Linking Could be Your Answer to Creating Habits

First we MakeWe’ve all heard the saying that it takes 21 days to create a habit.  It’s really a myth, but one that perpetuates none the less.   It’s said those of us with ADHD have an even tougher time than the general population with habit creation because of our challenges with self regulation.  But, if creating habits is so challenging, how does anyone ever succeed in creating them?

At a recent Catalyst for Change Meetup we discussed challenges with forming and maintaining good habits.  One of the ideas discussed was how powerful it can be to anchor new habits to old through a process I call linking.

When working with a client around creating a habit, quite often I meet with initial resistance: “I have trouble creating new habits.” or “Creating new habits is hard.”  When I hear these statements, I generally find myself responding with, “What’s one thing you do every day without fail?”  Having a cup of coffee, brushing one’s teeth or reading the newspaper every morning are habits and if you’ve created these habits,  you’re capable of creating others.  In fact, Charles Duhigg in his book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business stated “One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.”  You ARE capable of creating good habits!

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines a habit as: “a settled or regular tendency or practice, esp. one that is hard to give up.”  A key to remembering a new practice and sticking with it long enough for it to become habit is to link it to a practice that is “hard to give up”, such as that morning cup of coffee.

In an ADHD Expert posting I did earlier this year for colleague Ellen Delap, I talked about “linked activities” and discussed them in the context of my own morning routine.  Each morning I link the following activities:  putting in my contacts, brushing my teeth and getting dressed to exercise.  Brushing my teeth was the initial habit upon which I linked putting in my contacts some 35 years ago.  “Getting dressed to exercise” is a newer habit I linked to the first two a number of years ago and nine times out of ten, dressing for exercise actually results in exercise.  Linking works.

When I developed a medical condition a couple of years ago that required taking medication twice daily, I was confident the habit of taking my meds each morning would be simple to develop and I was right.  I simply placed the pill container beside my toothbrush.   Voila, habit linking and instant habit creation!

Interestingly enough, almost two years later, even though I had my evening pill container sitting in a visible place on the kitchen counter, I still had trouble remembering to take my evening medication.  Why?  Because my evening habits weren’t consistent enough (no established dinner time, not home every evening for dinner, etc) to link to taking the medication.  I’ve recently introduced multiple timers into the mix and that seems to be working as a reminder to take the medication.  I feel I’m finally on my way to creating the evening medication habit.

So, what habits are you trying to commit to?   How might linking make you more successful in creating those habits?



6 Responses to “Linking Could be Your Answer to Creating Habits”

  1. Ellen Delap August 5, 2014 4:09 pm #

    You are so right about linking habits! It’s one way to start changing behaviors that has considerable success. I am on the same page with medication. If I link it to a morning routine, it happens.

    Thanks for sharing this powerful strategy!

    • Andrea Sharb August 5, 2014 4:39 pm #

      Thanks for the endorsement of this strategy, Ellen! Have an amazing rest of the week!

  2. Donna Smallin Kuper August 5, 2014 9:01 pm #

    All true! I recently figured out that you can unlink an unwanted habit by linking a new one. So, for example, if you are trying to lose weight and you love dessert, instead of ordering dessert when the waiter asks if you want dessert, you can respond, “Not today. Can we have our check please?” Then pop a mint in your mouth!

    • Andrea Sharb August 5, 2014 9:34 pm #

      Donna, Sounds like you’re setting yourself up for success by asking for the check instead of the dessert menu and popping the mint for instant gratification! Hope you’re successful beyond your wildest imagination!

  3. Linda Samuels August 5, 2014 9:21 pm #

    Andrea- How we form habits (or not) is such a fascinating topic! I loved Charles Duhigg’s book about habits. One newish habit I’ve formed is walking every day. I “linked” it to my daily electronic “to do” list, which I reference multiple times per day. It’s worked!

    • Andrea Sharb August 5, 2014 9:39 pm #

      Linda, it is a fascinating topic isn’t it? I love learning about how people can make changes in their lives. It’s great to hear how you’ve created a link to support you in getting your daily walk!

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