The 5 Things Every Lazy Girl Should Know About Keeping Habits
17 min read
They say when you’re hiring, you should hire the laziest person you can find.
Because lazy people find the fastest, easiest way possible to get things done!
If you’re reading this post, you probably have a bit of that lazy streak in you (same!) and you might be struggling with keeping your healthy habits.
It also means that you’re ready to start buckling down to find the fastest, easiest way to build and keep those habits without “falling off the bandwagon” all the time, right?
You know you need to do the thing, but you dread doing the thing – right?
I know the feeling. You know you should workout, eat better, push harder, etc but you just really don’t want to either!
Even if you have a lingering ‘ugh, I don’t want to do the thing’ crossing your mind, I’ll show you how to tackle the motivational part of habits and get around the dreaded feeling that inevitably comes around!
At the end of this post you’ll have all the tools and tricks from a scientific perspective that’s necessary for making sustainable habits such as going to the gym as easy as brushing your teeth!
Let’s banish the difficulty of habits once and for all with what I’ve found to be the easiest way to build and keep habits using the techniques I’ve learned throughout studying the science behind them!
So if you’re ready to actually keep those habits you’ve been trying to keep for years now, read this post – it’s worth it!
Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links, which helps support our site. Please read our policy here.
01 | Why you can’t stick to your habits
You’ve built the elaborate system, you’ve put it on a pretty poster board glorified with washi tape, stickers and all.
You’ve listed your goals, and what your rewards you’ll get after you’re done.
But then two weeks go by and you’ve talked yourself into skipping the habit. There always seems to be a fantastic reason to skip it, or there’s other more important things to do.
Does that sound right?
If it does, I can tell you why it hasn’t worked for you.
The reason you can’t keep your habits up after a while is that your reward isn’t instant enough.
It doesn’t matter how big or small the reward will be – it could be a two-week vacation in the Bahamas in a year, but at some point you just aren’t going to care enough to keep going to the gym.
Your brain self-sabotages you subconsciously so you end up skipping days.
When we talk about an elephant later on in this post, you’ll understand this a bit more – but for now, just realize that as good as your intentions for rewarding yourself are, they won’t be enough!
Letting yourself have a cheat day isn’t convincing the elephant in your brain that it’s a good enough habit to keep.
Continue reading to learn how to control the elephant in our brains, and keep the motivation that usually dies after two weeks or so.
02 | Create a Trigger or a Cue to Remind You
Do you have an alarm to ‘trigger’ you to do your habit every day?
Or does your habit lack a set time of day, every day in your routine?
Not having a trigger might also be a reason why your habits haven’t been sustainable.
Often we just fall back on the ‘when we remember to do it’ technique, which is setting us up for failure.
Instead, we should outwardly identify when we will do it, and tie it to something we already do each day:
After I eat breakfast, I will take my medicine.
After I feed the dogs I will pack my lunch.
After I sit down with my cup of coffee, I’ll write for 10 minutes.
Easy enough, right?
To set up a trigger or a cute for your habits, you’ll want to decide when, where, with whom, or after which activity will you be reminded to complete the habit.
Write it down somewhere so you can see it, and set an alarm so that you can remember until it’s second nature.
Now it gets really interesting.
Here is the biggest impact on my view of habits that changed everything I thought I knew about creating habits, and what has helped me keep them the longest!
03 | How to Create a Routine for Your Habit
Surprisingly when I was attempting my own personal development venture, I had no idea how habits worked.
I knew it was something about routine and consistency, but I always thought “ugh, what a chore”!
But after learning what exactly it is about consistency that takes place in our brains, it made much more sense, and I was able to approach it from a more productive perspective!
It really helps to learn how your brain changes and behaves neurologically, so you can support it in its habit-creating journey – and this is where the elephant comes in.
We have elephants in our brains
Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist from Yale uses an elephant as a metaphor.
Actually, he got it from entrepreneurs Chip and Dan Heath (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24adApYh0yc about 1 minute into this podcast Jonathan mentions that), but people tend to credit Jonathan for using the metaphor in his recent book.
So the elephant and the rider concept is between your mind, and yourself.
Your brain is the elephant, all powerful and doing things in the background or as it pleases that we aren’t aware of.
You, my friend, are the rider of the elephant. Attempting to control the elephant, while the elephant does what it wants despite direction most times.
We need our elephant, because it’s the part of our mind that automates a lot of things like walking, talking, chewing, breathing, etc. We don’t want to be doing that manually all the time!
