A Simple Habit Formula To Transform Your Life

I have a bundle of habits that rule my life.  So do you.

If you think about your brain as a computer, this bundle of habits is an amazing operating system that makes much of life easy.  It operates in the background and does calculations and tasks so you can focus your attention on activities that require greater thought and effort.

I’m so glad I don’t have to think about how to brush my teeth, get dressed, or make my breakfast – they just happen by habit.

We have also developed habits in how we think, speak, and behave in complex areas like relationships.  We developed and accepted these habits because they protected us, kept us safe, or kept us in control. In most cases we created and accepted these habits unconsciously.habits in relationship

These habits may have been effective in the past, yet some outlive their usefulness, especially when we get into relationship with a life partner, who has his or her own bundle of habits.  In the simplest terms, these habits are if-then rules – exactly how a computer works.


  1. If Carol looks at me in a certain way, with her clear, sparkly eyes, then I feel immense love and passion and will want to wisp her away to the bedroom. It just happens.
  2. If Carol has an irritated expression and says in an accusatory voice, “Why did you do that?” then I feel the need to raise my voice and lash out in defense. It just happens.

If #2 happens first, what are the chances that #1 will happen? Hmmm – not for a long time.

Change your habits; change your life.

The first habit example is still part of my operating system.  The second one is not.  I guarantee it has made a huge positive difference in our relationship.

Habits are not hard to change, if you have 3 tools:

  1. Awareness
  2. Formula
  3. Dedication


Without awareness, nothing will change.  Awareness is your willingness to step back from yourself and notice the things that cause you to react negatively, as well as the feelings or sensations in your body and mind just before you react.  This takes courage, accountability, and recognition that no one is to blame.  You have made a choice to react that way in the past, and you can make a different choice next time.


A few years ago, I participated in a webinar by Michael Bungay Stanier. He shared a Simple Habit Formula that has worked exceptionally well for me, and for many of our coaching clients.  What is it?

When _____ (the situation), instead of ­­­­­­_____(past behaviour), I will _____ (new behaviour that takes less than 5 minutes).


In the past, I never flossed my teeth. I’ve been blessed with good teeth.  My dentist?  He encouraged, invited, and promoted flossing for many health reasons – even gave me the floss.  I decided to apply the formula.

When I brush my teeth at night, instead of going directly to bed, I will wrap the floss around my fingers and floss between 2 teeth.

Easy. I felt stupid standing with the floss on my fingers and only doing between 2 teeth.  So, I did them all.  Very soon, it was a new habit. I haven’t missed a day since.

I had a habit of interrupting Carol, and finishing her sentences.  The results were not desirable – especially for Carol.  I decided to apply the formula.

When I catch myself opening my mouth to interrupt, instead of continuing and proving my rightness, I will apologize, shut up, and LISTEN.

Very soon, it was a new habit.

I had a habit of becoming very defensive when someone would question my reasons or motives for doing something a certain way. I was aware that just before my reaction, I felt tension in my jaws, and nausea in my guts. I decided to apply the formula.

When I feel tension in my jaws and nausea, instead of lashing out, I will take a deep breath, say to myself, “I’m safe and OK” and ask the other person politely and respectfully to explain more about what they mean.couple communication

In every case, the tone of the conversation has softened and we’ve had creative dialogue.


It can be easy to allow awareness to wane and fall back into your old habits. A situation occurs or something is said, and whammo, the old habit hijacks your brain. This is the perfect time to catch yourself, apologize, state your intention of what you’d like to happen instead, and apply the new habit again.  This takes courage because you may perceive yourself as vulnerable or weak.  Actually, this indicates immense strength of character because you are striving for a better outcome.

Change your habits; change your life.

You and I have the ability, knowledge, and tools we need to program our own operating systems to be the absolute best.  I can do it, and so can you. It may not always be easy or convenient, yet the rewards make it so worthwhile.

I’ve got a new habit which means this article must end.

When the snow is good and the sun is shining, instead of working until after dark, I will put on my cross-country ski boots.  Since I’ve got them on, I might as well go for a ski.

Change your habits; change your life.


Terry and May McDonald

Dan, I always like to see your post, but do not often reply. It keeps me connected to good neighbors.
Terry and I have been married for nearly fifty five years, best friends for fifty seven years and never had any serious conflict! How fortunate we are, perhaps the fact that both of us come from loving families is a factor. Perhaps also the fact that in 1963 marriage was a commitment, not a try out.
Keep’em coming, you do a lot of good!


Hi May,
Huge congratulations to you and Terry. Yes you absolutely are fortunate to both come from loving families. You also are being powerful role models to your kids, grandkids, and on and on. It makes a big difference, yet many people are not that fortunate. I love your comment about marriage being a commitment and not a try out. Wrap it all in one word, Love.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *