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How to build a habit: creating a healthy routine

October 18, 2023
6 minutes
Personal Health
Personal health journeys

Did you know that approximately 40% of your behaviors are not conscious choices but habits? There are hundreds of actions you take on a daily basis that you don’t think twice about. Habits are part of everyday life, but they can be a highly positive or highly negative thing. Often, making big lifestyle health and wellness changes or becoming more productive in your professional and personal life requires changing your habits. If you’re wondering about how to create new habits, this guide will walk you through the process.

Habits are essential for personal development

As you’re looking into your own personal development and healthy lifestyle changes, the development of healthy habits is at the heart of it all. Whether you're hoping to add more exercise, excel at work, increase your physical activity, or even get more organization into your schedule, developing habits will help you get there more naturally.

Why are habits so essential to grow as a person? Because they're the building blocks of daily life. If you have goals you want to achieve, you need to develop habits to get you there. Also, everyone has them. You may not think you have many habits, but in reality, you do. They just may not be pushing you toward your goals. Understanding your habits, and then developing the ones you need for success, is a key to personal growth and development.

Understanding types of habits

Man in bed turning off alarm clock on nightstand

Every action you take throughout the day is a result of some of your habits, but not all habits are the same. There are three main categories of habit: good, bad, and neutral.

Bad habits are those habits that keep you from attaining your goals. If your goal is to get more healthy sleep at night, but you're in the habit of doom scrolling on your phone after you hit the bed, then you have a bad habit that’s preventing you from reaching your goal.

Good habits are those habits that help you reach your goals. If you're hoping to boost your mood and improve your mental health, and you have a healthy meditation habit each morning, then you’re doing an action that will help you meet your goal.

Neutral habits are the everyday things that you do that don’t really hurt or help you. They just exist. For instance, every day you eat breakfast in the same seat at the table, and you may make your coffee in the same order. If you changed up your routine, it wouldn’t keep you from getting to work on time or meeting your goals for the week, but the habit exists, nonetheless.

When it comes to taking charge of your habits, the key is to focus on changing the bad habits and building new good habits. Most of the time, neutral habits can be left alone as they don’t help or harm you.

What science says about habit formation

If you're wondering how to build a habit, a look at science could be helpful. According to Harvard Business Review, neuroscience teaches us there aren’t any shortcuts to building a habit. Small, incremental steps combined with repetition will eventually lead to new habit development.

Habits start with routines

Building a habit starts with building routines in your life. Routines are intentional, whereas habits are involuntary. When you regularly perform a behavior or set of behaviors, it becomes a routine. After enough repetitions, the routine can become a habit.

There’s no set timetable

You may have heard that it takes 21 days to build a new habit. According to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the answer is more complex. So, how long does it take to build a habit? The answer depends on how challenging the habit is, how different it is from your current habit set, and personal factors that affect each individual differently. If you’re wanting to learn how to create new habits that support your goals, just keep repeating the positive habits until they become second nature, but don’t put yourself on a timetable.

Understanding the habit loop

As you’re working to build better habits, a tool that can help is the habit loop. Coined by journalist Charles Duhigg, the habit loop is a framework to better understand the development of habits. It includes three main steps:

  • Cue: This factor triggers habitual behavior.
  • Routine: This is the behavior itself
  • Reward: This is what the behavior does or the benefit you get

When the cue is strong enough and the reward sweet enough, you'll quickly develop a habit.

So, how can you use the habit loop to build your own habits? Consider a healthy habit like exercising. If you want to build more exercise into your life, create a cue. It could be as simple as a reminder on your phone or as structured as wearing your workout clothes as pajamas, so you can jump out of bed and hit the pavement.

Next, practice the behavior. Make yourself exercise several days in a row after facing the cue.

Finally, build in a reward. The reward should happen soon after the exercise, not at the end of the month. For example, you might reward yourself with something luxurious in the shower, such as new shampoo or body wash, that you only use on days you exercise.

Identifying what motivates you

For a habit loop to work and a new habit to develop, you must understand your own motivations. What reward will motivate you to perform the behavior? It’s going to be unique, and it may not work for everyone.

As you work to identify your motivation, also look at your goals. What are you trying to accomplish? Sometimes, a clearly defined goal can be exactly what you need to motivate yourself. Consider making large goals as well as small goals so you retain the healthy motivation that will push you toward a new habit.

How to grow and then maintain healthy habits

So now that you understand more about the science of habits, how can you start building them? Consider these practical tips.

1. Write down specific goals

Make specific, measurable goals, and write them down. This will help motivate you as you move forward in your habit building.

2. Find or avoid cues

If you’re hoping to build a healthy habit, find a cue you can attach to it. If you’re hoping to break a negative habit, learn to avoid cues that trigger the behavior.

3. Start small

Small changes are easier to make than big ones. Start small, and build new habits slowly. For example, if your goal is to be able to run a marathon, start with learning to run a mile, then a 5K. Eventually, you’ll be able to run longer distances, and running may become part of your daily routine.

4. Get accountability

Ask a friend or mentor to hold you accountable for your new habit. When someone’s going to check up on you, you’ll be more likely to stick to your new behaviors.

Build healthy habits with help from Evidation

There are many areas of life where you can develop great habits, but your overall health and well-being are some of those areas. Evidation gives you tools you can use to build healthy habits, cues to trigger those habits, and rewards to keep you motivated. Get started building your habits. Download the app today.

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