The elephant is much more powerful than the rider, and so we have to realize that we are the rational mind, and the emotional mind is the elephant.
The rider and the elephant often fight around the time we need to complete our new habit for the day, and because the elephant is bigger and stronger, it inevitably wins.
This is why your habits have never been successful!
Your elephant is a totally different species and can’t understand our human logic, despite actually being in your brain lol.
So despite you wanting to lead your elephant down a particular path to create a habit, your elephant just ignores the rider and goes on happily munching treats, until we give it a really good reason to stop munching:
“Hey look mister elephant, there’s something even tastier over there in that pasture! Let’s go over there!”
I recently saw a post on Reddit by u/conscioused in the r/habits forum that was perfectly explained:
Picture a massive elephant with a rider on top trying to steer it where to go. The rider is our rational self; the elephant our emotional self.
Me: Hey big guy, do you want to go to the gym tonight and get some exercise?
Elephant: *angry stomping*
Me: What about just a walk around the block?
Elephant: *more angry stomping*
Me: Fine, let’s just stay home have ice cream.
That is my internal dialogue whenever I want to get anything done in my life. A struggle between my rational adult self (my pre-frontal cortex) and my emotional childish self (my limbic system) who just wants to run around and have a good time eating ice cream.
He’s running away from your workout plans.
Why willpower only works on your habits for a couple of weeks
Yes, your elephant will probably oblige you and get all excited about the prospect of something new and shiny — for the first few weeks.
Then after that, the elephant will inevitably decide that that habit isn’t worth it (getting up at 6 am is too early and the elephant is too sleepy).
We know willpower is a limited resource.
We know it runs out eventually, and no matter how hard we try it’s simply not enough to sustain our habits and keep our elephant going where we want.
Here’s what happens when we try to force our elephant to do anything, according to the same Reddit user:
Back to our elephant. After multiple failed attempts in reasoning with emotional elephant, I can’t take it anymore. Drowning in my own self-pity, I take out my stick.
Smack. Don’t eat that cake.
Smack. Turn off Facebook.
Smack. Go to the gym.
And it works, my emotional elephant doesn’t like getting smacked. It listens. For now.
But what happens to an elephant who continually gets smacked against its will?
It throws the rider off and decides to go for a wander. A wander down temptation alley.
Oh look, a whole cake, binge!
Oh look a new notification, scrolls phone for an hour!
Oh look a comfy couch, snooze!
The truth is that our emotional elephant is too powerful. Eventually it will do what it wants to do. What feels good. Especially when we are stressed, tired and hungry. Willpower goes out the window and our elephant roams freely doing what it pleases.
This is why you haven’t been able to keep your habits – you just simply can’t force an elephant to do anything.
But – you can guide and train your elephant – and this is the key to creating sustained habits.
How to train an elephant
As we train our elephant to go down a new path, the elephant will carve a new path in our brains neurons each time it goes down that path.
Eventually, the elephant will know where to go, and the rider won’t have to guide him anymore.
How do we do this? We have to switch our willpower to auto-pilot by satisfying both the rider and the elephant!
All the elephant wants is to feel good.
He’s all about happiness – the elephant likes fun, easy, exciting, free things.
He doesn’t care about the logical reasoning.
Someone on Quora mentions Elephant versus Rider examples here. The fun thing is the elephants idea of a great habit, while the not-so-fun is our own logical ideas of good habits (source):
- Tv vs Reading
- Fast food vs Home cooked
- Not working out vs Working out
- Making below a 2.5 GPA vs Making above
- Excessive Drinking vs Casual Drinking
- Majoring in something easy Vs Majoring in something difficult
- No Internship vs Internship
- No saved or invested money vs Invested and saved money
- Pop-Tarts for breakfast vs fruit and veggie smoothie
- Nothing vs Meditation
The trick is, we need to keep the elephant happy.
To do this, you can associate a fun task with a monotonous, not fun task.
Here’s a few examples:
- Watch TV while you fold laundry
- Listen to a podcast while you do the dishes
- Work out while you watch a tv show
- Call a friend while you make dinner
- After grabbing groceries, grab fast food dinner on the way home (who wants to cook after doing all that shopping?)
- Meal plan for the week and add in one cheat day
- Go watch an episode of The Bachelor _after_ you finish writing that blog post
You get the idea.
So if you’ve struggled with building habits in the past, try this method of building in rewards for your elephant to be preoccupied while you can get the thing done.
04 | Start extremely teeny tiny, and work your way up
There’s a method of creating and keeping habits by BJ Fogg.
