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How to Form Habits

When a behavior becomes automatic with or without the person's intention, that behavior is a habit. If you take note of your behavior, you'll realize that many things you do regularly are likely habits ranging from brushing your teeth to the music you listen to. In this post, we will learn how to acquire new habits and lose old ones.

When a behavior becomes automatic with or without the person's intention, that behavior is a habit.

If you take note of your behavior, you'll realize that many things you do regularly are likely habits ranging from brushing your teeth to the music you listen to.

In this post, we will learn how to acquire new habits and lose old ones.

The Habit Process

Acquiring a habit can be broken into three parts: cue, routine & reward.

For example, when you feel stressed (cue) by a situation, you'll respond by smoking (routine) which reduces your stress levels (reward). And every time you engage in this three-part cycle, you make the habit stronger and more challenging to get rid of.

Charles Duhigg popularised this three-part cycle/loop in his best-selling book "The Power of Habit."

Building Good Habits

The way to build valuable habits is by manipulating the "habit-loop" into favoring you.

Attach to an existing habit

The best way to get started is by attaching habits you want to develop with habits you already possess.

For example, when you are done brushing your teeth in the morning, adding a quick 2-minute stretch to it would be good. Your old habit essentially becomes the "cue" to which you add a new "routine" for a "reward."

Once you have attached the activity to an existing habit, you'll automatically be prompted to engage in that activity.

Make the cue obvious

When you create a new habit, it is essential to make the cue that kicks off the loop as obvious as possible.

For example, if you are looking to start working out every morning, don't just set up a reminder, but rather add exactly what that reminder is for and what to do. So the reminder, in this case, would read something like "Workout starts in 15 minutes."  instead of just "Reminder + time"

Take tiny actions

The idea behind this hack is to make it so easy to do the task that skipping it barely crosses your mind.

Let's say you want to start meditating; then you can start by meditating for one minute every time you get the cue instead of beginning with a 10-minute set.

A one-minute set feels so easy to do that you will likely not think about skipping it or procrastinating.

Be regular & frequent

Not every day is the same, and execution might not be consistent all the time, but to build strong habits, you'll have to show up regularly even if you don't necessarily do it perfectly all the time.

Research has shown that habit formation takes shorter when there is a high execution frequency and vice-versa. So if you are looking to start meditating, then a 5-minute session 30 days in a row would lead to much better results than 10-minute sessions every 2-3 days for 60 days.

So pick an app like Routine and schedule the task for every day at a specific time until a future date and stick to the schedule even if it means not doing it perfectly sometimes. If you don't have access to Routine, sign up using the sign-up box below.

Reward generously

The habit loop is incomplete without a reward for completion. Hence, reward yourself generously when you are at the climax of a loop.

Something as simple as checking off the task from a list will suffice, but it would be better if you could go a bit further and maybe play your favorite track. When you make the reward worthy, it adds motivation to go through the routine.

Also, when you hit more significant milestones in your habit formation journey, make sure the rewards reflect that significance.

Habit formation in action

Let's quickly look at how you can form a habit, step-by-step. In this case, we will look at developing a journaling habit.

  1. Start by identifying the 3-parts of the habit loop. Cue: You finish your dinner, Routine: You write the journal, Reward: You play your favorite music track.
  2. Make the cue obvious by keeping the journal close to the place you'll end up sitting right after dinner.
  3. Keep the habit small to start with, so in this case, that could be writing two lines describing your day.
  4. Do not skip the habit during the weekend; pick up the book and write the entry even if it is not with the most flattering handwriting.
  5. Soon as you are done journaling, mark your calendar or check off the task an app like Routine; this will help you track it.
  6. After accomplishing the task, play your favorite track as a reward.
  7. Repeat the entire process.

This is a simple yet science-backed route to sustainably forming and maintaining habits.

What are your thoughts on this process? Tweet at us @RoutineHQ.

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