And it can be REALLY frustrating trying to figure out why a habit just isn’t sticking, or just isn’t working.
As much as you’ve planned it out and as much as you want to do the habit, it’s just not happening.
Enter the troubleshooting.
Say what?! You can troubleshoot a habit?!
Because we know how habits work, we can troubleshoot each component to see if that’s the culprit, and then when all else fails, evaluate the habit itself.
Break It Down
We know habits are made up of three parts – ability, motivation, and prompt.
Step 1: Begin troubleshooting with the prompt.
For a behavior to take place, something needs to trigger it. It could be another behavior, or an alarm, or an external event (such as the mailman coming).
If a habit isn’t working, start with your prompt – is there one?
What is supposed to be the prompt for your desired habit, and if there is one, is it working?
Often we think a prompt will be sufficient, but then when we’re distracted, it turns out it’s not enough. An example of this might be a time prompt – at X:XX o’clock, I’ll do XYZ habit. Except when X:XX o’clock rolls around, we’re deep into the Instagram scroll and don’t even notice the time.
Just because we think there’s a prompt, doesn’t mean it’s a sufficient prompt. The prompt has to be enough to actually trigger the habit. Technology can be a huge help here – it’s not “cheating” if you set alarms on your phone to remind you to move, make lunch, or whatever habit you’re trying to develop.
This where habit stacking comes in handy as well – when you use a behavior you already do to initiate a behavior you want to do.
Step 2: Can you do it?
Here in step two we’re addressing your ability to actually do the behavior. Can you do it?
And if you’re troubleshooting, perhaps you can do it, but it requires a higher amount of motivation that you often have (more on that in step 3).
When we’re talking ability, we need to plan for when we have the lowest motivation – can we make this behavior easy enough that we’ll still do it even when we have low motivation?
So perhaps this means instead of going for a run each day, your habit starts out as taking your running clothes out of the closet. That’s way easier than running, right?
And then you progress that habit over time to actually putting the clothes on, then going out the door, then running for 5min and eventually building up to your desired time.
Break the behavior down to simpler and smaller steps to increase your ability to do it.
Step 3: Are you motivated to do it?
Okay, now we’ve established there’s a sufficient prompt, and you can do it, so the remaining factor is do you want to do it?
If you’re here troubleshooting a habit, I’m guessing you do want to do it. But when we plan for the prompt and ability, we need to design the habit to work at our lowest motivation.
Usually when we start out building habits we’re highly motivated to change and we’re gung-ho about getting healthy.
… and then real life hits us.
So we need to have planned for the dips in motivation instead of relying on the bursts of motivation.
If, after troubleshooting the three components of a habit, you’re still stuck on a habit not working out for you, then it’s time to evaluate if you actually want the habit.
Sure, your doctor or friend or partner said running four times per week would be a great way to get in shape. But you HATE running.
So of course this habit isn’t going to stick – it feels terrible and it’s an uphill battle every single time. No one has the energy for that. And habits shouldn’t require so much energy – they’re supposed to be time and energy savers, remember?
It’s okay if you don’t want a habit, even though it’s supposed to be good for you. Don’t let society tell you what habits you should have.
You can try an alternative method – if you hate running, try a fitness app or yoga. There are sooo many ways to skin this proverbial cat, and when it’s working, you won’t even notice the effort it takes to do the habit.