Many new customers join our monthly tea subscription with the intention of drinking more tea to improve their wellbeing. That might be from a physiological perspective because of the body-friendly nutrients in tea, or to support their mental health by using tea to introduce more downtime into their busy day. Or both.
But then, a common reason given for skipping or cancelling deliveries is that many people can’t get through their tea, despite the quantity only lasting half of the month when drunk daily.
How is it then, when people have the intention of drinking more tea, and the quantity of tea is manageable, that they find themselves with a back-log of tea?
The challenge of developing new habits - and how to succeed
New habits, particularly those that improve our health, are really hard to form. It takes a lot more than a strong intention and good willpower.
After exploring research around habit formation, Harvey discovered that a new habit is created when a ‘situational cue’ triggers us to do something automatically, without us having to be consciously-deliberate about it. Think about your daily habits – putting your seatbelt on (habit) as soon as you jump in the car (situational cue), switching the kettle on for your morning tea or coffee when you start making your breakfast. We generally carry out these actions without thinking. (1)
“To form a new habit, we need to repeat an action consistently, in the same context”, says Harvey. “Researchers have found that with repetition, the mental effort to initiate a new habit gets easier, and over time the action becomes second nature.” (2)
Once you have done something a large number of times, the habit is wired into our brain, in an area called the striatum within our basal ganglia*, which sits in the central, lower part of our brain. The striatum drives the behaviour (the habit), like a reflex reaction, reducing the need to think about it (and also making it hard to stop once a habit forms). (3)
Creating a new tea habit
If we have the intention of drinking more tea, or switching to a different style of tea, how can we make this new habit wired into our striatum?
A simple way I like to think about it is to attach your new, desired habit on to an existing habit (or ‘situational cue’).
For example, I want to drink more matcha – mainly due to its abundant health benefits. I have a strong intention, I have ready access to good quality, great tasting matcha, but I still only drink it once, maybe twice a week. Understanding the above, I need to find an existing habit to attach my matcha imbibing to, to increase my chance of success.
I work from home, so I am going use my existing habit of putting my lunch dishes in the dishwasher to then trigger my matcha preparation. Everything I need is already in my kitchen where my dishwasher is, so feels like a good situational cue to choose. And I have lunch at home most days, so it should be easy to repeat frequently. Choosing this time of day may also have an additional benefit of reducing my ‘post-lunch slump’, thanks to the bountiful levels of L-theanine and caffeine in matcha.
I’ll let you know how I get on and how many times I need to repeat it before it becomes an automatic habit.
There are many reasons why drinking more tea is a great idea. All you need is to decide which of your existing habits to use as your cue to switch the kettle on.
Citations and notes
* The basal ganglia are a group of structures in our brain responsible for a variety of cognitive, emotional, and movement-related functions. Source: https://www.neuroscientificallychallenged.com/blog/what-are-basal-ganglia accessed 10/02/2021
(1,2) Blog: How to make healthy habits stick, Shannon Harvey, 10/12/2014. Accessed 09/02/2021. Bold emphasis my own.
(3) National Institutes of Health. Accessed 10/02/2021 from MedicalExpress.com