A guide on how to build good habits for studying, learning, working, life
Stephen Covey said, “Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character.” If we think about habits this way – what do yours reveal about your character?
The small, oftentimes unexciting, tasks of our lives can actually tell a significant amount about our personalities, lives, and environments. Becoming aware of your habits and their influence on your life – both positively and negatively – is the first step to then building strong, helpful habits and overcoming bad habits.
Habits are the daily pieces that help you succeed with your business and education goals. This tutorial will detail strategies on how to build good habits and make them stick. We also share some effective tips on how to break bad habits. Includes a habit tracker template.
How To Create Good Habits? – Overview
Changing habits or creating new ones can seem daunting, especially as so many of our habits are unconscious decisions1. Even if habits and patterns are occurring on “autopilot,” there are patterns to enacting habits and patterns to changing habits2.
What is a habit loop? A habit loop is a series that perpetuates a habit. This loop is a cue, the behavior, then the reward. Take a moment to consider some of your daily habits.
Maybe every day after you finish lunch, you walk down the hallway at work and purchase a candy bar from the vending machine. In this situation, maybe the cue is taking your plate to the office sink, which leads you down the hallway where you pass the vending machine. The behavior is purchasing the candy, and the reward is the sugary goodness.
Using the habit loop – Following the habit loop, you can form new patterns, such as waking up (cue), going for a run (behavior) then drinking a cup of coffee (the reward).
Similarly, there is a process for changing behavior. The pattern goes: contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance. If you want to spend less time on social media, the process would be considering spending less time on it, preparing how to reduce your time, spending less time on social media and then continuing to limit your time every day.
Understanding these processes is a great foundation. There are practical and actionable tips that you can apply to create healthy habits and break bad ones. Our guide on how to build good habits does not aim to be comprehensive, and we recommend the well-known book Atomic Habits by James Clear to further advance your habit building skills.
Tip: Reading is definitely a good habit :). Try out our tutorials on How To Set Goals or How To Read Faster. For building healthy financial habits, try Be Smart with Your Money or if you want to get into languages How To Learn A New Language.
How To Build Good Habits? 5 Strategies
Building good habits takes patience, planning and repetition. It’s important to understand your reason for wanting to change behaviors and refer back to this motivation throughout the process. The following briefly outlines recommendations for how to start building good habits toward a more successful life.
1. Write down the best version of yourself
Start by building a profile of yourself; or rather, the ‘you’ you want to become. Make a list of all the aspects of yourself that you like most. Maybe you’re hardworking, kind and a good listener. Then, make a list of who you want to become. For example, maybe you want to become a runner, or a successful business owner, or a student who earns good grades.
Align your best attributes with your goals and bring attention to the characteristics and habits you need to develop to help you reach your goal.
To illustrate, if you want to become a successful business owner, key characteristics might include hardworking, organized and strong decision-making skills. Habits might include managing budgets daily, using planning tools, waking up early, writing down goals and conducting weekly evaluations. Use this as a guide for the next steps.
Tip: If you do not know yet what or how your best self could or would look like, maybe this list of personal development courses acts as a source of inspiration.
2. Set specific, short-term objectives
It’s important to not feel overwhelmed by your changes; instead, set achievable alterations in your routine to create a day of healthy and foundational habits.
If your objective is to ‘be healthier’ then outline a few achievable habits. For example, write down the goal to drink 8, 9 or 10 glasses of water (2-3 liters) each day. Take it each day at a time and continue with your achievable habit until it feels natural or even enjoyable.
Begin with something that feels manageable and stick with it. From there, you can build more habits, routines and behavioral changes. Starting small helps you build confidence, learn about the process and how to better reach your next goal.
3. Link new habit with an existing habit
One great tip for building good habits is to link with a habit or routine you already have. This is referred to as habit stacking3.
Examine your daily routine and find an existing positive habit, such as walking the dog every morning. After you walk the dog every morning, drink a glass of water – if your goal is to drink more water. Or, if you already have an evening routine, add a new habit, such as, upon finishing dinner, set a new work habit to ensure you have responded to all business emails in your inbox.
