Anyone who’s tried to add something new to their routine knows one thing: Building new habits isn’t easy.
It takes time and consistency—and even trying to keep it up for two to three days can be challenging.
The good news: There’s a solution, and it’s called automation.
Automation is when you tack what you’d like to be your new habit onto an existing habit.
For example: If you want to save more but it seems unattainable, try transferring five dollars to your savings account each time you buy lunch during the week.
If you want to get moving more but aren’t motivated to go to the gym every day, try doing 5 pushups after each time you use the restroom.
I know what you’re thinking: This sounds too easy. But the main reason it works is because it’s easy.
“Automation works well in developing new behavior patterns because it involves the use of positive reinforcement, which is one of the most powerful tools for behavior change,” Kahina Louis, a psychologist, tells Shine.
“As you’re engaging in gradual steps toward your goals, you may quickly start to experience feelings of accomplishment and pride that you’re making the changes you wanted to make,” she says. “Those positive feelings are forms of reinforcement, and you are more likely to continue doing things that reinforce you.”
Along with its positive reinforcement, automation highlights the impact of small changes in making a big difference. Though we all love the major successes, the small changes along the way are what get us there in the first place.
It’s the small steps that fuel your motivation and self-belief, Louis explains, and help you reframe any self-doubt that creeps into your mind.
“As you show yourself each small change you’ve made, you’re giving yourself the message that you are capable of accomplishment,” Louis says. “That feeling and self-belief are extremely helpful to have as you continue toward creating new behavior change.”
Find your auto habits
Assessing your current behavior is an important step in finding the right “auto” habits. Take a look at what things you do consistently throughout the day or course of the week to decide when to incorporate new automation.
“Consider auto habits that occur at times/places where you would be more likely to follow-through with the desired behavior,” Louis says. “For example: If you know that you’re always extremely tired after work, then you might consider picking an auto habit that occurs in your morning routine rather than in the evening.”
Louis also notes that although you should pick a behavior that occurs frequently enough to maximize the opportunities to build towards your goal, try not to choose an already existing behavior that occurs too often—like checking your phone or taking a sip of water. “You might not even realize you’re doing it, and may then miss a lot of chances to implement the new habit,” she says.
Though automation is a useful tool, building a new habit requires specific mindset shifts to help the process go along more smoothly.
According to Louis, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Create an accountability system
More important than picking the (perfect) auto habit is having in place some type of reminder system to keep you accountable.
This could be as simple as a sticky note in the location where the auto habit occurs or putting a recurrent reminder in your phone that aligns with the times that you typically engage in the auto habit.
2. Be patient
It’s important to keep in mind that it takes time and repetition. Often, we’ve been engaging in certain behaviors (or the lack thereof) for years!
Tricking yourself into thinking that consistent change will occur quickly would be doing yourself a disservice. With that in mind, be patient and kind to yourself, even at times in which you fall short.
3. Reward your progress
When you begin making changes, no matter how small, find a simple way to reward yourself.
Rewards can be as small as saying something positive to yourself about it, telling a friend or accountability partner, giving yourself extra self-care time that day, or buying something (preferably inexpensive) to celebrate.
These rewards are additional forms of reinforcement that will help motivate you to continue engaging in the new habit.
And if you slip up, remember it’s never too late to re-start a new habit. “Pick up where you left off, keep going, reward yourself, and repeat,” Louis says.