BJ Fogg wrote a book called Tiny Habits – and when I say tiny, I mean TINY!
I mean, BJ Fogg recommends a flossing habit should start with flossing one tooth tiny.
The great thing about this is you get permission to start super short and easy – and us lazy people love short and easy things!
Instead of building out a whole system for 6 months to forever of working out Jillian Michaels style on your fancy poster board which sets you up for failure, you can take your time and sloooooowly grow your habit.
The key is to:
– start small
– choose a habit that takes less than 30 seconds
– choose a habit that takes very little effort to do
- Start with 5 jumping jacks.
- Start by flossing for 30 seconds.
- Start by doing ONE pushup.
- Start by eating ONE vegetable per day.
- Start by doing 30 seconds more walking before going to your office.
- Start by thinking of one thing to feel grateful for.
- Start by taking three deep breaths.
You can’t see it, but your life is improving each time you do your habit.
The dominoes are falling.
The neurons are growing.
The path is being carved in your brain.
You’re changing by 0.1% each and every single time! That adds up fast!
From my earlier Reddit user:
In reality it is exactly these 0.1% baby steps over time that make all the difference.
If you kept going just a bit longer, a year of 0.1% improvements everyday will result in a 44% total betterment of any field of your choosing.
Two years, 107% improvement.
And in 5 years, a massive 520% improvement.
This is the compound effect that all successful people talk about.
Check out my post on how to use The Compound Effect + Apps on your phone to change your life!
Each time you do it, it compounds your actions, even if you can’t see it yet. But you will see massive results VERY quickly if you keep going, just like compound interest in a bank.
So for the lazy girls out there, make sure you and your elephant are depositing at the bank every day, using your elephant reward and cue system, and you’ll be amazed by how much you have at the end of the year.
05 | Remember that it’s automated, only if you do the work up front!
Just like setting up the dishwasher before starting a load of dishes, you need to set up the system in order for the system to work.
Keep going and push through the difficult work up front, in order to achieve a habit that gets better and easier the more times you do it.
But remember, the difficult work is just taking the action, while the actual habit you’re starting out with is super tiny!
So it’s not really that hard!
Remember that you are creating a path in your brain each time you do the habit.
You’re entertaining your elephant while you do it, and you have a reminder every day to do it.
Your habit is so tiny that it’d be silly NOT to do 5 jumping jacks per day, right?
If it helps, imagine that your brain is ingraining the habit with your neurons as you do it. For some reason, that motivates me, because I know if I keep going, each time I do it, the deeper that ingrained habit becomes, which means it gets easier every single time!
Soon, you’ll be jogging after work every day, or meal planning automatically on Sundays – and even, *gasp* enjoying yourself and find yourself missing it when you can’t do it!
06 | Putting it all together into a habit loop
Now that you understand how the elephant in your brain works, put it all together, and write it down somewhere you’ll see it every day.
This can also act as a cue, but I find that writing it out and getting it into the physical world helps to solidify your resolve on completing your goal.
So here’s a full template to follow:
After I _______ (cue/alarm), I will ________ (do the habit that is super easy) and then I get to _______ (a reward you want to do while you do it or immediately afterwards).
This is what Charles Duhigg calls a habit loop: cue, habit, reward!
The Lazy Girls Guide to Keeping
and Building Habits
After struggling with actually keeping habits in place (I had no problem starting them, it was always keeping them), I went on a deep dive to learn more about habits from the professionals who have studied the scientific process and psychology behind them.
What I learned has changed my habit building process forever, and now I am not worrying about keeping ONE habit, because I’m building new ones on top of those. All the things I’ve always wanted to do and always told myself I would keep up on, I’m actually succeeding in doing.
You will too now that you’ve read this post!
So what do you actually need to do to conquer these habits and sustain them over longer than the three weeks you did your last habit?
Set yourself up for success by understanding that:
01 | It gets easier the more you do it – imagine it being one less time you have to “force” yourself to do it!
02 | You can’t control the elephant, so feed the elephant good things in order to get the willpower to push through and complete the habit
03 | Start with a super incredibly tiny habit that is so small that you’ll feel silly NOT doing it. It’s so small, it’d be silly not to complete ONE push up today. You can do that!
04 | Attach it to something that you already do each day as a reminder to get started
05 | Reward your elephant for complying!
This Habit Calendar on Amazon was great for me, and I also now enjoy listening to podcasts while doing the dishes, or listening to a business audio book while I do a craft! Check it out!
Comment below – what habits do you want to start? What is your biggest struggle with keeping them?
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