The process of stacking, or linking, new habits with existing ones increases the chance you’ll follow through, as your mind and body are already cued to practice the habit routine. Use this as a practice to build a basic routine which can then be further developed.
4. Develop a Plan – Progression and repetition
As with the first step, there is power in writing things down. To build a series of habits that lead to a big change, develop a roadmap. Write down the habits you will sequentially incorporate into your life and refer back to your plan often.
Keep in mind that one of the most important elements to successfully building new habits is repetition. Make sure you execute your new habit daily and consistently and hold yourself accountable. Options for accountability include setting an alarm on your phone, writing things down, having friends and family check-in or scheduling a reward and withholding if you did not complete your habit routine.
In your roadmap, delineate a series of habits to reach your goal. Again, start with something simple that is linked to a current habit. Once that one is down, add another. Continue to progress and repeat as you move forward toward your goal.
5. Be ready to get back on track.
Mistakes happen and not every day will be perfect when it comes to stopping bad habits and building new ones.
If you have moments where you get off track, don’t let that be the end of your journey. Forgive yourself and make a plan to get back to your routine. For example, if you aim to wake up early every morning to have a more productive workday and you accidentally sleep in, that doesn’t have to turn into a cycle of sleeping late. Focus on the positive changes4, and feel good about knowing you can wake up early the next day.
Negative thoughts and feelings will make changing your behavior more difficult and daunting. Keep a positive mindset, thoughts and affirmations around changing your habits, as this will help your mind and body adapt to the changes.
How To Break Bad Habits? 3 Strategies
Achieving your goals involves not only practicing new habits but breaking bad ones. Return again to your original outline of the best version of yourself and your roadmap and use these to ground your ability to change behaviors.
1. Start questioning
Examine your behaviors and ponder why you are drawn to do them. Ask yourself: does this serve me? Is this valuable to my happiness and well-being? Does this habit help me achieve my goals? If the answer is no, it’s probably time to make a change.
Once you’ve determined that a habit is not helpful, continue questioning. Ask why you include the bad habit in your life. Do you feel as though an extra glass of wine in the evening helps you relax? Or the extra serving of potato chips keeps you entertained when you’re feeling bored? Identify your trigger or driver and use that as the critical point to break the habit.
2. Replace the bad habit with a positive one
Remember the habit loop process of a cue, the behavior, then the reward? You can use this loop to help you break a bad habit. As mentioned, identify the cue that triggers the bad habit. This might be a feeling such as stress, a certain time of day or a physical cue such as a sound. When the cue occurs, replace the bad habit with a new one.
For example, if you are tempted to watch YouTube videos after lunch, a habit that cuts into your productivity time, change your behavior. As an alternative, after lunch, get up and take a twenty-minute walk.
Replacing a habit is more productive than simply just denying yourself the bad habit as your mind and body are already prepared for alternative action.
3. Alter your environment
Breaking bad habits requires a lot of reflection. You’ve identified your triggers, now stake stock of your surroundings. The surrounding environment can either help or hinder healthy behaviors5. If you want to stop picking up a high-calorie muffin every morning on the walk to work, then take a different route. Or if you want to pick up the habit of meditating every morning, set up a tidy meditation space rid of distractions (browse meditation courses).
Task association6 is a helpful tool to link your environment with associations to break bad habits. For example, if sitting on the couch is associated with opening up your phone and browsing Twitter for hours, don’t sit on the couch when you need to be studying or working. Instead, sit at a desk or table that you always use for productive time.
How To Make Habits Stick? 5 Tips
1. Make it fun
It’s a whole lot easier to make a habit stick if you enjoy it. This can include7 joining friends or a community and embracing the enjoyable and beneficial aspects of your new habit. Align the habit activity with your interests so that it is something to look forward to.
2. Monitor successes and setbacks
Keep track of all parts of your journey towards your goal, which includes both the successes and the stumbles. Because you are building habits to help you become the best version of yourself and achieve broader professional, personal and physical goals, the journey is just as important as the final result.
