How to Build Good Habits and Keep Them

Building new habits is one of the hardest things to do right? Well, this is true for good habits only, because bad ones don’t take very long to take over. Take watching TV or YouTube every day at the same time for example. I think it’s not that hard to implement this in your life.

But of course we want to build good habits for ourselves, but this isn´t as easy as building good habits.

To understand the way habits work, we should look at a common example: Watching TV right after work. A habit is split into three parts: The trigger, the behavior, and the reward.


The trigger:

In this case, the trigger is probably stress or the desire to relax. Most people watch TV for those reasons. They want to shut off their brain for a couple of minutes, not thinking about work. That´s certainly the way people get into this habit.

The behavior:

The behavior is simply watching TV or acting out your habit.

The reward:
The reward is the fulfilled desire to get relaxed and to switch off the brain for some time.


Replacing a bad habit with a good one:

And that is exactly how every habit is built. You always have a trigger, a behavior, and a reward. So how can we use that to create good habits? The same way we build the bad ones, with the exception that a good habit is harder to build and it takes much more time.

The easiest way to condition a new habit in your life is to replace it with an old one. Let´s take the example from above: Right now, you come home from work and watch TV. What you have to do now, is to take the same trigger (the desire to relax), but act out a new behavior. What´s very important is the reward must stay the same.

When replacing a bad habit with a good one, the biggest problem for most people is the lack of a reward. Without a reward, it is very hard to build a new habit, and most people won´t hold on to the end. For example, they want to replace smoking with working more. The problem is, working more won´t have the same effect on the person as smoking a cigarette, because they often can´t relax when working. So they keep on smoking. Now it makes sense that most people who quit smoking, pivot to eating because it has more or less the same effect for them.

When looking at our example of watching TV, you need a behavior that gives you the same kind of reward. For me, it´s reading a book, but it can be whatever you want, as long as it´s a good or better habit. When doing it this way, you are much more likely to push through and actually implement the habit. Building habits is a process. It takes a lot of effort and will-power at the beginning but will get easier and easier as you go. Just hold on for long enough. Usually, it takes 21 days to create new habits, but often it takes 90 days or more.

How do you hold on for that long? For me, it´s very helpful to monitor my progress with a list. Check off every day you repeated the new behavior to see your progress. That way you will get momentum and you keep on going.


Building a habit from scratch:

Building a habit from scratch is much harder than replacing it, because you don´t have a trigger yet, nor the desired reward. But of course, it´s still possible. For me, it was building a morning-routine couple of years ago. Before I woke up at 6:15 AM, now I wanted to stand up at 5 AM. The first thing is obviously to actually get up at 5 AM. So every time my alarm went of. I immediately jumped out of bed, forcing myself to be awake. Doing this for a couple of months, I now automatically get up as soon as the alarm goes off. My trigger stayed the same, but there was no real reward for getting up earlier at the beginning. Then I started to read every morning until 6 AM. Again, there was no real trigger and no real reward, but by keep on forcing yourself and practicing, you can also make that into a habit. You just have to hold on for long enough.

Another powerful way is to have someone help you with your new behavior. Let´s say you come home from work and want to build the habit of running for half an hour. This is hard to do because you have no real trigger and no real reward. What you can do is to arrange with your friend to go running after work, because he or she can help you to overcome the resistance. A friend can also help you to associate positive emotions with the new behavior.


What are the keys to building a new habit?

  • Identify your trigger. What makes you do it. If you don´t have one, create one.
  • What is the desired result? What do you want to feel after your behavior? Can you find something more valuable that has the same kind of reward?
  • Hold on for long enough. At least for 21 days, your focus should be to repeat the same behavior. Sometimes it will take 90 days or even more.
  • Have a friend or someone that can help you to stay motivated


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