How to Form a Habit

Editor’s Note: this post is inspired by Gary Keller’s blog and book, “The One Thing.” Keller argues our workload and quality of life increases by asking “what is the one thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” As 2020 begins, harness the power of habit-forming (and keeping!). 

“What is the ONE THING you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?.”

– Gary W. Keller –

Main point: find and make the most important habit in any given area

Habit formation relies on context-dependent repetition. Think about it. Habits that stick with you, like brushing your teeth or going for a run each morning, are both a behavior and a situation. By repeating the behavior in the same scenario, the behavior starts to feel instinctual.

How does the brain support habitual behavior, and how long does it take to change your mind?

Your Brain on Habits

In your brain, there are spaces between cells that relay impulses. These synapses facilitate thought and action.

If something is done over and over again, it is easier for the impulse to be relayed, via the synapse, from cell to cell.

Viola! Your brain forms a habit–an action on auto-pilot.

While it may take from 18 to 245 days to form a habit, there are many variables that impact this time play.

Habit Formation Depends on the Person and Habit

Just as some people are naturally more disciplined than others, a person’s unique experiences and personality and psychological factors also impact their ability to form a habit.

If the habit is complex, takes time to do, or requires exertion, it helps to be aware of these roadblocks. You’ll have to work hard to overcome these obstacles to forming the habit.

8 Tips to Creating a Good Habit
  • Do it ONE Thing at a time.
    • When we focus on forming just one habit, the likelihood of sticking to it and turning a behavior into a synaptic habit pathway is greatly improved.
  • Track your progress. 
    • Habit-forming apps and tools allow you to track your progress and stay on task.
  • Be extremely consistent in the beginning.
    • Studies show that consistency pays off, particularly in the beginning of creating a habit when automaticity increases are at their highest.
  • Don’t stop if it seems to be taking too long.
    • Many people fail when they give up too early. There is no rush. Take your time.
  • Keep motivational reminders on hand.
    • It’s easy to put in the work on January 2 or 3, or the earliest days of your new habit-forming challenge. As time passes, inspiration fades. Motivational reminders help drive you through the uphill climb to habit formation.
  • Visualize the rewards of establishing the new habit.
    • When you feel yourself waning or falling back into a bad habit, imagine how much better things will be now and in the future because of the new habit.
  • Create a positive parallel pattern.
    • Did you know that the synaptic “bad habit” pathway never fully goes away? It can be easily triggered. Instead of just quitting a bad habit, replace it with a new parallel pattern for the habit-related situation.
  • Minimize disruptions when starting a new habit. 
    • If you’re in the middle of a move, heading to vacation, or in a major medical crisis, now might not be the time to form a new habit. Take it easy and look forward to when you have space and energy to commit.

Main point: Habit formation is totally doable, if you use a strategic plan and are consistent.

Question to Ponder

What is the one habit such that by doing it every other part of my life is improved or no longer necessary?


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