How to Build New Habits by Taking Advantage of Old Ones

How to Use Behavioural Science to Build New Habits

What if I told you that the only way to succeed in building new habits is to be aware of what is not going to happen once you start to perform your habits?

To build new habits you need to understand how building habits works from a scientific approach it’s called the habit loop:

  • 1-Cue (Trigger)
  • 2-Routine (Action)   
  • 3-Reward 

Once you understand how it works it will be easier how to build new habits by taking advantage of old ones

11 ways to build new habits

First, I understand there are a lot of articles out there that say how to develop good habits in life.

But, the truth is you won’t stick to those action steps if you don’t start with the basics.

The Habit Loop

1- Cue

Every habit that you do, starts with a cue, a trigger that puts your brain on autopilot to perform those habits from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep.

Habits hold about 40% of your daily actions.

So, when you wake up in the morning and you start to go about your day there is only one cue that leads to other actions that you took.

To figure out the trigger be aware of when the habit starts, let’s say that you tend to use your phone right when you wake up to check out messages, social media, etc.

So the cue, in that case, the phone is always near to you that it’s easy to grab it while you are on the bed.

Or, you wake up and the first thing you do is to grab food from the fridge, the cue is more likely to be that you go to the kitchen first thing when you wake up or in another case, the insulin levels drop.

2- Routine

Every cue that happens is always followed by an action or routine.

So, for the same first example above you use your phone and spend around 10 minutes scrolling and checking emails.

Or, for the second example, you walk to the kitchen, open the fridge and grab a cake and start to eat.

Your routine determines how habits work and whether they are good or bad habits.

*Please note some of the links on this post are affiliate links, meaning that I may earn a commission if you only decided to purchase through one of the links, which I would appreciate a lot. You can read full disclosure here

3- Reward

Once the action is being completed you will gain an instant reward, that’s what your brain expects once it starts to work on a new habit or even old habits.

The first reward (following the examples above) is you saw the latest news and replied to a friend.

The next reward is to satisfy hunger or it’s the only way to feel more awake.

The loop is originally explained in the How Habits Work and Why We Do the Things We Do by Charles Dughig

I summed it up as much as I can but if you want more details and more examples then you can get the book here.

 

How to Develop Good Habits in Life

1- Start Simple

Focus on only one habit at a time, don’t overwhelm yourself with building new habits at once.

You want to give 100% to this one new habit, so choose wisely.

If you want to lose weight don’t start with exercising 1 hour every day you will less likely to stick with it, start with only 10 minutes a day.

Make it so easy that your brain hardly gets a chance to give excuses for not doing it.

2- Break Habits into Small Habits

After choosing which habits you want to work on, try to see if you can turn it into smaller habits.

Small habits are easier to stick to and will help you build new bigger habits in the long run.

So for example, you want to read more books, don’t just start to buy all the books you can get, and start reading.

Instead, you want to make reading a habit, especially if you are not keen on reading.

Turn it into smaller ones by reading on a Kindle or any online version you wish to use.

3- Form a trigger

 

Since you now know how habits work from a scientific approach, it can be easy to figure out how to form a trigger to build new habits.

If you want to build a habit of studying, a simple trigger can be putting a pen and a notebook on the desk where you can see it.

Try to follow that pattern every time you study.

Your brain over time will understand once it sees the pen and the notebook it’s time to study.

4- Remind Yourself 

Following a habit can be tricky at the beginning if you go about your day, so you want to set reminders around you.

This is not the same as forming a trigger, as a trigger only works for your sub-conscience.

It’s more about your visual surroundings to keep you alert and to remind you to work on building new habits.

How to start new habits

5- AutoMate Tiny Habits 

Building new habits with a habit you already have is the best way to let your brain work on its own without thinking it’s a new habit.

This is a scientific approach on building new habits.

Say that you always drink water throughout the day (hopefully, you do) this is an automated habit, you can incorporate a new habit with the automated habit.

For example, every day when you drink water try to do a push-up, that’s if your goal is to exercise every day.

Think about it for a second if you drink at least 8 cups a day and do 3 push ups after every cup. that’s 24 push ups a day!

You can get more information about automated habits in the Atomic Habits book

easy ways to build new habits

6- Commit to 30 Day

One study said habits would take about 2 months to become part of your lifestyle and another study said it takes about 90 days.

So, how long does it take to build new habits?

The underline between the two studies is that you need to fully commit yourself in the first month to build a new habit.

But if we took it from a different approach you only need to commit the first 30 days that’s how the brain takes to rewire itself.

7- Never Miss Twice 

To build a new habit, you have to do it daily.

But, life gets in the way.

This is why the habit tracker is essential when you try to build a new habit.

Habit tracker is a tracker of 30 days, each day you complete your habit put a checkmark, if there is a day you miss make sure to not miss the next day.

The rule is to never miss a habit twice in a row.

8- Increase Your Habit by 1%

Your goal is to work on building new habits every day, even if it’s only 1%.

