The Science Behind Making Good Habits Stick

Habit: routines of behavior that are repeated regularly and tend to occur subconsciously.

Habits work when there is an initial trigger or cue. It can be a time of day, location, a belief or other patterns of behavior. This then triggers a routine and produces the desired effect.

What a person repeatedly does ultimately results in what kind of person they are, the things you believe and the personality you portray. According to researchers from Duke University, habits account for around 40%-45% of a person’s daily behavior. The habit is established and then an almost involuntary behavior pattern repeats.

However not all habits are created equal! In general, habits have a bad reputation. Without acquired habits, people tend to be flooded with excessive complications every day, so habits can make a person more efficient and help people cope with the demands of daily life.

What if you want to have positive habits that can make you more efficient and help you cope with the demands of daily life? How can you make new habits stick? Let’s take a look.

6 Ways To Make Good Habits Stick

1. Develop SMART Goals

SMART means:

  • Specific: If you want to create a positive habit, start by making sure that the goal is clear and defined clearly. For example: I will tidy the kitchen before I leave for work each day.
  • Measurable: Make sure that the habit is measurable. This means that a person can see and evaluate their progress of making the habit stick. For example, it’s easy to evaluate your goal on tidying the kitchen each morning.
  • Action-oriented: This means that you can take steps to make sure you achieve the new habit. If it’s too hard to achieve then you most likely won’t do it. For example, you know what it takes for you to stack the dishwasher, or wash the dishes in the sink, before you head out for work.
  • Realistic: The new habit should be should be attainable. Yes, it can be challenging at the beginning, but it should be realistic to your situation. For example, if your current excuse is that you “don’t have time” to clean the kitchen before work, then get up 10 minutes earlier.
  • Time-bound: Just like having a realistic goal, developing a habit will have measurable parameters. According to experts, 21 days is the average time that is takes to establish a habit. For example, if you can commit to tidying the kitchen every day before work, before long it will become part of your daily routine and you can move on and organize another area of your life.

2. Start Simple

Change can be difficult so be kind to yourself. It can be easy to get over-motivated and take on too much – meaning you will not be able to stick with your goal for a long period of time. Start small and go from there. According to Stanford University Professor BJ Fogg, you should start with something that takes zero willpower to complete.

Starting a habit requires willpower and willpower is like a muscle. If you use it a lot, it will just get tired and in the end, you will likely want to quit. Break down your goal into manageable tasks. It’s more likely to stick if you accomplished something.

We gave you a simple habit example in the step above. Think about something that you can get started with today.

3. Develop A Habit Loop

Charles Duhigg, the author of “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business”, stated that habits are defined by cue, routine and reward. He said that when people think of habits, it is more focused on the routine or behavior, but what they learned is that cue and reward are the determining factors for developing habits.

  • Cue is the trigger that sets a habit in motion. It can be a time, place, a certain person, an emotion or a collection of behaviors.
  • Routine is the habit itself.
  • The reward is the enabler, the motivation for the habit being developed. The rewards can be a sense of purpose, a good feeling or rush of excitement.

4. Behavior Chains

Developing habits that will stick is easy when you associate them with your current routines. Implementation intentions is a strategy that involves choosing a regular part of your routine and then building another link by adding a new habit. It’s an if-then planning strategy. Multiple studies have confirmed that this strategy works.

5. Small Wins Should Be Celebrated

Every time you reward yourself for making progress, no matter how small or big, you activate the reward circuitry in your brain. If you feel that you will achieve something important and life-changing, that happiness and pride will empower you to take action and create bigger goals in the future.

6. Accept That There Will Be Slip-Ups In The Process

Before habits are well established, you have to remember that they are fragile and the time span will differ from person to person. Each person is unique, thus, for some it may just take less than a month and for some more than a month or probably longer.

Given the wide time span, you will probably slip off your target at some point. Researchers have studied what they call the “what the hell” effect and found that the way you respond to an initial setback will determine how likely you are to succeed.

Thus, if you slip, don’t give up on establishing the target habit. What you need to do is acknowledge the slip up, re-focus and re-direct yourself to your target habit and try not to make the same mistakes again.

If you want to take up new positive habits, try to incorporate these steps into your routine.

Jon Capistrano

Jon is a researcher and writer, as well as avid scooterist and musician.

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