We live based on habits. Understanding how to build good habits is essential for your development and progress.
In this step-guide on how to build good habits, we'll introduce the art of habit building and the importance of them.
(This post is mainly inspired in Atomic Habits, James Clear)
The Art of Building Good Habits
As routinary life beings, 40% of all our behaviours are based on habits (study).
Habits set our path and shape our life.
They are extremely important for your development and growth, enabling to keep up and continuously improve towards our goals.
Popular expressions such as "One apple a day keeps the doctor away" have suggested for years the importance of habits.
Habits help people improve their lifes and achieve their goals. But not all habits are good, and bad habits can also compromise our growth and development, being the root of a lot of our problems (study)
Life is not a sprint, it's a marathon. Good habits will provide energy as you move on through your race, bad habits will take up your energy.
The Habit Loop
The Art of Building Habits follow a four-phase cycle. Each of our daily habits is formed by this loop: cue, craving, reward and response.
Cues trigger the habit. It tells our brain to start doing it. Based on Atomic Habits, J. Clear, cues can be a matter of time, location, preceding event, emotional state or other people.
There are many potential cues for your habits, but choosing the specific one will set the start line of your success.
Find a cue that is obvious, easy to remember and specific for your habits. (E.g. associate grabbing a cup of coffee with reading)
The craving sets your 'need' to do that habit. Everything has to have a why, and when we talk about something you are going to be doing daily, the why becomes even more important.
Our brain responds to the cue and the craving by decide to do the habit you wanted to do.
This is the response, the first action to start our habits.
Finally, the reward. All needs and actions have a reward, which determines the importance of our habit.
If it's not rewarding, we won't do it for long. And to have a big reward, the need (craving) must be big as well.
Characteristics of a Good Habit
Before starting a new habit, you should assess if it's a good or a bad one.
At the end of the day, you want more good habits than bad ones, or at least find a positive balance.
All of us live in 24h days, and it's the repetition of good habits what makes the difference with the rest. If you, instead, have bad habits, it will be repeated every single day.
This will not only take time from your good habits, but it will also set you apart from your competence, downgrading your position and making it harder to overpass them and succeed.
There are some aspects you can use to identify a good habit.
Take pen and paper and write down all these points.
Go one by one. If all questions are answered with a YES, then you are good to go. If there are some negative answers, try to change that habit to convert the NO into a YES.
Step Guide to Build Good Habits
During the following 5 min you'll dip into the art of building good habits.
Good habits bring you joy, happiness, productivity and makes your life more insightful, enjoyable and, in many cases, successful.
(During the step-guide we'll refer to the same example to follow the flow of the step-guide on live. The example will be "Working out in the morning")
How to Build Good Habits
- Start small
- Progress by small changes
- Break habits into chunks
- Build the rest of your life around
- Be patient
Don't try to break the code from the beginning; that won't work.
To build good habits you need of knowledge and tools you acquire with experience. If you start big, it will most likely end up being a total failure. This is about making it easy for you to get started
Start your habit by doing a single small action. This will give you a first insight of how your habit will fit in your life, and it will also make it so easy that you can't say no.
Set an alarm at 6:30am and go for 15min in the treadmill.
Progress by small changes
As in all aspects of your life, progression and small changes is what take you where you want over time. Good habits are not an exception.
Once you have the seed, water it every day and it will eventually start growing. As James Clear say in his book "Atomic Habits", if you improve by 1% every day, in one year you'll be almost 50 times better.
Increase the 15min treadmill to:
- 15 min treadmill + 2x/week training
- 15 min treadmill + 3x/week training
Break Habits into Chunks
Setting a sustainable pace is crucial to keep a habit on the long run. As we keep progressing, habits may get bigger and bigger.
To mantain momentum, break the habit into chunks and make it even easier for you to do it.
I've progressed so much in my workouts that I now need 2h every morning to focus both on the treadmill and the workout...
Break it down in two sessions:
1st session: 30min treadmill
2nd session: 90min workout
Build The Rest of Your Life Around
When you decide to create a habit is because it will contribute to your wealth, happiness, joy, or any other aspect in your life.
