How to Develop Essential Habits – Bright Lines

Bright Lines is an extremely effective concept for adopting new habits or changing detrimental behaviours.

When we want to make a change in our life, we might not be sure exactly how we’re going to do it. We know something is off and we make an attempt to change it – but somehow we revert back to our old habits. Maybe because there’s too much stress in our life or we don’t even know where exactly we want to go. Or maybe because our why (the reason we want to change) simply isn’t strong enough. Bright Lines help in all of these cases!

So what is it about? It is about having Rules that are very clear. This means that when you want to change something in your life – instead of making a weak or unclear decision – you make a very strong and clear one. Instead of grey you make it black and white. An example:

You want to improve your health and maybe reduce your sugar intake: A bright line is to not eat any products that contain additional sugar on the label. You would still be able to eat natural products like honey (depends on where you draw your line of course). So each time you now make an eating decision, or when you’re shopping:

  • you have absolute clarity. You know which foods are okay and which are not. When you pick something up and read the label – you don’t have to think about it and use willpower. Instead you can very easily make a decision based on this Bright Line that you’ve established for yourself.
  • you save willpower. This is especially important in the beginning when establishing a new habit. Changing your behaviour takes effort and your brain likes to do what it’s used to and what feels comfortable – especially when under stress.[1] It can already be challenging enough to change our eating habits – if you don’t have clarity about how you’re going to do this then you are going to make it even more difficult for yourself! With Bright Lines the temptation to break your resolve is going to be much weaker, because you have clear rules!
  • you make it actionable. When you’re standing in the shop – you know what to do and you take action. You put the product in question back into the shelf and you get something else. That’s a clear action that will get you closer to your goal. It’s a beginning and the change is now real. Well done!

If you follow this strategy then changing your behaviour becomes easy. I’m not kidding here. I’m using this a lot in my own life and compared to making changes when you are lacking clarity it is like day and night! It makes change so much more effective when you establish Bright Lines and clear rules for your own behaviour.

How do we implement this?

1) Decide. You make a clear choice. What is your Bright Line to optimally support your goal going to be? It needs to be right for you. Not for somebody else or dependent on what other people think. You’ve got to feel: “This is a good decision. This supports me with my goal(s)!” Your goal? That’s the WHY. The magic here is not in the Bright Lines concept, but the magic is in the WHY. If your why is strong enough – if your reasons are convincing you will be successful. Your why includes:

  • Negative consequences if you fail or don’t change your behaviour. Maybe you’ll get sick or don’t like how you look or you don’t have a lot of energy and feel lethargic most of the time. Realistically, if you don’t change, these things are going to get even worse. You need a very strong why in order to gain leverage for change. You’ve got to clearly see: “Yes this is affecting me, this is very negative if I continue and I am going to suffer.” You’ve got to make this clear to yourself. You have got to be realistic and face the facts honestly, using your best judgement. It’s a little uncomfortable, but necessary.
  • Positive consequences if you do follow through and change: “I’m going to have more energy, I’m going to feel happier and more emotionally balanced. My mind is going to be clearer. I’m going to be more healthy and feel great about myself.” You need to really get clear on the details of your WHY. Best write it down in handwriting so that it can sink in! This is what’s going to make the shift happen in your life. This is extremely important. If the why is not in place then this whole concept is not going to work.

2) Ignore. Disregard what other people tell you. If you start employing Bright Lines people might get irritated. Your friends might say: “What? You don’t eat any sugar? Isn’t that a bit extreme? Come on…” People might feel a little uneasy (they can smell that you’re changing things up!). From my own experience? Bright lines work. Period. If you make a clear decision it might seem extreme – but so what? The main thing is that it works. In the beginning you need these bright lines to support your change. Once your behaviour has aligned and your identity has shifted (to one that supports healthy or successful actions by default, actions that align with your vision for your life) and you feel like: “I don’t really crave these sugary snacks that much anymore” – then you can be more casual about things. You can have a snack here and there and it’s not going to be so bad. But chances are you won’t enjoy it so much anymore (I warned you right?). If we don’t have this Bright Line in the beginning however and listen to our friends then we might fall back to our old behaviour. So that’s very dangerous! In the beginning these strong and clear rules give you a lot of security and orientation. They help you to be successful in changing your behaviour and habits.

So when it comes to other people giving you advice: Only listen to someone who is already successful in what you want to accomplish. Is he or she succeeding in changing their habits? Is that person having healthy eating habits? If not – it’s best to disregard their advice. It’s not going to lead you where you want to go. Even if this sounds harsh and if it’s a good friend or even a family member. Be friendly and say: “Thank you for sharing, I need to do it my way. I’ve got to learn by myself how to do this.” Then you just follow through on your own best judgement. That’s going to get you where you want to go.

3) Improve. It’s like learning to throw darts. You’re not going to be immediately successful all the time. There’s going to be challenges, you may partially revert back to your old habits and that’s okay. As long as you are getting up again!  It’s important to remember that this is a learning process. You’re throwing darts and the better you get at it the more often you are going to hit the center. You need to track what you are doing, so that you know if you are actually succeeding or not! I suggest pulling out a calendar and decide: “For 30 days I am going to avoid anything where it says “sugar” (or glucose syrup and similar processed stuff) on the label.” Or:  “For 20 days I am going to take the stairs over electric staircases and elevators.” (That might be challenging if you work in a skyscraper so be careful with what you commit to!). Then for each successful day you draw an X (VERY satisfying).

Another important thing about daily habits: If you want to establish a strong and solid habit then you’ve got to do it daily. You’ve got to make a streak: 20 days or 30 days, whatever you chose. If you feel uncertain you can go for 7 days but I suggest a longer time. It is better to set a small goal and keep doing it for longer than a big one for a shorter time! Then IF you miss a day for whatever reason (something very unexpected happened or you got sick), the next day you have to make doing your habit your top #1 priority. You’ve got to just schedule it and get it done so that you keep your streak alive. This is crucial for building the new habit and reconditioning yourself!

So as you start applying this concept in your own life you’re going to:

  1. Find out your why.
  2. Make clear rules and a strong decision.
  3. Ignore what other people tell you as you’ve got to find out for yourself how things (especially your mind) work. Back away from people’s advice who aren’t successful in what you want to accomplish.
  4. Lastly you need to constantly improve and track what you’re doing. Put down that X – every single day. Make a streak. This way you check that you are succeeding. If you fall off then you’ve got to make it a priority to get back on the horse. Simply make it your top priority the next day to keep your streak alive. This is crucial!

There’s going to be ups and downs in the process – you don’t knwo what exactly is going to happen and how things will unfold. You are going to learn a lot about yourself! Yet with Bright Lines you now have a very strong and useful guideline for changing your behaviour. I wish you much success with letting go of self-sabotaging behaviours and adopting healthy and supportive habits. So that you can have an amazing impact! Not only on your own life but also on the lives of others!




“Stress has been shown to increase habitual behavior— for better or worse! Two experiments at UCLA and one at Duke University found that stress increased people’s gravitation toward habitual behavior. Based on her study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Quinn, J. M., A. T. Pascoe, W. Wood, & D. T. Neal. Can’t control yourself? Monitor those bad habits. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. (2010).), Professor Wendy Wood argues: “People can’t make decisions easily when stressed, are low in willpower or feeling overwhelmed. When you are too tired to make a decision, you tend to just repeat what you usually do.” This holds true for both good and bad habits and is a crucial insight for their importance in our lives.”
Guise, Stephen. Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results

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