Chicago’s Rollout–Change a Habit (6)

In the previous posts on changing a habit, based in part on the subject matter of the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, I laid out how to set your own project up to change a habit that you would like to change.

Just to repeat those project steps, let me list them here.

1.  Choose a habit you want to change

2.  Choose a timeframe for the project

3.  Become aware of the CUE for the habit.

4.  Figure out what the REWARD is.

5.  Figure out what the replacement ROUTINE will be.

6.  Start the project:  use CUE awareness to become more aware of the CUE, and when it occurs, use the replacement ROUTINE.

7.  Mark on an index card a check mark every time you catch yourself experiencing the CUE for the ROUTINE.

8.  Mark on an index card a hash mark (#) every time you successfully carry out the replacement ROUTINE.

9.  Review your progress after one week.

10.  Review your progress at the end of the second week when your project stops.


In choosing your habit that you want to change, there are some ideas that can help you increase the chance of success.    One is the concept of small wins, which means when you set up the goal of the project, you should do so in small steps rather than trying to make a giant leap.

For example, let’s say you want to set up an exercise habit.   If you haven’t exercised before, then saying “I want to run a 5K marathon” is not realistic, especially in the suggested timeframe of two weeks.   What COULD you do realistically in two weeks?  Researchers have shown that those people who got dressed up in exercise clothes were more likely to keep up the exercise habit than those who didn’t.   Why is this?

This is something that happened to me.   I was trying to set up a habit of doing yoga for half an hour after work.   When I came home, I would change into my yoga outfit (workout shorts, a t-shirt, and white athletic socks) and do my half hour of yoga.   There were some days when I didn’t feel like doing yoga because I was tired, but I thought to myself “well, I’m already dressed for it so I might as well do SOMETHING.   I’ll just start the yoga video and do fifteen minutes of it”   Then I would, more often than not, start doing exercise with my yoga video, but once the momentum started, I would finish the video.

This topic reminds me of a conversation with my mother when we were washing dishes in the kitchen together.   “I don’t want to do the dishes,” I said.   She shared with me that sometimes she didn’t feel like doing them either.   But she had a mental trick that she played that usually worked.   She said, “I’ll play a game with myself and promise that after I do the dishes for 15 minutes, I’ll stop and take a break.”    Once she starts, which she said was the hardest part, after 15 minutes she would look at all she had accomplished in that short while, and then she would say, “well, maybe I’ll just go ahead and finish the job.”   And that’s what she would do.   I realized that with the yoga, I was doing something similar in promising to do only 15 minutes of exercise.   It’s often starting to do the job which is the hardest part mentally, but once you get into doing whatever it is you have set out to do, the momentum will carry you forward, and the next thing you know, you’ve got the day’s finish line in sight!

Small wins are an especially good way to tackle what are called keystone habits.  This will be the topic of the next post.



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