How to Form a New Habit

Form a new habit that will be sure to stick using mental rehearsal.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #163

Identify the Trigger for the New Habit

Once she knows there's time to from her habit, the Evil Queen needs to choose a trigger to know when the new habit is needed. The trigger is whatever she would see, feel, or hear that says it's time to work out. If she works out at 7 p.m. each day, the trigger would be the sight of her royal wristwatch showing seven, or the sound of seven church bells. That didn't work, because state dinners and diplomatic meetings made her schedule unpredictable. But her former shopping binges always happened right after visiting the Magic Mirror. In those moments, she always found the time for a trip to the mall. She chose the image of her magic mirror as her trigger, figuring if she could find the time to shop and prepare poisoned apples on the spur of the moment, she could just change destinations and hit the gym instead.

Use 3rd Person Mental Rehearsal to Validate the New Habit

If your new habit involves adding something to your schedule, you have to drop something else to make the time.

Putting the habit into place is next. Humans have "mirror neurons." When we see someone do something, our mirror neurons help us imitate it. That's how we learn. That's also how to form a new habit: start by running a mental move of yourself encountering the trigger and doing the new habit. See yourself in the movie, as if you were standing to one side. Notice the expression on your face, the way you walk and move, and so on.

The Evil Queen closed her eyes and saw herself walk to the magic mirror. In her mind, she sees herself ask, "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, where's my leotard and exercise ball?" “In the back of the coach! Now hurry! Pilates starts in five minutes." She saw herself smile in anticipation and run to take the Coach to the gym.

But in her movie, her stilettos made her trip on the stairs and she sprained an ankle. So she changed the movie to show her changing into sneakers first. Running the 3rd person movie helps your mirror neurons and lets you fix problems before they happen.

How to Form a Habit by Imagining Muscle Movements

Once it looks good, step into the movie and run it again, this time from your own point of view. Imagine how your muscles and body feel from the trigger all the way through. The Evil Queen saw the mirror through her own eyes, felt herself ask the question, then felt her attention shift to the gym shoes, felt their feeling against the steps as she jogged to the coach. She ran the movie all the way to feeling her core contract in Pilates class. Then she imagined feeling satisfaction and happiness at taking care of herself.

Lock the new habit by mentally rehearsing from trigger to new behavior to feeling of accomplishment in 1st person. Run it ten times, faster each time, until you do it in under a couple of seconds. This makes the association between trigger and new habit stronger and less conscious.

That's how to form a habit: Make time your schedule, find your trigger, rehearse in 3rd person, and then rehearse it 1st person, all the way through to the good feeling once you've done the new habit. Rehearse until you run it super-fast, to lock in the connection between trigger and behavior.

The Evil Queen lost 35 pounds, and firmed up her abs. She feels great and her blood pressure is way down. She revived Snow White and gave the Seven Dwarves jobs at court where they could apply their diverse points of view to policy advice. They make the story into a documentary, and won an Oscar for Snow White and the Seven Secrets to a Great Six Pack.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!


Habit image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.