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  • Writer's pictureDennis Guyvan

A Roadmap to Creating Habits That Stick. Suggestions from a Therapist in Denver

Updated: Oct 31, 2023



Have you ever tried to create a habit and ended up failing after the motivation was gone? Most people have. So, how can you create a habit that sticks? This is a question frequently asked, as a practicing therapist in Denver.


Motivation is often fleeting, and it can't be relied upon entirely. The secret to creating lasting habits lies in changing your identity before tackling any habit. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the three simple steps to make this transformation and why this can be a great addition to therapy services in Denver.



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Chapter 1: The Power of Identity in Habit Formation

Firstly, it's crucial to understand the underlying principles of habit formation. Habits are automated behaviors that require minimal conscious thought, and establishing them effectively requires a few key principles:

  1. Cue-Action-Reward Cycle: Habits consist of three components: the cue (trigger), the action (behavior), and the reward (satisfaction). For example, feeling stressed (cue) prompts the action of smoking (behavior), and the reward is a momentary sense of relief (satisfaction).

  2. Repetition and Consistency: Repeating a behavior consistently in response to a cue strengthens the habit loop. The more you repeat a behavior, the stronger the habit becomes.

Begin by understanding the following steps:


Step 1: Define Your Desired Results

Often, we go about our lives without a clear understanding of where we want to end up. Just as you wouldn't set out on a journey without knowing your destination, clarity about the outcome is crucial. As a therapist in Denver, I emphasize the importance of this step. By setting specific goals, you lay the foundation for a successful habit-building process.

Examples of clear results include:

  • "I want to quit smoking completely in six months."

  • "I aim to lose two pounds over the next twelve months."

Ask yourself, where do you want to be one year from now?


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Step 2: Shape Your Identity

The concept of identity plays a pivotal role in habit formation. When you've successfully accomplished something and someone asks how you did it, you might answer, "It's just who I am." Your identity shapes your behavior, and harnessing this power can be transformative.

Reflect on areas in your life where you feel successful and analyze the qualities, principles, and values you uphold in those domains. You likely possess strong attributes related to your successful behaviors. Take note of these qualities, appreciate them, and apply them in other areas of your life.

Ask yourself:

  • Who is the person that can achieve this goal?

  • What are their qualities?

  • What values are important to them?

  • What principles do they live by?

Complete the sentence: "I am the person that _____."

Examples include:

  • "I am a non-smoker."

  • "I am a health-conscious individual who values foresight and discipline."

Step 3: Prove Your Identity

The third step is about reinforcing your identity. While undergoing the identity exercise, you may have felt a subtle shift in perspective. It's common to experience some instability during this phase. To make the shift permanent, you must believe in your new identity. The key is to link your identity with actions that confirm it.


Imagine your identity as the top of a table, and the legs as the actions and beliefs that support it. The more legs you have and the thicker they are, the more stable your identity becomes. For instance, if your identity is "I am a health-conscious person," the legs might include actions such as researching nutrition daily, reading product labels, meal preparation, and regular exercise.

You need to decide which actions and habits are necessary to confirm your identity.

Examples:

  • "I choose non-smoking restaurants because I am a non-smoker."

  • "I practice deep breathing exercises to manage stress because I am a health-conscious person."

Think about the specific actions and habits you need to establish to solidify your desired identity.


The most potent force in human personality is the need for consistency with our self-defined identity. As Tony Robbins aptly put it,

"The strongest force in the human personality is the need to stay consistent with how we define ourselves."


Step 4: Take Action

It's common for people to start with enthusiasm and then lose motivation, eventually abandoning their goals. The key is to set yourself up for success, beginning with your identity. Start small and focus on the number of repetitions, not the quality and intensity. Consistency is the foundation of habit-building.


Begin with a small step that you are willing to take next week. The number of repetitions is more important than the quality or intensity of the action.


What small step are you willing to take?


Pause here and put these principles into action.



Read Chapter 2 after you've implemented the steps above.


________________________________________________________________________


Chapter 2: The Anatomy of Habits and How to Reinforce Them

In Part 2, we'll delve deeper into each habit's structure and how to strengthen them. This information is often sought from therapists in Denver, as understanding the mechanics of habits is essential for their success.


Habits consist of four parts:

  1. Trigger

  2. Craving

  3. Practice

  4. Reward

Let's assume you want to cultivate a habit of consuming more fruits and vegetables.


