Four Laws for Creating and Sticking with Good Habits

Four Laws for Creating and Sticking with Good Habits post page

By Valerie FeurichDecember 18th, 2020

Four Laws for Creating and Sticking with Good Habits


by Valerie Feurich,

PAC Product Marketing and Technology Lead

Have you ever tried to form a new habit, but somehow couldn’t make it last?

Have you given up on making New Year’s resolutions, as previous ones simply didn’t stick?

You likely answered Yes. You likely will also not be surprised when I tell you, that you are not alone with this. But do you know why it is so hard to form new habits?

It’s simple, in some vital factors of habit creation, evolution plays against us. As author James Clear explains in his book Atomic Habits, one of the most difficult parts in creating a new habit is that is requires many tiny changes, repeated over and over again, to achieve maximum results. Therefore, forming a new habit is a long-term endeavor, something we aren’t biologically programmed for.

Our ancestors lived in an immediate return environment. They were concerned with hunting for their next meal or finding shelter that night, and didn’t worry about making long-term plans. While this seems like an incredibly long time ago, many human instincts haven’t changed much since.

So, what can we do then to overcome our want for immediate returns and to start reaping the benefits of a new habit?

According to James Clear, all habits consist of four fundamental parts:

  1. A Cue – a trigger that initiates a behavior by predicting a reward (like the buzzing of your phone with a new notification)
  2. A Craving – the motivational force behind every habit (the curiosity that makes you want to find out the content of the arrived message on your phone)
  3. A Response – the actual habit you perform (you grab your phone and check the notification)
  4. A Reward – the end goal of every habit; your craving getting satisfied (knowing the message content that triggered your phone’s notification)

Now, let’s use these four steps to our benefit by adding a rule to each, also known as The Four Laws of Behavior Change:

1.    Make the Trigger Obvious (Cue): To utilize the cue that triggers your behavior to your advantage, you’ll want to make the trigger obvious. As James Clear explains, environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior. Set up your environment to create visual cues that make your triggers obvious, and you’re one step closer to forming a new habit.

a.    Examples:

i.    Want to get in the habit of starting your day by being more physically active? Put your workout clothes and shoes right by your bed in a very visible spot so they’re the first things you see when you wake up.

ii.    Want to get in the habit of practicing your Positive Physical Approach (PPA) every day? Wear a bracelet that reminds you to do so.

2.    Make it Attractive (Craving): Did you know that your brain releases dopamine even if you just think about a pleasurable experience? Use that that your advantage by linking a new routine you’re trying to build with a pleasurable activity you already enjoy.

a.    Example:

i.    Love listening to audiobooks? Listen to them only as your exercise to make for a more pleasurable experience you may actually start looking forward to.

ii.    Love ice cream? Track your PPA practice for a week and celebrate with a special treat if you’ve practiced all seven consecutive days in a row.

3.    Make it Easy (Response): Human brains are wired to not tire themselves out needlessly and prefer to get their reward through minimal effort. Therefore, you’ll want to make the action of getting your desired reward as easy as possible and reduce anything that could cause friction.

a.    Example:

i.    Instead of signing up for a costly gym membership and having to get in your car and drive to the facility, start with simple exercises at home or by going for a walk.

ii.    Don’t have someone near you to practice your PPA with? Stuff a sweater and some gloves to create a life-size practice doll (like Teepa’s Harriet). You only need to do this once, and you’ll have a willing participant for your daily PPA practice. (Extra tip: Use your smartphone to film your practice and see if you followed all the steps.)

4.    Make it Satisfying (Reward): This is the most difficult part of creating a new habit. As mentioned earlier, humans are wired for an immediate return environment. Combat that by attaching some immediate gratification to all of your delayed return habits.

a.    Example:

i.    Enjoy a tasty, homemade fruit smoothie right after exercising.

ii.    Add a five to ten-minute break for a little relaxation at the end of every PPA practice.

Think of how you can use these four laws of habit creation to increase your chance of forming new habits and actually sticking with them. What tiny changes can you make starting today? While tiny changes may seem insignificant, if you can improve by just one percent a day, within one year you’ll likely experience vast changes.

If you started practicing new dementia care skills today, how could this impact your life and those around you in a mere 12 months? We all can make a difference and positively impact the lives of those around us. Let’s start today.

Additional impactful quotes you may enjoy from Atomic Habits by James Clear:

  • We don’t rise to the level of our goals; we fall to the level of our systems.
  • Habits are not a finish line to be crossed, they are a lifestyle to be lived.
  • Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.
  • Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior.

Originally from Germany, Valerie Feurich earned her B.A. with a major in Professional and Technical Writing and a minor in Psychology from the University of South Florida in 2010. After working as a freelance Web and Graphic Designer and Digital Marketing and E-Commerce Consultant for a year, she joined not-for-profit organization, Pines of Sarasota, to help their Education Institute develop and execute a marketing plan for a DVD they had filmed in partnership with Teepa Snow. Over the next eight years, Valerie built an international e-commerce and marketing structure for the Pines and Teepa Snow programs, which increased to a library of 26 programs over time. In January 2019 Valerie joined Teepa Snow’s Positive Approach to Care, and now leads marketing efforts for numerous PAC products and services.

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