Bipolar & Habits: Secrets to Changing Your Behavior Without Willpower

1 Comment

When you don’t have to rely on motivation or willpower to claw your way through changing an unwanted behavior, things open up. And science has shown that we can hack our own daily, automatic habitual mind to create a new routine.

Photo: Natthapon/Getty Images

The method

To form a lifelong habit, the focus should be on training your brain to succeed at the small adjustments and then celebrating those victories, says BJ Fogg, PhD, the creator of the Tiny Habits Method. To do this, you’ll need to design whatever behavior change you’re keen on making to slip into your existing routine—like brushing your teeth before bed.

Identify the goal and the easy-win behaviors

You first have to identify a very specific desired goal. Next, choose the easy-win behaviors or, as Fogg calls them, the “tiny habits” that will get you to your particular outcome.  These are very small things we can learn to do automatically that we set ourselves up for success—like having a goal of flossing just one tooth after brushing your teeth, or doing just one push-up before getting dressed.


Pick a prompt

Find something you already do as a habit and piggyback the new habit onto it. We can all find things we do every single day—make coffee, brush our teeth, go to the washroom, get dressed etc… then graft a new, small habit onto this daily habit. Start modest and add something to a regular activity slowly, until it too becomes automatic.

Intentional mind vs habitual mind

Our habits are deeply engrained in all of us. In fact, studies show that about 40 percent of the time we’re not thinking about what we’­re doing—we’re using our habitual mind, says psychology professor Wendy Wood. Therefore, if we’re cognizant of this and try to engage our intentional mind, we can be more in control of our behavior.

Disrupt old cues and create new ones

You must first derail existing bad habits and create a window of opportunity to act on new intentions, explains Wood. When the cues for existing habits are removed, it’s easier to form a new behavior. For example, if your goal is healthy eating, “try moving unhealthy foods to a top shelf out of reach, or to the back of the freezer instead of in front.”

Celebrate the small victories

In behavioral science, giving rewards for actions along the pathway toward the ultimate desired behavior produces more of that behavior. A familiar term is “positive reinforcement.” So, while it may seem ridiculous to pat yourself on the back or do a fist pump for flossing just one tooth, this praising (especially out loud) has been shown to pave the way to another action further along the path to your goal.

More on changing behaviors:

Get Your Momentum Going

Three Bipolar Disorder Symptoms No One Wants to Talk About

3 Things People with Bipolar Disorder Shouldn’t Do

1 Comment
  1. Wow! Praising yourself does work…a little. I say a little because I never did it before, especially out loud. It did feel kinda weird, no I’ll be honest, I felt a little stupid actually, but I’ll try it again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Please do not use your full name, as it will be displayed. Required fields are marked *