You don’t have to do a 1-hour workout every single day instead.

You can aim to do only 10 minutes, and the next week try to increase your workout by 5 more minutes.

Even if you can’t increase your habits and only aim for 1% a day, that’s 37% in a year!

9- Control Your Environment 

To break a habit or build a new habit for that matter is to control your environment.

If you are trying to cut back on sugar, then you have to get rid of processed food, refined sugar, and replace it with a healthy alternative.

Or, if you want to build a habit of studying then your environment should be focused on things that will help you to study more.

You know as the old saying goes “out of sight, out of mind”.

How to practice your habits every day

10- Hold Yourself Accountable

While telling a friend or a family member about building a new habit or your goals can get you motivated.

There are a few rules to consider.

Being accountable will help you get back on track when the days get hard.

But, if you didn’t start building a habit and tell everyone about it, it will give your mind the satisfaction of doing something while in reality, you are doing nothing.

So, focus first on building this new habit and when you need someone to push you further then you can start to share your goals about building new habits.

 

11- Self Discipline

making new habits that stick doesn’t require self-discipline, it’s pretty much overrated when it comes to building new habits.

What you need to do instead is to play around for what’s working with you.

Just because someone doing it that way doesn’t mean it will work for you. Instead, figure out how you can make it work for you.

If you don’t like going to the gym no matter how much you try to keep it fun, try to bring a partner with you, or, try to go late at night (if available)

It’s always about experimenting and if that doesn’t work keep on trying until you find that one thing that will make you stick to the habit.

12- Build Habits Apps

Now what is more important is to always keep track and the best way is building habits apps.

Here are a few suggestions 

Conclusion On Building New Habits

Step into the behavior of building new habits and the mind will follow.

Run your habits as an experiment, as with every experiment there are no failing, only different results.

Focus on easy, consistent habits that require no motivation.

Self-discipline is overrated when it comes to building new habits.

How to Build New Habits by Taking Advantage of Old Ones

Related article on building new habits:

This Post Has 25 Comments

  1. Poli-Archivist

    As a former competitive athlete, I struggle with forming my own habits that aren’t triggered by my coaches. This blog was really helpful for me, and I definitely want to try to build some better habits.

  2. Pam

    These are absolutely lovely tricks to creating and sticking to a habit! I am in constant need of a learning how to make a routine that STICKS so this helps me a lot.

    1. Amira

      Glad to know that, thank you.

  3. Claris

    This looks like a nifty list of tips to creating and maintaining a habit! I’ll definitely try this out when I try to start anything new (like learning a new language, etc.).

    1. Amira

      Good luck 🙂 Thank you.

  4. Amy

    These are some of the best tips on habits I’ve seen! Love the practicality.

  5. Katherine

    Great post! I’m in the process of creating new habits for me and my kids, and this is super helpful! Thanks!

    1. Amira

      Wish you all the best, thank you.

  6. Nikki

    Atomic Habits is a life-changer! Breaking my habits into smaller segments have really helped me. I’ve realized it doesn’t always need to be so hard. great read!

    1. Amira

      That’s true it’s not so hard and also not so easy to create new habits, you just need the right strategy. Thank you 🙂

  7. Kate

    These are great! You organized them perfectly and made it so easy to read and create action! Quarantine gave me the perfect opportunity to work on creating better eating and exercise habits and this will certainly help.

    1. Amira

      I’m glad I could help.

  8. Katerina

    Great and very helpful tips, thanks for sharing! I am in the process of developing new habits, and I’ve found that if you stick with doing something for about 3-4 weeks, it eventually becomes a habit. It is that easy, lol!

    1. Amira

      Glad you found it useful, thank you.

  9. Sara

    Helpful tips. I was always told that to make or break a habit it takes 21 days but interesting that you point out 30 days. Thanks for the tidbits!

  10. Benedetta

    This was so insightful! Thank you for the amazing tips, I read Atomic Habits a few months ago and it was a game changer🙌🏻

  11. Jeh-C

    Great tips. I’m going to need to try some of these out. It’s difficult to hold myself accountable sometimes especially if it’s something that I don’t particularly like doing, like working out, so I find that it really helps when I make a public declaration about doing something and have accountability partners to help keep me on track.

  12. Dani

    I haven’t tried the automated habit. Maybe I have but haven’t realized it. I like how strategic that idea is. Going to be incorporating more of that into my routine.

  13. Shani

    These are great ideas, and I need to change some habits and stick to new ones. My biggest issue is starting small. I always want to do too much at once. Thanks for the helpful list to follow.

    1. Amira

      Hope they work out for you.

  14. SHANY

    These are amazing tips! I love how you mentioned -Never Miss Twice. I feel like when we allow ourself to miss more than one time we began to miss a lot of times and eventually give up.

    1. Amira

      True, it’s like giving more excuses to not stick to a habit.

  15. Valerie

    Honestly, self-discipline is probably the hardest! I do something for a while, then I give up 🙄

    1. Amira

      It takes practice but it definitely worth it.

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