How To Create Habits Successfully Based on Psychology

Hey guys, 

This week I am going to discuss how to create habits successfully based on psychology. In this blog post, I am also going to cover habit formation from a behavioral psychology perspective in order to give a more nuanced cover of the subject of fitness habits. In the first part, I will share with you two models for habit formation. Then, I am going to discuss ways to break bad habits/create new ones using four laws and concepts like the pleasure/pain principle. Finally, I am going to share with you 8 practical ways of reinforcing and sticking to your newly found habits!

 What this post is also aiming to do is to deepen our understanding of our own motivations, psychology, behavior and thought processes so that we can hack them and become the best and fittest versions of ourselves. From the importance of taking baby steps to tracking and rewarding our progress, this post is going to deepen our own personal development. Just how much do we know about our own habits? Do we randomly choose the ones that we stick to? Do we have any habits that we dislike and wish to break? The first step in understanding this process comes from understanding our own psychology.

Part 1: The Psychology Behind Habit Formation

From a behavioral psychology perspective, habit formation tends to operate in the following way. These are known as the 3’Rs in behavioral psychology. First, habits need a reminder, then they need a routine and finally, a reward. A reminder in this case is interchangeable with the idea of a trigger or cue (more on this in the next few paragraphs). Secondly, it needs a routine (the actual habit arises from this portion). Finally, we have a reward which results from the action that we take.

(Clear, 2021)

As a rule of thumb, every action that we take is motivated by either the drive towards pleasure or the avoidance of pain. In other words, every action is motivated towards achieving a certain outcome.

Rewards serve two particular functions: “We chase rewards because they serve two purposes: (1) they satisfy us and (2) they teach us (Clear, 2021).” 

“But the more immediate benefit is that rewards satisfy your craving to eat or to gain status or to win approval. At least for a moment, rewards deliver contentment and relief from craving (Clear, 2021).”

“Second, rewards teach us which actions are worth remembering in the future (Clear, 2021).” 

(Clear, 2021)

 A second model for understanding habit formation is: 1) cue 2) craving 3) response 4) reward

This model develops on the steps of the first sequence. After a cue is introduced (aka: a reminder or trigger), we develop a craving, followed by a response and a reward. A craving in this case is a particular mental state that you wish to achieve by performing your response. “You do not crave smoking a cigarette, you crave the feeling of relief it provides. You are not motivated by brushing your teeth but rather by the feeling of a clean mouth. You do not want to turn on the television, you want to be entertained. Every craving is linked to a desire to change your internal state (Clear, 2021).”

(Clear, 2021)

Dopamine and motivation:

 Dopamine is known as the feel-good neurotransmitter, it can arise from almost any activity! Dopamine signals to our brains that the action creating the positive feeling is worth repeating! This is what is known as motivation. In this way, understanding how our own drives work can help us optimize our current habits in favor of habits that we want to develop.

“The strength and influence of cravings can best be demonstrated with a quick explanation of neurobiology. Dopamine is the primary neurotransmitter in our reward experiencing pathway, and it was designed evolutionarily to encourage positive behaviors that help in survival.” “… the largest dopamine spike in the brain occurs in anticipation of the reward, not while experiencing the reward. This is really important because that is exactly when cravings are active (Clear, 2021).”

On reward: Everything we do in life is to produce an outcome, a habit is no exception to this. According to James Clear, expert on habit formation and the author of the book Atomic Habits, we each have a drive for satisfaction and/or a lesson

“Rewards are the end goal of every habit. The cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward. We chase rewards because they serve two purposes: (1) they satisfy us and (2) they teach us (Clear, 2021).” 

“But the more immediate benefit is that rewards satisfy your craving to eat or to gain status or to win approval. At least for a moment, rewards deliver contentment and relief from craving (Clear, 2021).”

 Rewards also can dictate our potential for repeating an action depending on the outcome. This is an automatic process!

“Second, rewards teach us which actions are worth remembering in the future (Clear, 2021).” 

Part 2: The Laws Behind Creating Good Habits/Breaking Bad Ones & The Pain-Pleasure Principle

Now that we understand the process of habit formation from a behavioral psychology perspective, how do we then create new habits or break old ones? We can follow the 4 laws below, these are also taken from the book Atomic Habits: 

(Clear, 2021)

1) How to Create a Good Habit:

The 1st law (Cue)

Make it obvious.

The 2nd law (Craving)

Make it attractive.

The 3rd law (Response)

Make it easy.

The 4th law (Reward)

Make it satisfying.

How do make a cue obvious?  

A cue is going to be responsible for triggering the four next steps, it therefore needs to be obvious. A great way of doing so is making whatever step you want to take visible, take the following example below:

 “Make cues obvious. It makes sense, it all needs to start from the top, and we can design our lives around that. If you want to workout in the morning, set out your workout clothes. If you want to read at night, leave a book on your pillow. Being intentional about the cues you are putting out can help guide your behavior to make the positive change you are hoping for (Clear, 2021).” 

