Habit Formation: How to Create Good Habits and Break Bad Ones

No workout or diet will help you if you are not disciplined enough to implement the protocol.  You have to be consistent and consistency requires discipline.  Discipline is hard.  It’s not easy to do something completely new.  You already have eating and workout habits.  But, these habits aren’t helping you.  If they were you wouldn’t be here right now.  

How to Develop New Habits

Do you know how long it takes to create a new habit on average? If your answer is 21 days, then you are incorrect.  It’s actually around 66.  Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, conducted a study on habit formation  The number they came up with was 18-254 days for someone to form a new habit which averaged to around 66 days.  

So in order to form a new habit you can expect it to take around 2 months.  Each person is different so some may form a habit sooner or others may develop the habit much later.  In addition, some habits you try to develop might be more difficult than others and therefore require more time.  

The brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down.  This means less energy the brain has to expend and we as humans like to spend as little energy as possible.  It’s in our best interest to expend as little energy as possible, from an evolutionary perspective.  So it makes sense why habits are formed.

The Habit Loop

The habit loop can be broken down into 3 distinct parts.

1. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use.

2. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional.

3. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future

Over time, this loop – cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward – becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges.

When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making.

So unless you deliberately fight a habit – unless you find new routines – the pattern will unfold automatically.

If you want to develop a new habit you first have to identify an obvious cue.  And then second, you have to define the rewards.

For example this year I wanted to develop the habit of writing everyday.  My cue could be waking up in the morning.  When I wake up in the morning I would open my computer and write 100 words.  That’s it.  

My reward would be a cup of coffee.  

Habits are so powerful because they create neurological cravings. Most of the time, these cravings emerge so gradually that we’re not really aware they exist, so we’re often blind to their influence. But as we associate cues with certain rewards, a subconscious craving emerges in our brains that starts the habit loop spinning.

This is how new habits are created: by putting together a cue, a routine, and a reward, and then cultivating a craving that drives the loop.

But countless studies have shown that a cue and a reward, on their own, aren’t enough for a new habit to last. Only when your brain starts expecting the reward – craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment – will it become automatic to lace up your jogging shoes each morning. The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.

The Habit Formula:

Use this basic formula to create habits:

  1.  Choose a cue- this might be writing when you wake or going  to the gym as soon as you wake.  
  2.  Choose a reward- such as a cup of coffee or  smoothie after you complete writing or working out.
  3.  Anticipate the reward- think about that cup of coffee or smoothie.  Picture in your mind’s eye how enjoyable it will be to have it.  When you anticipate the reward the craving will help you to build your habit

Hack you habits with habit stacking:

To habit stack all you have to do is identify a habit you already do,  For example, brushing your teeth upon waking.  Pair the habit you already do with the new one you want to learn.

Here’s the Habit Stack formula:

“After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”

Breaking Bad Habits

What if you want to break a bad habit?  I can think of a few bad habits that waste my time and energy and just overall don’t help me and I would love to lose them for good.  How do you go about dropping your bad habits?  Well, there’s a formula for that.

Bad Habit Breaking Formula:

1 (Cue): Make it invisible.  If you don’t notice the cue you won’t start the habit loop.

2 (Craving): Make it unattractive.  If you no longer crave the habit, you won’t do it anymore.

3 (Response): Make it difficult. The harder it is to do the less likely you are to do it!

4 (Reward): Make it unsatisfying.  If the reward doesn’t satisfy you there then you will lose interest in the habit

Habits and your environment

Your environment has a large effect on your habits.  For example, if you are trying to create the habit of eating healthier and you have a cupboard stockpiled with junk food (cues to eat unhealthy) then it will be very difficult to create this new habit.

In fact, 90 percent of heroin users become re-addicted once they return home from rehab to their old neighborhood.  They return to the same place where all the same cues are present when they initially got addicted. 

Therefore, if you want to change your habits, start by making changes to your environment.

And that’s it! If you can take away a few concepts from this post then you will be well on your way to creating new, life-lasting habits.  

Good luck!

A lot of this information was based off two books: “Atomic Habits” and “The Power of Habit“. Also, shout out to Derek Sivers website https://sivers.org/book which has great notes on some of the best books out there.

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