Building meaningful habits like exercising regularly, eating healthy, waking up early, and reading books can be challenging. Many try to motivate themselves through sheer willpower but fail after a few weeks. However, a proven habit-building system based on scientific research can help anyone successfully build long-term habits. You can easily create stick habits by following the simple steps in this habit-building framework. More than just a behavior change, developing powerful habits can rewire your mind and change your identity over time. This article will break down each component of this transformative habit-building system. With these insights, you can build the habits that improve your career, health, relationships, and more.
Cue: What Triggers the Habit?
The first step is identifying your habit cue. Your cue should be simple and already tied to an existing habit. For example, if you want to meditate daily, do it right after your morning shower. The shower is already a consistent habit and functions as a reminder. Other good cue examples are waking up, eating breakfast, or getting home from work.
For instance, Bob linked his new journaling habit to his morning cup of coffee. The coffee cue happened every day, so it was reliable.
Craving: What Drive Will Sustain This Habit?
Next, uncover the craving or motivation that will drive this new habit. We often think we “should” do certain habits, but there is usually an underlying craving or desire driving the habit. Connecting your habit to a craving gives it staying power. For the meditation example, your craving might be decreased stress.
Bob realized his motivation for journaling was to have better self-reflection, which fit into his more significant craving for self-improvement.
Response: How to Act When the Cue Happens
When your cue happens, you need a planned response to turn the cue into action. Make your response extremely easy to do. For meditation, have your cushion and headphones ready right after your shower.
Bob kept his journal on the kitchen counter with a nice pen, so it was simple to write each morning.
Reward: What Reinforces This Habit?
To stick with a habit long-term, you need a reward. Some good rewards are checking off your habit on a calendar, telling someone about your progress, or celebrating milestones. Intrinsic rewards like a sense of accomplishment also help reinforce habits.
Bob added stickers to his journal when he remembered to write for three days straight. The stickers gave him an excellent sense of satisfaction.
Ability: Start Small to Ensure Success
When choosing your habit goal, ensure it matches your current ability level. Starting too ambitious usually fails, which damages your self-efficacy. Build up your habit slowly from 5 minutes a day to 30 minutes.
Bob wrote three things he was grateful for every morning in his journal for the first month. This small habit was very achievable.
Motivation: Harness Support and Progress Tracking
Stay motivated by involving others, tracking your progress, and celebrating wins. Share your goals with a friend who can check in on your progress. Give yourself credit for small victories instead of focusing on slip-ups.
Bob told his sister about his journaling goal; she cheered him on. He also gave himself credit whenever he remembered to write.
Environment: Set the Stage for Success
Shape your environment so it’s easy to perform your habit. Leave your gym clothes somewhere prominent, put guitar sheet music on your music stand, or set up your journal by your coffee maker. Build reminders and remove friction.
Bob kept his journal on the kitchen counter to avoid missing it. He also taped an index card with inspirational quotes above the counter.
Case Study: Lisa’s Reading Habit
Lisa has a goal of reading for 20 minutes daily to improve her focus and deepen her knowledge. Using the above habit system, she identified her existing habit of having tea after work as the cue. Her craving was enjoyment and learning. Lisa’s response was to keep her current book on the end table next to her tea supplies and put 20 minutes of reading in her calendar. For rewards, she puts stickers on a chart each day she reads and plans to buy herself a new book after finishing this one. Lisa started small with just 5 minutes of reading per day. She also told her spouse about her goal, who will help keep her motivated. Lastly, Lisa minimized friction by having a basket of books readily available to grab a new one quickly. After three months, Lisa finds reading a fun, habitual part of her evenings that she looks forward to each day.
In summary, the critical steps in effectively building habits are identifying reliable cues based on existing habits, understanding your cravings, planning easy responses, utilizing rewards, starting small, tracking progress, involving support, and structuring your environment. While habits take sustained effort over weeks and months to cement into your identity, this system accelerates the process by helping you engineer habits purposefully. When applied consistently, these steps enable you to reap enormous benefits in your career, health, relationships, and more by transforming who you are and strengthening your willpower muscle. I wish I had known these insights in college while trying to change my lifestyle. Now I’m excited to see the power of habits compounded over time as I implement this system in my own life. I hope you will also begin leveraging this system to build your most important habits. Consistency is vital, so start today on your first small habit!