Designing Habits That Stick

Designing Habits That Stick

Now that we know more about well‐being tools, the next step to increasing our wellness is to understand how we can design habits that stick. Every aspect of our lives is built on habits, from our weekly gym sessions to brushing our teeth twice a day. All of us will be very familiar with the obstacles to integrating positive habits in our lives. Laziness, distraction, and forgetfulness are three common hindrances. With many of the habits discussed in this book, from practising gratitude and mindfulness to self‐compassion, gratification and results are delayed. This means that instead of relying on willpower, we need to intelligently design ways we can build positive habits that stick. In this chapter, we explore how to do this, delving into motivation, the creation of habits, and a new way to design habits.


The most common myth around behaviour change is that we need more motivation. If we had more motivation, we would be able to consistently and easily integrate new habits. The flaw with this thinking is that many of us do indeed know of the benefits of the new behaviour we are trying to implement, and we may also know the risks of not successfully integrating the habits. Whilst motivation can help us in the short term, psychologists highlight that it is not the crucial fuel in keeping us committed to long‐term behaviour change. There are other factors at play: namely our self‐confidence, known as self‐efficacy, our values, and, if this behaviour integrates with them, the design of the behaviour change and our mindset.

To begin with, let’s break down the science of motivation.

  1. Motivation is energy for action.
  2. It is not the amount of motivation that is key, more the type of motivation.
  3. Psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan highlighted two types of motivation in their Self‐Determination Theory (Deci and Ryan 1985, 2000). For the purposes of illustrating the two types in a more engaging way, I will use metaphors. One type of motivation is a lot like junk food (extrinsic motivation): it tastes good but does not offer us great nutritional value. This is where the drive to do the habit is based on external forces, such as money, acclaim, the threat of punishment, or the promise of reward. We can think of this type of motivation as a habit that we do because we have to. The second type of motivation can be thought of as high‐quality healthy food (intrinsic motivation): it nourishes our body both mentally and physically. This is a type of motivation where the drive to do the task is more for inherent enjoyment and satisfaction for the action itself. We want to do it.
  4. We can design all our goals and create habits that stick by increasing our ‘high quality’ motivation. To create conditions to increase our ‘quality’ motivation, we need to increase all our needs for motivation; that is, choice (having options and the choice to decide for ourself), competence (having the right skills for the task), and connection (social connection with others).

High quality motivation (intrinsic motivation) vs Low quality motivation (extrinsic motivation)beats_ / Adobe Stock.

Tapping into Self‐Confidence

Self‐confidence, known as self‐efficacy, is an important psychological construct describing our belief in our ability to get a specific task done. Unsurprisingly, our self‐confidence level impacts our choices, goal setting, effort, and persistence. We are much more likely to achieve difficult goals and try again after rejections if we have higher levels of self‐confidence.

We have all felt our confidence waver or felt anxious about our ability to overcome a problem we face. Sometimes goals can be daunting and difficult – this is where self‐efficacy matters the most. Albert Bandura describes four routes to increasing our self confidence in his Self‐Efficacy Theory of Motivation (Bandura 1977):

  1. Previous positive experiences: Reflecting on past experiences where we did well helps to remind us that we can succeed and feel more confident.
  2. Role modelling: Seeing others succeed is a powerful way to increase our belief that we can also succeed.
  3. Words of encouragement: When we were children, words of encouragement came from our primary caregivers. As an adult, we can tap into this facet by encouraging our inner cheerleader, such as celebrating our progress and small wins, supporting ourselves during obstacles, and encouraging ourselves to learn new things.
  4. Managing negative emotions: As discussed in earlier chapters, how we think impacts how we feel and act. Negative thoughts and emotions can negatively influence our behaviours, and so having tools that can help us is really important.

Using this model, we can increase our self‐confidence by:

  • Mastering tasks: For example, public speaking improvement by attending speaking groups, such as Toastmasters. This increases our positive past experiences.
  • Modelling behaviour: Find role models to observe and gain inspiration from seeing others succeed.
  • Social persuasion: Finding mentors or coaches to help build our self‐confidence.
  • Improve emotional regulation: This can be done through using tools, such as mindfulness, self‐compassion, and cognitive‐behavioural therapy (CBT). We can also interpret our physiological response differently; for example, the adrenaline and anxiety from public speaking can be reframed as excitement and gratitude that you’re alert and ready to deliver your talk

Apr 25, 2023 | Posted by in General Dentistry | Comments Off on Designing Habits That Stick

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