Changing Habits Will Be Your Most Powerful Ally in Achieving Your Goals

~~~ What are habits? ~~~

Habits help us do things automatically that shouldn’t require conscious attention so that we can concentrate on important things. This is great for all habits that are good, or at least not bad. It is a problem when we have adopted bad habits, as we also follow them automatically.

How do habits work?

Charles Duhigg has brought together the state-of-the-art on habit research in his book “The Power Of Habits.” We all hold a simple habit loop that consists of cues, routines and rewards.

Cue Routine Reward

  • Cue – Once a habit is formed, the cue tells us that we don’t need to spend conscious attentions on what the cue is associated with.
  • Routine – The routine is the automatic reaction triggered by the cue.
  • Rewards – A good feeling that follows the routine and makes us remember the cue as something worthwhile.

For example, your first coffee in the morning has all three parts. What is your cue? It can be different things for different people. Many people have their coffee first thing at work. The cue is arriving in the office. The routine is drinking the coffee and the reward is the good taste or feeling good or probably the caffeine kick, or all them.

Many things can form a cue: certain times of the day, feeling de-energised or getting stressed and so on. The more often we run through this loop, the stronger and more automatic the respective habit becomes until eventually the cue will trigger a craving for the reward. Often the craving and the associated anticipation become very strong and lead to you going through the loop more frequently.

Change habits info graphic


~~~ How to change habits? ~~~

Eradicating established habits is (nearly) impossible according to Charles Duhigg. He recommends replacing the routine of a bad habit loop. For example if you are having bad snacks in certain situations, the best you can do is to replace the bad snack with a good snack. If you remember back in our diet pages that is exactly what we are doing. Slowly replacing our bad food with better alternatives.

When trying to change habits another important tip is to understand what the real trigger is. In our coffee example, what is triggering it? Is it the need for caffeine? Is it socialising? Is it reducing stress? Or is it a substitute for breakfast? Being aware of this will help you change your habits in the right way. If your coffee consumption is triggered by being social, you can always have a different drink. If you are substituting your breakfast, then clearly you should have better breakfast.

Adopting habits is not bad per se. The key is to adopt good habits and get rid of bad habits. People that follow a good diet, do have it because at some stage they have formed that good habit and kept it long enough so that they don’t need to think about it anymore. They may have learned these good habits as children.

Leverage the Power of Habits

Charles Duhigg – The Power of Habit An intriguing book on how we driven by habits. And even though habits form 40% of our life, according to studies, we often don’t become fully aware of what happens in our mind. A must read. Get the book - Get the book on kindle

Establishing a good habit is the most powerful way to achieve goals, especially long-term goals. Break big goals, like losing weight, down into a small habit and work on getting used to the new habit over a month or two. Over time you will make a giant leap towards your goal.

Great Habit Tracker Apps

The Habit Factor(R) – Popular app to change habits.

Daily Tracker – Plenty functionality like tracking habits and goals.

Weple Diary – Nice and inexpensive tracker / to-do app.


~~~ Keystone habit are like a lottery win ~~~

Keystone habits are most powerful positive habits. It is fascinating that there are habits which trigger a cascade of many other changes. These changes may happen over a long time. As mentioned before exercising is one of those keystone habits. One of the reasons why this triggers a positive cascade is that following some regimented positive habits can strengthen your willpower. Please read Charles Duhigg’s book, if you want to know more.


 ~~~ Habit change tool ~~~

Here is a little tool to help you change bad habits. Simply visualise your progress. This supports your working towards a goal. Having identified the reason for your habit will help you find the right goal. To use our coffee example again, If you find you need three coffees in the morning to wake up the solution might not be switching to milk but going to bed earlier. Enter a line in the tool that does that, like “Go to bed at 10:30 pm.”

Use the template below or one of the apps for four to eight weeks per habit. That is usually the time required to change a habit. Use it for any habit that you want to change. It can be as mundane as watering plants or a part of a bigger goal that you have been trying to achieve for a long time, such as getting fit.

Improve dietary habits
Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su Score
Have low GI bread instead of white bread 7/7
Replace all candies / chocolate with fruit 5/7
Have a healthy snack (fruit) 30 mins before lunch 7/7
Have healthy breakfast 5/7
Replace all high GI carbs with low GI products 5/7
Score: 29/35 (82%) Reward: Footy tickets

Change Habits

Cherry Pedrick – The Habit Change Workbook A great guide on changing habits, well explained with examples. Get the book

Kelly McGonigal – The Willpower Instinct Gain deep insights on willpower which is closely related to habits. Get the book - Get the book on kindle


Change habits template