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How to create a Habit

How to create a habit

Adopting new habits is only ever difficult for one of two reasons:

  1. You don’t understand how habits are structured and how to leverage that structure to your advantage.
  2. You are attempting to do too much too soon and setting yourself up for failure.

Let’s break both of these points down in greater detail.

1. The Structure of Habits

All habits can be broken down into three basic components:

  1. The Cue or Trigger: This is the part of the habit loop where you are triggered to take some sort of action through a cue in your internal or external environment.
  2. The Action: Good or bad, this is the part of the habit loop where you actually take action on the habit you want to adopt or drop.
  3. The Reward: This is the part of the habit loop where your brain receives a reward for taking the desired activity (or not as you will see in just a second).

Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, and an expert on behavioral psychology suggests that most people fail to adopt new habits because they do not understand the structure of habits.

More specifically, most people fail to adequately reward themselves for taking action on a beneficial habit.

Think about it this way…

Most addictive and destructive habits have a built in reward system that requires little or no input from you.

Smoking a cigarette, snorting cocaine, or drinking yourself into oblivion are all easy habits to adopt because they light up your brain with the neurotransmitter dopamine (and a slew of other pleasure chemicals).

These substances naturally reward your brain and encourage continued usage even though they are detrimental to your overall health and well being.

On the other hand, many positive habits such as exercise, meditation, focused work, and healthy eating don’t have immediately obvious rewards.

Yes, after extended practice, exercise, meditation, and focused work will all become activities that naturally stimulate your brain in positive ways and reward you for taking action.

But they need a little bit of help to get started.

For example, studies have shown that consuming a small amount of chocolate post-workout releases similar chemicals and neurotransmitters to those that will eventually be released by the workout itself.

Finding a motivating reward can be applied to any habit if you are creative enough:

  • Eat dark chocolate after your workout.
  • Buy a time based coffee maker that has a fresh cup brewed when you wake up.
  • Reward yourself with 15 minutes of gaming after an intense 90 minute work session.

If you are struggling to make a new habit stick, then you probably are’t aware or consciouly applying the habit loop.

Before moving on to the next point, ask yourself three simple questions.

  1. What are some cues that I can setup in my environment to remind me to take action?
  2. What are some ways I can limit the barrier to action for my desired habit? (E.g. working out from home so you don’t have to commute to the gym.)
  3. How can I reward myself in a positive way that will encourage me to continue pursuing these habits?

If you have seriously contemplated and applied all of these questions and you still can’t make your habit stick… Then you are probably making this mistake:

Setting Unrealistic Goals and Expectations

What would you say if one of your friends came to you and shared the following goals:

  • “I’m going to build a $1 Billion business in 12 months even though I’ve never even launched a profitable company!”
  • “I’m going to run a marathon in 3 months even though I need to lose 50 lbs. and haven’t gone running since high school.”
  • “I’m going to go out and successfully date a Victoria’s Secret Model even though I’m terrified of women and haven’t gone on a date in 2 years”

I don’t know about you, but I would probably laugh them out of the room (lovingly of course).

These goals seem absurd and completely unachievable to the outside viewer, however, these goals are very similar to the habits that most people set.

Think about it.

Habits are effectively just daily goals and most people’s “goals” sound something like this:

  • “Even though I haven’t worked out in years, I’m going to train 6 days a week for 90 minutes and become a bodybuilder.”
  • “Even though I eat fast food 4 times a day right now, I’m going to eliminate all processed foods and eat salad 5 times a day.”
  • “Even though my body is used to waking up at 9 a.m., I’m going to start waking up at 5 a.m. every single day starting tomorrow.”

When you think about them in this way, most people’s approach to forming new habits is so blatantly absurd it’s not even funny.

So what are you supposed to do?

Well, if you really want to make your new habits stick, then you need to be honest with yourself and approach your new habits in a realistic and progressive way (after all life is a marathon, not a sprint).

Here’s a simple 5-step process for creating any habit (courtesy of Mr. James Clear).

1) Make it So Small You Can’t Fail

Most people try to change too much too quickly.

The real key to making a habit stick is to make it so small that you can’t say no.

If you want to get in shape, start by doing one push up.

If you want to become smarter, start by reading one page.

If you want to build a business, start by prospecting for one minute a day.

Set yourself up for success and make your new habits so easy to achieve that they are impossible to fail.

2) Apply the Compound Effect to Your Habits

If you were to take the habits listed above and compound them by only 1% each day, in one year you would have improved each habit roughly 37%.

While that might not seem like a lot, if you compare this progress using something easy to understand - say finances - that’s the difference between making $100,000 a year and $137,000 a year!

If you were to extend the compounding effect to 10 years, you would start off earning $100,000 a year and $1,370,000 a year!

3) Break Big Habits Down

If you continue compounding habits, you will make dramatic improvements in the first 2–3 months.

But it’s important that you keep your habits easy and reasonable.

For example, if your goal is to write your new book for 60 minutes a day, break the 60 minutes in four 15 minute chunks that you complete throughout the day.

