Habits are formed when new behaviours become automatic. This means we do them without really thinking about it. While some habits are bad for us, such as wasting an hour on Instagram when you should be studying, others can be great to have around. For example, switching off the lights when you leave a room or brushing your teeth before you go to bed.
Every habit has a three-step pattern (or “habit loop”): cue, routine and reward. Let’s use the Instagram example to understand how it works:
- Cue: Your cell phone receives a notification: someone liked or commented on one of your pictures. This serves as a cue (or trigger) to check your account.
- Routine: This is the actual behaviour. When you receive a notification, you automatically check your Instagram account.
- Reward: This is the benefit you gain from doing that behaviour. In this case, the excitement or happiness you feel when you find out who liked or commented on your picture.
Habits with an immediate reward (such as this one for social media) are easier to pick up than those with a delayed reward (for example, learning a new language!).
How to create a good habit
Now that we know what the habit loop is, we can develop a new habit from scratch or change a bad habit into a good one. To do this, we need to identify the elements of our habit. In this short video, Charles Duhigg, author of the book “The Power of Habits“, breaks down how he changed a bad habit into a good one:
Now it’s our turn.
Let’s think of a common scenario: You like to hang out with friends in the afternoon, but then you are too tired to study.
How can I create a habit that allows me to have fun with my friends while I also spend some more time studying?
You could convince your friends to study with you at the library for a couple hours and then play at the park. Or you could study alone and then meet them at the park. This way, you keep your reward (hanging out with friends) and you also gain a new one: having better grades. If you repeat this routine over time, you will eventually form this new habit.
Tips to avoid feeling frustrated
- Take it easy: pick one habit and focus on doing it well before moving on to the next one.
- You should start small and easy. Doing the habit is much more important than how much you do.
- Create an environment that helps you achieve your goals (for example, switching off your phone while you study to avoid distractions)
- Be optimistic, you can do it!