Do you want a healthy morning, evening, or self-care routine? It might be easier than you think by using natural innate behaviour.
Studies have shown that creating a plan of when to complete a healthy habit makes you more likely to follow through. For example, “I will go for a walk after finishing my lunch each day”. It eliminates the ambiguity, and reduces the chances of getting distracted. The start of the day, week, or month often works well. With an implementation plan, you don’t have to wait for motivation to strike. Give your habits an obvious time and space, and with repetition, you get the urge to perform the habit automatically – this is focusing on the cue.
The Diderot Effect
A poor French philosopher named Denis Diderot changed his fortunes in 1765. His daughter was set to be married, but Diderot could not afford the wedding. He was, however, well-known for his work writing one of the most famous and comprehensive encyclopedias at the time. Catherine the Great, the empress of Russia, heard of Diderot’s situation, and offered to buy his personal library for £1,000 – worth over $150,000 today. With his newfound riches, Diderot paid for the wedding and treated himself to a new scarlet robe. His scarlet robe was luxurious, and very out-of-place among his poorer clothes. He wrote that there was no more coordination, elegance, or beauty between his robe and his other possessions. Therefore, he upgraded his rug to one from Damascus and decorated his home with expensive sculptures. He placed a mirror above the mantel and got a kitchen table, throwing away his old straw chair in favour of a leather one.
You see how one lavish purchase led to another in a domino effect. Now, this tendency for one purchase to lead to another is called the Diderot effect. It means that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption that leads to additional purchases. Probably not what he wanted to be remembered for.
This lavish consumerism can be seen when a woman buys a new dress and feels the need to obtain matching earrings and shoes, when a new TV leads you to upgrade your speakers and TV stand, and so on. This chain reaction is common human behaviour – we decide what to do next based on what we have just finished doing.
Using This Behaviour to Form Routines
The Didero effect can be used not only for emptying your wallet, but also to link good habits together. Going to the bathroom should lead to washing and drying our hands, which reminds us to put hand lotion on. Each action becomes the cue which triggers the next behaviour.
A good place to start is to take a current habit you’re already good at, and connect a new behaviour to it. Habit stacking is a special form of implementation plan. Instead of associating a new habit with a time of day or location, you link it to an existing habit. For example, after sitting down to dinner, I will say grace. After dinner, I will put on my shoes to take a quick walk round the block. Before taking a shower, I will lay out my pyjamas. After taking a shower, I will read a chapter of my book.
Tips: Be sure to choose a suitable time of day for the new habit when you won’t be distracted. The cue should be specific (however small), which makes it more obvious. It should have the same frequency as the desired habit. Do the habit every time you complete the preceding action. In doing so, you will train your brain to integrate the new habit into your daily life.
This is what Stanford Professor B J Fogg calls the Tiny Habits recipe, and what James Clear (of Atomic Habits fame) calls habit stacking.
Taking advantage of the knock-on Diderot effect and using it to link good habits together so that completing one becomes the cue to perform another, helps to form healthy routines.