There's no secret to forming healthy habits, just science.
Everything you do in your daily life is as a result of your habits. A habit is a behaviour that is done automatically. These habits then contribute to the person you are, the things you do and how you feel. All habits can be formed deliberately or accidentally, and can always be changed, added or removed. So if there is something you want to improve or change about yourself, you need to look at your habits!
The Theories 📚
So how do the things we do become habits, and how can we make them stick? Let's take a look at the facts.
On average, it takes 66 days to form a new habit. This is dependent on many factors including both the person and their circumstances.
Forming a habit doesn't happen by accident, there are many scientific models and theories behind habits and habit formation, all seeking to explain the process your brain goes through.
In his 2018 book ‘Atomic Habits’, James Clear divided the process of making (or breaking) a habit into four stages; cue, craving, response, reward.
Put simply: Cue is the information, Craving is the motivation, Response is the action and Reward is how it makes you feel. You continuously go through this four stage loop when forming a habit.
Here is an example of how this might work:
Let's take a look at the science... 🧐
So why do we form habits in the first place - what is their function for us humans?
Lecturer in Health Psychology Benjamin Gardener (et al. 2012) found that habits are formed when you repeat actions with particular cues. For example: You get into a car (cue) = you put your seatbelt on (action).
In this study, Gardener found three stages to forming a habit.
1) The Initiation Phase - selecting which action and behaviour you want to adopt
2) The Learning Phase - the behaviour is repeated in the same context over and over again
3) The Stability Phase - the habit is formed and becomes more and more easy to do
Repeating behaviours in the same context helps the formation of habits, makes the action significantly easier and eventually allows it to become second nature.
Occasionally missing the chance to carry out the action has very little impact on the ability to form that habit. So don’t be put off if you miss the odd day!
Making Health Habitual 💚
That's all the science-y stuff covered, so let's see how we can put this into practice to make habit formation easier in our everyday lives.
Here are some great examples:
Try: Having a glass of water with your breakfast each morning
Goal: Have your greens everyday
Goal: Exercise everyday
Behaviours and habit forming is personal. Everyone is unique, as is what they want to achieve and where they are already. Ask yourself what you want to achieve and find small ways to incorporate a change into your daily life, and remember to take each day as it comes 💪
- Clear, J. (2022) Atomic habits: Tiny changes, remarkable results: An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones. London: Cornerstone press.
- Making health habitual: The psychology of ‘habit-formation’, Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3505409/ (Accessed: 01 September 2023).