opens in a new window/tab

To begin, choose one particular habit you’d like to install (or change).

  • If it requires what I call “tiered tasks,” chunk it down. Parse the steps of the goal that’s driving your desire to automate into do-able portions that combine to make up the bigger goal.

For more on tiered tasks: The Link between Procrastination & Task Anxiety

  • Begin by systematizing one of the the smaller segments, with the goal of building from there.
  • Is it small enough that you can make it in one step? 
    Can you see yourself doing it every single day, no matter what?
    (Check your gut. If your stomach clenches at the thought of “no matter what,” you can’t — if you don’t know how to simplify it or break it down further, pick something easier.)

You gotta’ know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.

The most important part of habit formation is consistency, not the size of the change or how quickly you make changes.

Keep things bite-sized and take it ONE simple bite at a time. (SIMPLE!) Start small — teeny-tiny steps.

It is far better to decide to keep your keys on a cuphook screwed into the side edge of the molding of your front door — a system piece you can put together quickly that you will use consistently (eventually) — than to attempt to reorganize the entire entryway to squeeze in a table holding a lovely cloisonne box you’ve had your eye on.

By the time you get everything arranged, chances are good that you will no longer be thinking fondly of your new system — and you will probably resent having to keep that table clutter-free and neatly organized, and that blankety-blank cloisonne box dusted.  So you won’t.

Oops – there goes your system.  Keep it simple. 

If you still hanker for the table and box, at least you will be able to find your keys while you are putting things together at a more leisurely pace.  By the time you have it all to your liking, you will be well on your way toward your new habit: leaving your keys in the entry when you enter the door.

Remember the habit CYCLE:

CUE (situation) ==> ACTION (behavior) ==> REWARD (reinforcement) ==> REPEAT!

REPETITION creates and deepens neural-association – i.e., “linkage.”

As a result, linked behaviors become practically automatic at the presence of the cue — an almost involuntary, “below-the-radar” control of behavior, scarcely available to conscious awareness.

Part Two of this article will be available next Wednesday (NOW available here), with the next three of the 10 Best Practices for Habit Creation — so stay tuned.  Between now and then, sherlock what you do — and if you’ve missed the four prior habit articles (linked below), go take a look.

Prior Habit Articles

  1. Habits, Decisions, Attention Intro 
  2. Brain-based Habit Formation
  3. Changing a habit to change your LIFE 
  4. Goals drive habit formation

© 2013, 2017, all rights reserved
Check bottom of Home/New to find out the “sharing rules”
(reblogs always okay, and much appreciated)

Shared on the Senior Salon

No TIME to read all this stuff? Want more help?

man-on-phoneOnce my own life recovers from a repair deficit situation where even the ability to use the systems I have put in place was taken from me at gunpoint, watch for the announcement of an upcoming 12-week TeleClass on Modular Success Systems.

It will help you sort through a great many of the “functional modules” so that you can design an action plan guaranteed to be easier than what most of you are currently attempting to work with.

Classes are a much cheaper alternative to hiring my personal coaching services (and the FIRST time I offer a new class is always your least expensive option by far!). As always, class size will be small to allow for personal attention, so don’t miss the announcement if you want to make sure you sign up before the first class fills.

If you already know that this is something you are going to want to be part of, let me know in a comment below and I’ll make sure you have advanced notice (don’t forget to fill in your name and email on the comment form or I won’t be able to contact you).

Meanwhile, keep reading as often as you can! Until my sudden and unexpected move is over and done with, I won’t have the time to post very often, but there is A LOT already on the site. Don’t waste this free resource – and I’d REALLY appreciate it if you would help me out by taking a few moments from your own life to spread the word about the blog and the upcoming TeleClass, OK?

To double the benefit, whenever you read a new article, make it a habit to pick at least one of the Related Content links to read at the same time (embedded in the text and duplicated in the Related Links at the bottom of every post).

If you’ll “like” or comment after the pages you’ve read, it will help you keep track and will point others to posts you find especially helpful (as well as helping ME to know what you want me to write about).

As always, if you want notification of new articles in the Time & Task Management Series – or any new posts on this blog – give your email address to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too). STRICT No Spam Policy.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series (one-on-one couples or group), click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end (or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page). Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!). 

You might also be interested in some of the following articles
available right now – on this site and elsewhere.

For links in context: run your cursor over the article above and the dark grey links will turn dark red;
(subtle, so they don’t pull focus while you read, but you can find them to click when you’re ready for them)
— and check out the links to other Related Content in each of the articles themselves —

Related articles right here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com
(in case you missed them above or below)

LinkLists of other supports for this article – on ADDandSoMuchMore.com

Related Articles ’round the net


About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

13 Responses to 10 Best Practices for Habit Creation – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Habit Formation BASICS | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. Pingback: Developing those habits | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  3. Pingback: Turtlenecks & Wool: Yea or Nay? | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  4. Pingback: Sleep Timing and Time Tangles | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  5. Pingback: September is the BEST time for what activity? | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  6. Pingback: Emergency Prep for lives that have A LOT of them! | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  7. Pingback: Time management tips for better Executive Functioning | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  8. Pingback: 5 Tips for better Executive Functioning – Part 1 | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  9. Pingback: Friday Fun: Fashion and Shopping | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  10. Pingback: Brains Need SYSTEMS to Develop | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  11. Pingback: You don’t HAVE to lose it as you age | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  12. Pingback: When You’re Longing for Connection | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  13. Pingback: Changing a habit to change your LIFE | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

And what do YOU think? I'm interested.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: