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Patrik Edblad

How to Start a New Habit: The Power of Scheduling

in Habits

How many times have you tried creating a new habit only to see your good intentions disappear as soon as your initial inspiration fizzles out?

If you’re like me, your answer will be something along the lines of ’loads of times’!!

If only we didn’t make life so difficult for ourselves and used the right strategies in the first place, change wouldn’t have to be so hard to achieve.

One thing I’ve learned, while studying behaviour design over the last couple of years, is that the best strategies for change are often also the simplest.

The strategy of scheduling your new habits is no exception. It’s so simple that it’s easy to overlook and yet it’s perhaps the most effective strategy I know of to help create and stay with them.

What Flu Shots Can Teach Us About New Habits

A great example of why scheduling is such a powerful strategy comes from a team of researchers who conducted a study (1) within a large company of more than 3,000 people.

The researchers began the experiment by sending these employees questionnaires asking when they were going to have their annual flu shot.

The participants were divided into three groups and each group was given a different version of the questionnaire.

  • The first group was asked to provide the date on which they were going to get their flu injection. They might have been something like;  ”I am going to get my flu shot on May 4th”.
  • The second group was asked to provide the date and the time they were getting their flu shot. Their answer might have been; ”I am going to have my flu shot on May 4th at 2 p.m”.
  • The third group received a message that only reminded them about taking their flu shot this year but were not asked to provide any date or time.

The results were very interesting. Compared with the third group, the people in the first group were more than twice as likely to follow through and get their flu shot. The people in the second group were more than four times (!!) as likely.

In other words, the more specific people were about what they were going to do, the more likely they were to actually do it.

The Power of Scheduling

For most people, having something appear on their schedule has a bit of magic to it. For some reason, that little bit of text makes you so much more likely to follow through.

You can use this to your advantage by adding anything to your personal schedule which you would like to have as a habit.

Instead of just telling yourself that you’re going to go to the gym today, get it down in writing. Specify the exact date, time and place where it will be happening.

Doing this kind of pre-commitment forces you to take stock of how much time you actually have on a given day. This way of scheduling reduces the chance of falling for the ‘planning fallacy’  – our tendency to underestimate how much time things usually take.

Another benefit of scheduling is that it eliminates energy depleting decisions later. Research has shown that decisions, even trivial ones, decrease our mental energy. When you commit to a schedule, you free up a lot of mental energy that can be used for more important decisions than whether to go to the gym or not.

How to Start a New Habit

If you’re thinking to yourself right now; ’Hmm yeah, that sounds interesting’, I encourage you to take action right now.

It’s one thing to know all of this (which makes no difference) and quite another to put it into practice in your own life (which makes all the difference).

Get your calendar or schedule right now. If you don’t have one, iCal (for Mac) or Google Calendar are great alternatives.

Think of the habit you would most want to create for yourself and then write it down in your schedule.

The flu shot study shows exactly what I have found to be true in my own habit creation pursuits:

What gets scheduled, gets done.

Footnotes

  1. Using implementation intentions prompts to enhance influenza vaccination rates