3. Take advantage of tools
Setting good habits is not something you have to go it alone. There is a wide variety of apps and tools to assist in tracking behaviors and habits. Tools available can help to keep tabs, motivate you, and get organized. Habit tracker apps are popular to get started and monitor your performance.
4. Do research
There is an entire psychology around setting habits, and many different approaches and tips. Take some time to check out online articles, YouTube videos or books to learn more about the psychology and practice of setting good habits.
5. Books to build good habits
There are many books available that focus on habit formation. To get started consider Atomic Habits by James Clear, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, or Rewire: Change Your Brain to Break Bad Habits by Richard O'Connor. There are more and we recommend a bit of research to find the best one for your purpose.
How To Build Good Habits – Conclusion
Habits are a huge part of our daily lives. These are the moments we brush our teeth, wash our dishes upon completing a meal and walk the dog. We build habits to conserve energy and make the most efficient use of our time8. But it is important that habits are positively and deliberatively developed to support your personal and professional goals.
Identify who and what you desire to become, start small and tap into existing habit loops, and develop a roadmap to continue to build good habits.
If we express ourselves and our character through our habits, then changing your habits is integral to creating yourself – now, and in the future.
14 Tips to Build Good Habits
- Plan what to change, when, and how.
- Start small, atomic habit style.
- Focus on one habit at a time. Develop a routine.
- Combine willpower with trust and faith to develop habits.
- Get excited about your new habit. Implement it.
- Attach your new habit to a trigger or stack it.
- Set clear goals. Commit to them.
- Track your habits, e.g. with habit tracker apps.
- Work hard, stick to it. Celebrate your success.
- Reward yourself when you feel it is necessary.
- Get back on track when you fail on a new habit.
- Change your surroundings to facilitate new habits.
- Look for supporters. Connect with friends. Do it together.
- Read books. Expand your knowledge. Change your mindset.
- Be positive. Ask for advice. Share your experience.
Good Habits – FAQ
What are 10 good habits?
A list of good habits can be literally endless as building effective habits can change and target micro behaviors. 10 good habits could include learning new things and skills, sharing a smile with a stranger, talking to a positive person, building a work routine with a set start and finish time, creating to-do lists you stick to, reducing consumption of alcohol, sugar or meat, get enough sleep, stop complaining about everyday things, hug and kiss your partner regularly, keep your body strong and healthy, and keep your mind clutter-free.
How to create a habit loop?
According to James Clear, a habit loop consist of four elements, namely cue (trigger), craving, response and reward. To build a habit loop, a person needs to become aware of these stages and connect the new habit to an existing or new trigger, make sure the habit is wanted and desired, set a routine or activity, and make sure there is a reward that will make you want to repeat the habit.
What triggers a habit?
There are several cues that trigger habits. If you want to make a new habit stick, analyze potential triggers, and choose the one that could cue your new target habit. The main cues include time, location, a receding event, an emotional state, other people or senses such as smell, noise, visual or physical stimuli.
How do you create a habit?
To make new habits stick, one needs to be aware of what could trigger them, how they could be attached to an existing routine, or whether it needs a new action plan and to decide on an effective reward system.
Additionally, to build a new habit into your daily life and make it stick, consider doing it daily and for at least 3 to 4 weeks, starting out rather simple, being excited and also consistent, sharing the challenge with friends, getting back on track when being neglective, and keeping a positive mindset.
Why are habits so powerful?
Habits are powerful, probably far more than you might think. They can shape and influence your decision making, and run without us actually noticing them. It s believed that roughly 30-40% of your actions actually go back to habitual behavior, whether they are bad or good habits.
Habits are powerful because they also grow in strength the more often we perform them. Strong habits create cravings in your brain that then automatically trigger an action or routine. We can use that to build new habits by setting effective cues, routines, and a reward system.
How to build good habits? Let us know some of your best hacks to create healthy habits, make them stick and break bad ones. Good luck, readers.