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Use the habit pairing strategy to your advantage

Using the habit pairing strategy to accomplish your goals

As runners, we are lucky enough to have a hobby we can do almost whenever we want – unfettered by opening times, budgets, and even daylight hours. And as a result, many of us have a well-formed, fairly consistent “running habit” on one or more days of the week. While establishing such a habit is admirable in itself, you can actually take it one step further, and leverage that habit to form a whole new one.

This is called habit pairing, and it’s an incredibly powerful tool you can use to build up habits easier and faster than if you’re trying to simply create a habit where one did not exist before.

Habit pairing is, essentially, exactly what it sounds like: two behaviors go together, and one does not happen without the other. For example, you  decide you only watch The Big Bang Theory if you are stretching, and when you’re stretching, you must be watching The Big Bang Theory. 

That’s one way to use the habit pairing strategy to cement something you’d like to do. But you can also supercharge this method, by pairing something you already do regularly, like running, with something else you’d like to start doing, like learning about a new subject. Simply decide that every time you run, you will listen to a podcast episode on the topic. Or that every time you walk into your house after a run, you will Google the answer to a question you have on the topic.

Here are some more behaviors you can consider pairing with your “running habit”:

  • Strength training or speedwork.
  • Meditation or a gratitude practice.
  • Yoga or stretching.

It’s important to note, for this strategy to work, it’s crucial the two things always go together. You don’t have to perform exactly the same activity for the same length of time in each instance, but it has to be present. For example,  if you choose to pair yoga and running but you only want to do a full-length yoga session once a week, make sure to do at least one yoga pose after every run to cement the two habits together.

Of course, the more related the two things are (i.e., running and stretching) the easier this technique is to use and the more likely it is to be successful. But if you can remember to do it the first few times you go out for your run, you will find it’s much easier to stick with it than if you were simply trying to do it without having anything to anchor it to. Try sticking a reminder note somewhere you always look before going for a run (like the wall where you hang your keys or the shelf where your headphones live). Soon enough you’ll find you don’t need it anymore and the two things will go hand-in-hand.

Once you’ve created your habit pairing, you can actually use this strategy to add, replace, or mix up new habits as you see fit – like a never-ending ladder of self-improvement.

Written by Varia Makagonova.

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