If you want to do 100 pull-ups a day, do 10 sets of 10 to make the habit easier to complete.

4) Never Miss Twice

Look, you WILL mess up and slip on your habits.

And it’s OK.

The rule of thumb is that when you fail, you get back on the horse immediately so that you never miss twice.

It’s ok to miss one workout this week, but don’t you dare let it extend to 2 or 3.

It’s fine to miss one day of meditation practice, but you had better plant your butt on a yoga mat tomorrow.

If you follow the rule of “Never Miss Twice” you can fail your way to any goal you desire.

5) Be Patient and Find a Sustainable Pace

If you are reading this and you are under the age of 40, then chances are very high that you will live past 100 years old.

So why in the world do you feel the need to rush everything in your life?

Greatness takes time, building an exceptional life takes time, and building exceptional habits that make you an exceptional human being take time.

Instead of fighting this law, work with it.

Play the long game, be patient, and go at a sustainable pace.

As you’ve already seen, even a 1% daily improvement will have a huge payout if you stick with it for long enough.

So be patient and remember that slow and steady wins the race.

18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick

Wouldn’t it be nice to have everything run on autopilot? Chores, exercise, eating healthy and getting your work done just happening automatically. Unless they manage to invent robot servants, all your work isn’t going to disappear overnight. But if you program behaviors as new habits you can take out the struggle.

With a small amount of initial discipline, you can create a new habit that requires little effort to maintain. Here are some tips for creating new habits and making them stick:

1. Commit to Thirty Days

Three to four weeks is all the time you need to make a habit automatic. If you can make it through the initial conditioning phase, it becomes much easier to sustain. A month is a good block of time to commit to a change since it easily fits in your calendar.

2. Make it Daily

Consistency is critical if you want to make a habit stick. If you want to start exercising, go to the gym every day for your first thirty days. Going a couple times a week will make it harder to form the habit. Activities you do once every few days are trickier to lock in as habits.


3. Start Simple

Don’t try to completely change your life in one day. It is easy to get over-motivated and take on too much. If you wanted to study two hours a day, first make the habit to go for thirty minutes and build on that.

4. Remind Yourself

Around two weeks into your commitment it can be easy to forget. Place reminders to execute your habit each day or you might miss a few days. If you miss time it defeats the purpose of setting a habit to begin with.

5. Stay Consistent

The more consistent your habit the easier it will be to stick. If you want to start exercising, try going at the same time, to the same place for your thirty days. When cues like time of day, place and circumstances are the same in each case it is easier to stick.

6. Get a Buddy

Find someone who will go along with you and keep you motivated if you feel like quitting.

7. Form a Trigger

A trigger is a ritual you use right before executing your habit. If you wanted to wake up earlier, this could mean waking up in exactly the same way each morning. If you wanted to quit smoking you could practice snapping your fingers each time you felt the urge to pick up a cigarette.

8. Replace Lost Needs

If you are giving up something in your habit, make sure you are adequately replacing any needs you’ve lost. If watching television gave you a way to relax, you could take up meditation or reading as a way to replace that same need.

9. Be Imperfect

Don’t expect all your attempts to change habits to be successful immediately. It took me four independent tries before I started exercising regularly. Now I love it. Try your best, but expect a few bumps along the way.

10. Use “But”

A prominent habit changing therapist once told me this great technique for changing bad thought patterns. When you start to think negative thoughts, use the word “but” to interrupt it. “I’m no good at this, but, if I work at it I might get better later.”


11. Remove Temptation

Restructure your environment so it won’t tempt you in the first thirty days. Remove junk food from your house, cancel your cable subscription, throw out the cigarettes so you won’t need to struggle with willpower later.

12. Associate With Role Models

Spend more time with people who model the habits you want to mirror. A recent study found that having an obese friend indicated you were more likely to become fat. You become what you spend time around.

13. Run it as an Experiment

Withhold judgment until after a month has past and use it as an experiment in behavior. Experiments can’t fail, they just have different results so it will give you a different perspective on changing your habit.

14. Swish – A technique from NLP

Visualize yourself performing the bad habit. Next visualize yourself pushing aside the bad habit and performing an alternative. Finally, end that sequence with an image of yourself in a highly positive state. See yourself picking up the cigarette, see yourself putting it down and snapping your fingers, finally visualize yourself running and breathing free. Do it a few times until you automatically go through the pattern before executing the old habit.


15. Write it Down

A piece of paper with a resolution on it isn’t that important. Writing that resolution is. Writing makes your ideas more clear and focuses you on your end result.

16. Know the Benefits

Familiarize yourself with the benefits of making a change. Get books that show the benefits of regular exercise. Notice any changes in energy levels after you take on a new diet. Imagine getting better grades after improving your study habits.

17. Know the Pain

You should also be aware of the consequences. Exposing yourself to realistic information about the downsides of not making a change will give you added motivation.

18. Do it For Yourself

Don’t worry about all the things you “should” have as habits. Instead tool your habits towards your goals and the things that motivate you. Weak guilt and empty resolutions aren’t enough.


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