How to Create Habits #1: The If-Then Technique

We’ve both always been so interested in making positive habits and working on ourselves. Maybe that’s something you have noticed already…

We both carved a career from using Positive Psychology to improve Happiness, here in Bristol, (See Light Box: The Happiness Project). We want to bring as much of that positivity into this business as possible.

If you liked our blog post 5 Quick Motivation Quotes to Boost your Day, you’ll love this. It’s inspiring PLUS a useful technique. Both of us, Barfoot and Duggan, use this all the time, which we wish everybody knew, as it’s so simple and powerful. 

If-then technique1

The ‘If-Then Technique’ has been tested out by researchers and found effective as a way to help create positive habits. It’s a three step technique: 1. You set up the ‘If’, 2. You set up the ‘Then’, 3. You visualise the If-Then scenario daily.

Follow our detailed instructions below to see how it is done:

If-then technique part 1

There two main categories blocking the success of goals:

  • Failing to get started: so that can be forgetting to act / not choosing a good opportunity / having second thoughts at a critical moment.
  • Getting derailed once you have got started: this can include giving into temptation / slipping back into bad habits / giving up when distressed or in a ‘bad mood’.

The If-then technique works by predicting which of these kinds of difficulty will probably get in your way. Think about the thing that is most likely to send you off track. When and where might it happen? What’s got in your way before?

If-then technique part 2

This is about initiating a response behaviour when triggered by a predicted obstacle. So for each ‘If’ difficulty identified, you come up with a realistic and effective response. What’s worked well before? Or worked well for others? What do you think would overcome the ‘If’ obstacle?

Brainstorm ideas, even ridiculous ones, and ask a friend for input if you get stuck for ‘Then’ solutions.

If-then technique part 3

Now you have the obstacle and solution in the ‘If…then…’ format, make sure you have the entire thing down: ‘If y is encountered (eg. Y is a particular time, event or feeling, like wanting to eat a big cheesy pizza) then I will initiate behaviour z (eg. Z reminding oneself, being mindful, becoming active, so for the cheesy pizza example, I would go for a 10min jog to remind myself that I choose the healthy route!).’

Either mentally visualise the If-Then scenario, using all your senses, at least three times a day. Alternatively you can write it down five times a day, (like the lines you do at school for being naughty). Mix it up if you prefer.

If you practise If-Then technique just two weeks you will really start to feel your willpower strengthen and the habit start to bed down.

Set reminder alarms on your phone so you remember to do it daily: it won’t work if you do it every now and again.

So what would you like to make a habit in your life? Put this technique to the test and let us know if it worked for you using the comments box. We’d love to hear your story. And look out for our second ‘Make a Habit of It’ blog post coming in July, with another killer technique for forming habits.

In the meantime, good luck and have fun with it! And if you have any questions, shoot!

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