What are habits?

Tue, 10/23/2018 - 16:03 -- Jamie

In simple terms, habits are built in tendency for our brains to repeat things that we’ve done before. Habits save brains space as we don’t have to think about what we need to do all of the time.

Habits must be triggered so firstly you have to consciously do it and remind yourself to do it and then with enough practice it can then become ‘unconscious’ which means that you get used to doing something so much that you do it automatically as a habit. This means that we can do things that we want to do without little effort and willpower. This works even when we’re exhausted as willpower is a limited resource.


40% of our daily actions are habits

60% of our daily actions are intentional.

When on a diet you get to the end of the day and willpower is low and you give in for example, ‘have that big bar of chocolate or that take away meal’, however, habits allow us to run on autopilot and to do a lot of good behaviours.


The habit loop

Trigger- A reminder, be it conscious or subconscious that initiates behaviour. An example of a trigger: seeing your gym clothes, this reminds you that you’re going to get changed in it and go to the gym and that you’re going to exercise.

Action- The behaviour itself, the action you take.

The reward- This is the benefit that you gain from doing the habit.

Example of this concept is-

Trigger- You see your toothbrush

Action- You clean your teeth

Reward- You have a nice and clean mouth.


If the behaviour is positive then the desire is to repeat the behaviour and it will be reinforced when you see the trigger.

It varies from person to person but it takes 18-254 days of conscious effort to reinforce a habit before you can push it into an unconscious habit so habits take time to work on.


The anatomy of a trigger- 4 features

Building habits-

Must be frequent- they have to be performed in a consistent control.

Must be automatic- they take little to no effort.

Must be triggered- something gets triggered and all the actions necessary for a habit just start falling into place.

Must be conscious- Habits take place almost entirely below our level of awareness. Both triggers and action

For example- You’re driving your car into work, you get in the car, you start driving to work and before you know it, you have got to work and you haven’t even realised that you have driven because it has been subconsciously on autopilot the whole time.


Designing habits- 5 principles-




Personalisable to you

Under your control


Obvious- The closer the habit links to your goals then the more likely you are to follow through on it. The more complicated something is the less likely we are to feel in control of it and again this lowers your chance of following through.

Is it obvious enough? So if you told your habit to a family member or a friend then would they understand why this habit would help you achieve your goal? This is how obvious your habit and your goal should be.


Frequent- To reinforce the habit we need to be initiating it frequently and reinforcing it frequently.

For example- ‘I will go to the gym once a month’. Whilst this behaviour will promote your goal to start lifting weights or using that cardio machine it isn’t frequent enough to reinforce it into a habit and for it to become subconscious.

Can it be done daily? Make sure that the behaviour that you want to practice can be done daily or at least close to it.


Triggered- By definition habits are actions that are triggered by something in the environment such as something that’s physical or social. If we don’t have a trigger then we won’t have a habit. After or before your habit (your current habit) you can make another habit, for example- ‘After my morning shower (your current habit) I will make myself a healthy breakfast to eat (this could be your new and next habit to put into action)


Personalisable- We are all different and are all on different paths so we must make habits personalisable. We should be at 90-100% certain that we can achieve our habit on a daily basis.

E.g, if you make a habit/goal of ‘I will eat 5 portions of fruit a day’ but you’re not 100% that you can do this then change it slightly to something that is more achievable for you and that you can do such as- ‘ I can/will eat 2 portions of fruit a day instead’.

We must all remember that we all have different circumstances that are also ever changing and this must be personalised in our habits from time to time.

This may mean that you need to make the habit smaller or larger.


Can you modify the habit/goal?

E.g ‘I will exercise 7 times and week for 7 days of the week’.

The frequency- Every day to every other day

Intensity- 100 press ups to 50 press ups instead

Units- 4 sets of press ups to 2 sets of press ups

Any variable to get the habit to 90%-100% confidence level in order for you to be certain that you can stick to your habit


Controllable- The habit has to be 100% under your control. This is the most important principle of good habit design.

It has to be under our control to do the habit. We also can’t rely on other people or other events. For example: ‘I will get 8 hours of sleep a night’. This may not be in our control as what if you can’t fall asleep or what if you wake up?

These things can impact your habits when actually these things aren’t under your control. You can control your sleep routine though. Maybe your sleep goal is to get to bed at 9pm every night. This is a habit that is under your control but the amount of sleep that you get isn’t under your control.