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Forming Habits That Stick: The Scientific Guide To Building Better Routines

Forming Habits That Stick: The Scientific Guide To Building Better Routines

Takeaways

  • Forming habits is a science, not a mystery. By understanding the habit loop and applying science-backed strategies, you can build routines that work for you.
  • It's not about making radical changes overnight, but rather taking consistent small steps towards positive behaviors.

Are you tired of setting ambitious goals only to see them crumble within weeks? Don’t lose all hope. You are not alone and we are here to help. There's a science-backed method for achieving lasting change in your life, and it all begins with understanding the intricacies of habit formation. In this blog post, we're diving deep into the scientific insights of habit formation, sharing proven strategies to make those habits stick.

What Does It Mean To Form A Habit?

Everything we do, including habit formation, originates from our brain's neurological pathways. The difficult thing about the science of habits is that most people think there’s a secret formula for quickly adapting to any habit. It’s not that the formula doesn’t exist, it’s that there isn’t only one.

Habit formation is deeply personal. Every individual is unique, and their behaviors and patterns vary. This individuality leads us to the realization that habit-building formulas must be tailored to suit each person's needs and preferences. This is why all those catchy titles that promise you habit formation in 21 days are misleading. In reality, scientific research suggests that on average forming a habit takes at least 66 days. (1)

Feeling defeated when a habit doesn't stick within a short time frame is a common but misguided reaction. It's not a reflection of your abilities; rather, it's about finding the right information and approach. If you continue reading, the rest of the blog tells you the framework for habit formation that’s easily adaptable for every individual.

Understanding The Habit Loop

In order to know what it actually takes to form a new habit, first we need to dive into exactly what happens in the brain during that process. The habit loop is a concept popularized by Charles Duhigg in his book "The Power of Habit" that consists of three key components: the cue, the routine, and the reward. Habit loop is a framework made for understanding how habits work and a guide to experimenting with how they might change. (2) Essentially, with enough time and repetition, the action can become automatic making it into a habit.

Dr. Ann Graybiel at MIT has been a key figure in researching this phenomenon. In the late '90s, Graybiel and her team began connecting behavioral triggers and positive reinforcement to habit formation. (3) To get more scientific about it, a new behavior starts off in the prefrontal cortex, which is the decision-making part of our brain. When we want to start a new habit, it’s challenging because it engages an active part of our brain. Yet, after repeated completion of the habit loop, much of this function shifts to the basal ganglia which is responsible for our instinctual behaviors. These behaviors are automatic and we don’t think about them, so another habit is formed when it falls under this category.

Let’s explain the parts of the habit loop now with an example of a healthy habit you can try to implement into your life.

Cue (Trigger)

The cue, also known as the trigger, is the first element of the habit loop. It's the event or circumstance that initiates the habit. Cues can take various forms, such as a specific time of day, a particular location, an emotional state, an action, or even the presence of certain people or objects. Cues serve as signals to your brain that it's time to execute a particular routine.

What does this look like for you?

Let’s say you are trying to take your postbiotic supplement every day. Your cue could be tying it to an existing habit, such as having a glass of water after brushing your teeth in the morning or setting a reminder on your phone for a designated time each day.

Routine (Behavior)

The routine is the second element of the habit loop. It's the actual behavior or action you engage in as a response to the cue. This is the habit itself. It can be a physical action, a thought process, or an emotional response. The routine is what you do automatically and repetitively in response to the cue. So for our example of a healthy habit, the routine is actually taking your postbiotic supplements and that’s it.

Reward (Outcome)

The reward is the third element of the habit loop. It's the positive outcome or satisfaction you gain from completing the routine. Rewards are what reinforce the habit loop and make it more likely for the habit to repeat in the future.

The reward is what your brain associates with the routine, making you more inclined to perform that behavior in response to the same cue.

The reward could be a sense of accomplishment in taking steps towards better gut health, knowing that you're investing in your overall well-being, or even a small treat or affirmation after completing the routine.

These benefits serve as a reinforcement of the habit loop, making you more likely to continue taking your supplements as recommended.

All of this might feel a bit too scientific or like it takes a long time so it’s not appealing, but this can take off a lot of pressure of sticking to a certain timeline. The habit loop allows you to create a structure that encourages the consistent and automatic behavior of taking postbiotic supplements (or any other habit). By following these steps, you can start slow and small which is more likely to bring you success.

Conclusion

Forming habits is a science, not a mystery. By understanding the habit loop and applying science-backed strategies, you can build routines that work for you. Forming habits is very unique and individual. Remember, it's not about making radical changes overnight, but rather taking consistent small steps towards positive behaviors. You can also track your progress with our free calendar and reward yourself appropriately. Over time, these small actions will compound, leading to significant improvements in various aspects of your life. So, start today by identifying one habit you want to form, and let the journey of transformation begin!

References

  1. Gardner, Benjamin, et al. “Making Health Habitual: The Psychology of ‘Habit-Formation’ and General Practice.” British Journal of General Practice, vol. 62, no. 605, 2012, pp. 664–666, doi:10.3399/bjgp12x659466.
  2. Duhigg, Charles. Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2014.
  3. “MIT Researcher Sheds Light on Why Habits Are Hard to Make and Break.” MIT News | Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1999, news.mit.edu/1999/habits.
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