As we move through our daily routines, we tend to perform some tasks habitually, often without even realising it. Put simply, our lives are essentially a sum of our daily activities. Our goal is to be able to take these activities and use them to form good habits and eliminate bad ones. Before we get started, it’s important to understand our personal context – opportunities, challenges, strengths, and weaknesses – in order to create space for ourselves to express and enjoy the things that are good for us.

What is a habit?

“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement – it’s the good and bad things that we do each and every day that compound over time to create real change”. 

–  Atomic Habits by James Clear

Our daily practices and actions, as well as our intentions behind them, and our level of engagement with them, help define our own personal version of well-being. If we want to cultivate a better, more balanced lifestyle for ourselves, we must recognise that our daily actions, compounded over time, become our way of being.

To put this into context, have you ever noticed that certain behaviours just seem to happen automatically? This is because of habit formation – the process through which a behaviour becomes automatic and repetitive. There are many factors at play in the formation of habits, including environment, genetics, and even neurotransmitters in our brain. But why is understanding habit formation so important? 

Because our habits define us.

Yes, our individual genes and unique circumstances play a role in who we are and how we behave. But it’s our habits that really dictate how successful, happy, and healthy we are. Our habits determine whether we live with purpose or on autopilot; they reveal what we truly value; and they ultimately become our destiny. 

What are the benefits of healthy habits?

We’ll get closer to realising our dreams and ambitions if we consistently engage in the behaviours that lay the groundwork for doing so. Developing and maintaining healthy routines can do wonders for our health. There are both immediate and long-term advantages to maintaining healthy routines, such as:

  • Adding structure to our day
  • Giving us space for personal time
  • Creating room for progress
  • Aiding in a sense of accomplishment
  • Setting boundaries

And in turn, having greater control of our day and our habits can lead to numerous other benefits such as:

  • Helping to reduce stress and anxiety
  • Increasing feelings of happiness and well-being
  • Improving sleep quality
  • Boosting energy levels and concentration
  • Promoting better digestion and gut health
  • Supporting a healthy weight

The list is endless,  but it’s important to remember that these benefits are only possible if the habits we form are actually healthy ones.

How are healthy habits formed?

We’ve all been there; looking for a way to form a new habit, whether it’s waking up earlier, eating healthier, setting daily reminders or using a rewards system. Whilst these methods can work for some people, they aren’t always effective for everyone.

Trying to break a bad habit or form a good one can often feel like an uphill battle, but did you know that scientists have been studying the process of habit formation for decades? Through various experiments, they’ve discovered key factors in the formation of habits. For instance, habits tend to be more likely to form in environments where we’re comfortable and not facing high levels of stress.

In addition, they are strengthened when they are linked to a specific cue or trigger, such as always eating a cookie after dinner. But the good news is that habits can also be changed or broken with enough effort and persistence – scientists have found that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for someone to make a new behaviour into a habit.  So if you’re struggling to make a change, don’t get discouraged – keep at it, and eventually it will become second nature.

Here are a few tips to help you form healthy habits:

1. Start small – it’s easier to maintain a new habit if you don’t try to do too much at once. So if you’re trying to eat healthier, start by adding one new fruit or vegetable to your diet each day.

2. Set a regular time for your new habit – try to do it at the same time each day, so that it becomes part of your daily routine. For example, if you want to start working out in the morning, set your alarm for a specific time and make sure you stick to it.

3. Make it easy – choose a habit that you know you can realistically maintain. If you’re not a morning person, don’t try to force yourself to perform all of your chosen daily activities in the morning.

How can we maintain our newly formed habits?

One of the hardest things about forming a new habit is making it stick, but luckily there are a few strategies we can try to keep ourselves motivated.

First, setting specific, achievable goals can keep us focused on our end result and help us track our progress. We find it best to record these goals in your daily journal and monitor your progress each day.

Secondly, it’s important to reward ourselves for sticking with our new habits; whether it’s treating ourselves to a massage or splurging on that new outfit, rewards provide extra motivation to keep us going.

Just remember, setbacks are inevitable – don’t beat yourself up if you slip up or miss a day here and there. Just brush it off and get back on track with your goal. A great rule of thumb is to try your best not to miss your activity twice in a row. 

And lastly, surround yourself with supportive friends and family who will lift you up and help keep you accountable when times get tough. By incorporating these strategies, you’ll be well on your way to solidifying your new habit for the long run.

Watch this video from James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, on how to get 1% better every day:

How do we overcome common challenges when forming new habits?

Forming habits can be tough – we often find ourselves slipping back into old patterns and feeling frustrated with our lack of progress. One common challenge is feeling overwhelmed by trying to tackle too many habits at once. It’s important to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day – try focusing on one or two habits at a time and giving yourself space to adjust before moving onto the next thing.

Another challenge is facing moments of weakness – instead of beating yourself up for indulging in something you’re trying to break, try reframing it as an opportunity for growth and learning from your experience.

And finally, don’t underestimate the power of a support system – sharing your journey with friends, family, or even online communities can provide accountability and encouragement as you work towards your goals. Remember, habit change takes time and patience but ultimately the effort is worth it!  Happy habit-changing!

So, what have we learned? It’s important to understand habit formation if we want to make lasting changes in our lives for the better. Scientists have been studying habit formation for a while now and have uncovered some useful information on how it works. There are a variety of methods that people use to try and form new habits, but not all of them work equally well for everyone. And finally, while changing our habits can be challenging, there are ways to overcome any obstacles we may face. So don’t give up! Keep pushing yourself to make positive changes in your habits, and watch as your life improves for the better. 

We hope this article has given you a good overview of habit formation and its importance, as well as some tips on how to change your own habits for the better.