How to break a bad habit: This segment is fairly self-explanatory, when we want to break a habit, we need to do the opposite of what we would do if we want to create a new one. 

2) How to Break a Bad Habit

(Clear, 2021)

Inversion of the 1st law (Cue)

Make it invisible.

Inversion of the 2nd law (Craving)

Make it unattractive.

Inversion of the 3rd law (Response)

Make it difficult.

Inversion of the 4th law (Reward)

Make it unsatisfying.

3) The pain/pleasure principle:

No article on motivation, mindset or habits can exist without some mention of the pain/pleasure principle. Understanding how this principle applies to our own lives allows us to understand our own drives/motivations. Simply, the pain/pleasure principle which was created by Sigmund Freud stipulates that people make choices that are either driven to increase pleasure or to decrease/avoid pain. All of our choices, behaviors and actions are governed by this principle. 

Part 3: 8 Tips on How to Create New Habits That Stick 

Part 3 is going to cover 8 tips on how to create new habits and techniques to stick to them. The first technique for creating new habits is to identify one habit that you want to create. If your goal is to become fit and healthy, try to break down this goal into a simple habit instead of several all at once. Secondly, commit to this habit for at least 28 days! 

Sticking to a habit essentially comes down to repetition, here are a few ways to become effective at repeating this newfound habit!

1.Anchor habit to an established routine (this is also known as temptation bundling).

This is a great way of making a habit easy. Just combine your new habit with something that you already do! For instance, let us say the habit is to train at home every day. Anchor the habit of training into your habit of having your morning or afternoon coffee. The second after you have enjoyed your cup of coffee, you will anchor in your new habit of training at home! Give it a try.  The behavioral science explanation for this is: “The natural craving will help you act on the positive behavior once they become associated.”

2. Associate a habit with an action that you normally perform.

This is a simple one. If you typically drive home after work, try to add the habit of driving to the gym to train for the action of leaving work. You are also making the habit specific and therefore easy to follow! Other examples of associating a habit to an existing action are: 

“After my shower, I will plan tomorrow’s workout.”

“After I finish work, I will drive straight to the gym.”

3. Building a new habit.

Do this based on the laws of making a habit attractive (in part 2). An example of this is to pack a bag for the gym the night before going to the gym. You are therefore making it both obvious and easy to get to the gym the next day! 

4. Focus on baby steps.

Focus on staying consistent and never missing a day instead of committing to a lengthy-time consuming change to behavior.

  5. Adopt a consistency-focussed mindset (kiss away perfectionism for good!)

Focus on not missing a day at the gym and being consistent with your training as opposed to changing your entire lifestyle. Jerry Seinfeld famously said: “Set aside time every day to create new material. The key here is to never miss a day, even if you’re not in the mood.”

6. Anticipate challenges and always have a Plan B. 

Examples of daily challenges: 

-time constraints (due to work or family)

 -illness

 -bad weather

-cost (gym, equipment or workout gear) 

-performance anxiety or self consciousness.

For these challenges, alway have a Plan B in mind! A Plan B strategy if one experiences bad weather at the gym can simply be to train at home.

7. Hold yourself accountable for your new habit and track it.

Ways of doing this effectively are:

 -track weekly gym progress on a journal

-tell your friends/join a fitness support community 

More methods include:

-posting regular updates on social media 

-use a tracking app (ie: myfitnesspal) 

-find an accountability partner (a gym buddy or someone who shares your passion)

 -join a community/forum.

8. Make sure to reward certain behaviors that you are now enjoying in your life!

You can do this by getting a new haircut, taking a vacation, getting a massage or by doing any activity that can bring you more of those positive feelings that you are getting from your new habit! Make sure to celebrate it with others too.

 In conclusion, habits can both be created or destroyed using the principles listed above. These include making a habit attractive if you want to do it again or making it difficult if you want to break it. Furthermore, habit formation comes down to a certain process which includes having a reminder, a routine and a reward (also known as the 3 R’s). In this post are several techniques to help us stay consistent with our habits which include anchoring our habit to an existing habit, creating a new habit, never missing a day, holding ourselves accountable and rewarding ourselves!

 I hope that you enjoyed this blog post on how to create habits successfully based on psychology, please let me know what you thought about it in the comments section below! 

Sources: 

https://www.developgoodhabits.com/build-habits/ 

https://guides.co/g/transform-your-habits/8379

https://jamesclear.com/three-steps-habit-change

View at Medium.com

View at Medium.com

https://www.truelemon.com/blogs/tc/simple-way-create-new-habits

2 Comments Add yours

  1. What an informational post. I like James Clear’s book too, and found many gems in Atomic Habits. The practices that have helped me the most are consistency and taking small steps. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Anytime! Glad to hear that 🙏

      Like

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