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Biggest misconception about habits: Revealed

Lucy Dean
·4-min read
Woman running along path. Australian cash.
Does money work as an incentive for you? Images: Getty

Australians could earn as much as $760 by building better habits under a new partnership between the Commonwealth Bank and AIA Vitality designed to boost young people’s health.

Three quarters of young Australians believe they would be more likely to hit their fitness and health goals with the right financial motivations, new YouGov research commissioned by the two groups revealed.

Additionally, 95 per cent of young Australians believe they could do better at looking after themselves. And nearly nine in 10 millennials set New Year’s resolutions to do with their health, and three quarters of those said a financial incentive would help them to hit their goals.

Under the partnership, CommBank customers who join AIA Vitality and take small steps to eat healthier, increase physical activity and visit the doctor and healthcare suppliers will be eligible to earn $760 in cash or in vouchers for Woolworths, Uber, Rebel Sport and Bunnings.

Setting habits: myths and misconceptions

According to the director of Habit Change Institute, Dr Gina Cleo, the most common misconception around habits is that it takes 28 days to set a habit, when it can in fact take between 18 and 254 days to turn a conscious behaviour into a habit.

And while 254 days can sound daunting, the key is to focus on consistency rather than intensity, she told Yahoo Finance.

“A complex habit will take a lot longer to form than a simple habit, also if you aren’t attaching a reward to that habit it’s going to be a bit harder or take a bit longer,” Dr Cleo said.

A simple habit would be something like drinking a glass of water after breakfast, while a complex habit would be something like writing 2,000 words of a novel a day, or doing 50 sit-ups every morning. Drinking a glass of water doesn’t require time or effort, only memory. The other two habits require time, the space and the willpower to make it happen.

Similarly, trying to cultivate a habit around something you don’t actually enjoy doing will also be a struggle. That means that deciding to become fit and immediately hitting the gym six days a week for heavy workouts will be difficult to maintain, especially if you don’t enjoy exercise that much yet.

Reward mentality a key

Setting up rewards and small indulgences along the way are critical, Dr Cleo said.

The understanding that doing a certain task, like cleaning your room, will lead to a certain reward, like playtime, is a lesson learnt in childhood.

And that connection doesn’t expire once we enter adulthood.

“In terms of finding the right reward, we’re all rewarded differently but we like to have a range of rewards. So, sometimes just sitting back and going, ‘I’m so glad I went to the gym this morning. I didn’t feel like it, but well done me for doing that,’ is enough.

“But at other times we want to be rewarded financially, other times we want to be rewarded with points. Other times we want to be rewarded by being acknowledged. So any kind of reward is a good reward.”

Attach the habit to an existing habit

Another trick is to attach the habit to an already existing habit, sometimes known as ‘habit stacking’.

Dr Cleo said dentists will use this technique when they tell clients to floss their teeth after brushing. By attaching it to a certain habit it becomes easier to remember.

The same thing can be done with a routine. For example, people who struggle to remember to eat breakfast could try attaching breakfast to going into the office, so that every time they walk through the office doors they know their next stop is the kitchen or tea room.

What happens if I fall off the wagon?

The first thing is to remember that a brief lapse isn’t as damaging as we might think.

“We know that great things are achieved through a series of repeated actions,” Dr Cleo said.

“That doesn’t mean that if we fall off the wagon that that habit is not there. We have muscle memory that reminds us to go back and complete what we were starting, and it’s not like we were starting from the beginning again.”

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