Mastering the Art of Habits

Mastering the Art of Habits: Tips and Strategies for Sustainable Change

Did you know that unless you make your goals part of your routine and turn them into habits then 70% of you will fail to achieve them? 

Building Good Habits for a Healthier Life

As the new year approaches, many of you, like us, will be setting yourself goals. You may set yourself the goal to become fitter or eat healthier, or even change your career. But did you know that unless you make this intention part of your routine and turn it into a habit then 70% of you will fail to achieve your goals?

So how do you go about turning these goals into habits, so that they become part of your routines to the point where you’re not even consciously thinking about it; like brushing your teeth?

In this blog, we outline the science behind creating healthy habits, so that you can succeed in achieving your goals. 

How to build good habits a ladder

How do we form habits?

Most of us brush our teeth before going to bed, we do this action without thinking. That’s because it’s become a habit, it’s etched into our brains and has become an automatic part of our routine.

But there is some science behind this. Habits are formed through a process called habit formation; researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology found “a three-step neurological pattern that forms the core of every habit”: the cue, the routine, and the reward, known as “The Habit Loop”.

  1. The cue: this is the trigger that initiates the habit. It can be a specific time of day, a certain location, an emotional state, or something else that prompts you to perform the habit. 

  2. The routine: this is the actual behaviour or action that you perform.

  3. The reward: this is the positive outcome or benefit that you receive from performing the habit. It can be something tangible, like saving money, or intangible, like a feeling of accomplishment or a sense of calm.


The habit loop a diagram

Over time, your brain begins to associate the cue with the routine and the reward, and actually turns off the decision-making part, and instead the part of the brain that controls memories and pattern recognition takes over and the habit becomes automatic. The more often you perform the habit, the stronger the connection becomes, and the more likely you are to repeat the habit in the future. 

How long does it take to form a habit?

The length of time it takes to form a habit can vary depending on the individual and the complexity of the habit. Some research suggests that it takes an average of 66 days for a habit to become automatic, but this can vary from 18 days to 254 days depending on the person and the habit.

Factors that can influence the length of time it takes to form a habit include:

  1. The complexity of the habit: Simple habits tend to be easier to form than complex ones.

  2. The frequency of the habit: Habits performed daily are more likely to become automatic than those performed less frequently.

  3. The individual's age, personality, and lifestyle: Some people may be more prone to forming habits than others.

  4. The presence of supportive factors: Having a clear goal, a specific plan, and a supportive environment can all help facilitate habit formation.

Ultimately, the length of time it takes to form a habit is dependent on a variety of factors, and it may take longer or shorter for different habits and different people.

Why we break habits? 

There are many reasons why people may break habits, including:

Lack of motivation or desire to change: Without a clear reason or desire to change a habit, it can be difficult to maintain the effort required to stick with it. Ask yourself how committed you are in wanting to achieve a goal. There is a difference between a should and a must. Changing your mindset to ‘must’ can help make a habit last. If you’re clear about the why and understand the end goal or result you’re trying to achieve, then the positives that come from this keeps you on the right track.

Lack of time or resources: If you don't have the time or resources to perform a habit consistently, it can be hard to keep it up. If you make something too hard to achieve or set your sights too high to start with, then you’re already setting yourself up for a failure. If a behaviour is too hard to maintain then chances are you’ll give up on it when your motivation starts to falter. However, by making it easier and taking smaller steps your motivation remains steady.

Lack of support or accountability: Having a support system or accountability partner can help you stay on track, so if you don't have this, it may be harder to maintain a habit.

Too much stress or other distractions: If you're dealing with a lot of stress or other distractions, it can be hard to prioritize your habits.

Not seeing results/rewards: If you don't see any progress or rewards from your habit, it can be hard to stay motivated. If a behaviour is followed by a reward, then you’re more likely to repeat it and create a habit. The external reward could be praise from friends or family, or a bigger bank balance. Whereas, an internal reward could be the release of dopamine, the feel-good chemical in your brain. Without these benefits or rewards your brains aren’t working to remember the new behaviour.

Boredom or monotony: If the habit becomes monotonous or boring, it may be more difficult to stick with it.

Change in circumstances: Life circumstances can change, and this may make it harder to maintain certain habits especially if your routine has been disrupted.

By understanding the factors that can lead to habit breaking, you can be better equipped to overcome these challenges and maintain healthy habits.

Steps to help form habits and reach our goals 

By following these steps, you can increase your chances of successfully forming habits and reaching your goals:

Quote - We are what we repeatedly do

Step 1

  1. Identify your goals: Clearly define what you want to achieve and why it's important to you.

Step 2

  1. Ensure your goals are SMART: Set specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely goals. Choose a specific time and place to perform the habit each day.

Step 3

  1. Make a plan: Decide on specific habits that will help you reach your goals and create a plan for how you will incorporate these habits into your daily routine.

Step 4

  1. Incorporate new behaviours into existing habits: can you link a new behaviour into an existing habit so that this new action becomes part of your automatic routine? If you make a coffee every morning, then while the coffee brews can you do a quick five-minute workout? Not only is this easy to undertake, and therefore making it more achievable, it’s using the time you’ve already allocated in your day. If you make a coffee without thinking about it, then adding in 5 minutes’ worth of stretches each morning during this time will eventually help turn this exercise into part of your existing habit. 

Step 5

  1. Set reminders: set up notifications on your phone, put up sticky notes around the house or set up meetings for yourself in your diary – whichever works for you. These reminders are the first step in the habit loop we explained earlier. Having cues or triggers help pave the way for turning a behaviour into a habit. 

Step 6

  1. Find accountability: Find a friend, family member, or coach who can hold you accountable and support you as you work towards your goals.

Step 7

  1. Track your progress: You are more likely to repeat the behaviour and form a habit if you can see the rewards and benefits. Use a journal, app, or other tracking tool to monitor your progress so you can see the results for yourself, this will also allow you to identify areas where you may need to adjust your behaviour.

Step 8

  1. Celebrate your wins: Don’t forget to celebrate your achievements along the way! This can help keep you motivated and encourage you to continue working towards your goals. And don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up – just get back on track as soon as possible.

Step 9

  1. Start small: It's easier to stick with a habit if you start with small, achievable steps. Focus on one habit at a time. Make the habit easy to do at first, then gradually increase the difficulty as you get better at it. A technique that you can use is to create microhabits: “incremental adjustments that (over time) move you closer to achieving your goals. Think of them like stepping-stones that lead to your final destination.” Microhabits are small, simple habits that are easy to perform and only take a few minutes to complete.

Examples of microhabits could be:

+ Drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning.

+ Doing a few stretches before getting in or out of bed.

+ Charging your phone away from you when you’re working or when in bed, so you’re not tempted to keep checking on social media.

+ Doing five push-ups or sit-ups every time you make a coffee.

+ Spending two minutes a day focusing on your breathing. This could be when you’re showering or waiting for public transport or stuck in traffic. Mindful breathing can help improve stress levels and give you a sense of calm.

+ Taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

By starting with small, easy habits, you can build momentum and gradually work towards larger goals.


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Published 29 December 2022

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