Trigger

To empower this aspect of the habit, you need to make the reminder of the habit visible. This increases the likelihood of remembering the habit and reinforces its practice.

Examples include:

  • Keeping a plate of fruits in the kitchen, the office, or the living room.

  • Placing your running gear near your bed as a reminder to exercise in the morning.

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Craving

You should make the habit attractive. We are naturally drawn to exciting and enticing activities. To make a habit more appealing, consider the following:

  1. Incorporate What You Enjoy: Add elements you already enjoy to the habit. For instance, if you enjoy listening to music, incorporate music into your run or study sessions.

  2. Reframe the Experience: Change your perception of the habit. For example, instead of thinking, "Eating healthy food is boring," reframe it as "Eating healthy food energizes me."

Practice

Habit formation involves time and repetition. Focus on the number of repetitions, especially in the beginning, rather than the quality and difficulty of the habit.


Simplify your habit and gradually build it over time. Breaking it into two-minute chunks can be highly effective. Start with the first two minutes in the initial week. This approach minimizes resistance and creates a positive habit-building experience.


Examples of breaking habits into two-minute chunks:

  • Aim to have 20% of your meals consist of greens.

  • Start with the first two minutes of your daily exercise routine.

A valuable tip is to avoid missing a habit twice in a row. Missing a habit twice in succession can establish a negative pattern. If you miss it once, commit to doing it the next time.


Reward

Reward yourself immediately upon completing a habit. This helps associate pleasure with the habit, reducing resistance during future attempts. It is also an opportunity to reinforce your identity.


You can choose between external and internal rewards:


External Reward

  • An external reward might involve a massage after a workout or indulging in a relaxing Jacuzzi after a healthy meal.

  • Ensure that your external reward aligns with your desired identity to avoid conflicts.

Internal Reward

  • Internal rewards involve confirming your identity. Pull out your desired identity phrase and celebrate your achievement.

  • Reinforce the belief and reward yourself by confirming your identity.

This internal reward is especially effective in the later stages of habit development.

Remember, external rewards are more effective at the beginning of habit formation, while internal rewards work well as the habit becomes ingrained.



Chapter 3: Breaking Bad Habits

In this chapter, we explore how to break bad habits. As a therapist in Denver, I use this framework to help my clients overcome negative behaviors.


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Step 1: Make It Invisible (Trigger)

The first step in breaking a bad habit is reducing the visibility of the triggers that prompt it. The less frequently you encounter these triggers, the less you'll rely on willpower.

For example:

  • Hide unhealthy foods to reduce their visibility.

  • Avoid buying unhealthy items at the store, especially when you are not hungry.

Step 2: Make It Unattractive (Craving)

Bad habits are often associated with strong cravings. To weaken these associations, make the bad habit less appealing. Celebrate your ability to say "no" and work on making the habit boring.

Examples include:

  • Celebrating every successful resistance to the bad habit.

  • Reframing the habit as uninteresting or undesirable.

Step 3: Make It Hard (Practice)

Increasing the difficulty of engaging in a bad habit can be a powerful strategy. When a bad habit becomes hard to accomplish, it decreases your desire to indulge in it.

For instance:

  • Place unhealthy food items on high shelves, requiring extra effort to reach.

  • Unplug or store away devices or items that enable the bad habit.

Step 4: Make It Unsatisfying (Reward)

Teach your body and mind that there are consequences for not adhering to your desired path. This internal feedback loop reinforces your commitment to changing the habit.

For example:

  • Hold yourself accountable for your actions and acknowledge the discomfort it creates.

  • Provide immediate feedback to create discomfort around the habit, without getting overly harsh on yourself.

Conclusion

The journey of creating lasting habits is a transformative and deeply personal one. Identity forms the core of each habit.


By understanding the mechanics of habit formation and reinforcement, you can set yourself on a path to integration, healing, and therapeutic success. Start small, build consistency, and reinforce your identity to ensure that your habits become lasting and beneficial.


Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither are habits. With the right approach and support, you can make lasting changes that will propel you toward success.


If you would like to get more personalized guidance and therapy in Denver that is based on some of the principles mentioned above, reach out to us to schedule a free therapy consultation.



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References:


James Clear (2018) Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Habits and Break Bad Ones.


 

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Dennis Guyvan, a therapist in Denver, CO. He provides individual in-person/online therapy and life coaching in Denver, CO and online coaching worldwide . Schedule your free 30-minute therapy consultation with Dennis Guyvan.




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