If you think of your life as a complex matrix, you need to make everything you want to do fit in that matrix without any overlapping or limitations.
Wake up, put your workout clothes, take the car and head to the gym. Use a music reproducer to listen to music, and DON'T USE THE PHONE until you are done.
That way nobody will be able to disturb you, and you'll be able to fit the rest of your life perfectly around your morning workout.
**THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP**
Being patient is the most critical skill to create good habits. If you try to progress to fast, probablity of burnout and give up are high.
Instead, try to be patient and consistent. Habits are here to stay, and it's a nonsense to try accelerate the process. The benefits will come sooner or later, just keep going.
I tried to progress to fast at first, but I wasn't able to keep up with the habit:
15 min treadmill --> 30 min treadmill + 30min workout
I realized that didn't work. I stepped back and started the progression again:
15 min treadmill --> 30 min treadmill --> 30 min treadmill + 15 min workout --> 30 min treadmill + 30 min workout
What to Consider to Build Good Habits
What you should consider to build good habits:
- Follow the 21/90 rule
- Never slip twice in a row
- Make it obvious and easy
- Share your results
- Give it a good reason
Follow the 21/90 Rule
"It takes 21 days to Build a Habit, and 90 days to Build a Lifestyle" - Dr Maxwell Maltz
The first 21 days are detrimental for the fate of your habit. If you are not able to keep up during those first 21 days, the habit is not for you.
This is why the previous step (Small Changes) is so important here. If you go from nothing to everything, most likely is that it will be overwhelming for you... and bye-bye habit.
Set in your calendar day 1 and day 21. Try to not miss a single day of going to the gym to workout, even if it's just to walk in the treadmill for 15 min.
Never Slip Twice in a Row
Everyone can slip once in a while, and that's okay. But if you do, get back on track as soon as possible.
Never slip twice in a row on the same habit. It will untrain your discipline and willpower, and that's the last thing we want when trying to build good habits.
Keep track of your habit. If you do slip one day for major reasons, make sure you go to the gym the next morning.
Make it Obvious and Easy
The four rules for a good Habit are: make it easy, obvious, attractive and satisfying.
Willpower is like another muscle; it can be trained. But most people (not you) have very little willpower, and give up at the smallest things.
Make your habit so easy that it won't even take a single bite of your willpower.
Facilitate the process by making it obvious for you. If your habit is within your visual field, or you can sense it in some way, it will be much easier to remember and get going.
I want to go tomorrow morning to the gym, but I'm tired...
Prepare the gym bag the night before, put your running shoes besides your bed and leave the phone far on the other side of the room.
That way you'll have to get out of bed to turn off the alarm. Once out of bed you'll only need to put the gym clothes in the gym bag, the shoes (besides the bed) and head to the gym.
Share Your Results
Humans like to be admired and respected by the rest. It makes us more special and contributes to our self-confidence and self-esteem.
When you try to build good habits, your social environment may help you keeping up.
Share your daily progress, your thoughts and how it is changing your life. Let the others interact with you and contribute to your achievements and satisfaction.
Post a picture a yourself at the gym everyday on social media, and share how you feel after finishing the workout. People will be amazed of your discipline and willpower, and it will empower to keep going.
Give it a Good Reason
Any 'How' starts by having a good 'Why'.
To build a good habit, think on what you want to improve by doing it. It's not the habit itself, but you can take from doing it everyday.
Think of a habit as being the vehicle to go from point A (where you are) to B (where you want to be).
If you don't have a point B, it doesn't matter how good your vehicle is, that it won't take you where you want.
Why do I want to improve my health?
Because I want to become older and still be able to enjoy my life. But I have no time for it. My kids require of a lot of time during the day, I'm working full time,...
How can I do it?
Go to the gym when everyone else is still sleeping. Get back home and make breakfast for your kids, drive them to school and commute to work.
Habits are regular manners of behaviour and action, setting our path and shaping our lifestyle... but not all habits are good.
While good habits empower to keep going, bad ones just take up our energy in meaningless actions.
In this post, we saw how to build good habits consistently and with future perspectives. Later, we discussed some of the most important aspects to consider when building good habits.