How Do I Form Habits Effectively?

Forming good habits is clearly important.  But how can we do it effectively? Not all habits are made the same.  The trick is to downscale your habits into digestible portions and then gradually build up to your final goal. 

Forming healthy habits often seems to be a demanding task when you notice the trouble that people put themselves through to establish them. Take your mom’s diet routine, your classmates’ study habits, or your manager’s work ethic. Forming healthy habits has become essential to self-improvement in the modern world. 

According to Lally’s article of 2009 How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world, habits that are more complex and that take longer to do are the most difficult to form, while the simplest activities are the fastest to establish. 

The simplest way of going about establishing a difficult habit is to take a step back and scale up to your goal.  Say that your final goal is to read a book a week.  Beginning at this highpoint is unreasonable without preparation.  The difficulty of consistently delivering chapter after chapter every night will be exhausting and will just result in you quitting altogether. Instead, begin with one page on your first day.  Easy.  Then two pages on your second day.  Three on the third and so on.  Eventually you will exceed your target and go even beyond your initial goal.  

The simple reason that our attempts to secure habits in the past haven’t been effective is due to our poor preparation – we have put ourselves at a disadvantage by committing too much all at once. That’s like trying to quit an old habit cold turkey.  Remember how that went? Don’t shock yourself unnecessarily with abrupt changes, but ease into them. Approach your goals one step at a time and soon you will be that admirable classmate or successful author that you dream to be. You can do it

Check out these articles to learn more about effective habit making:

Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C., Potts, H., & Wardle, J. (2009). How are habits formed: Modelling Habit Formation in the Real World. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6), 998-1009. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.674 

Ronis, D. L., Yates, J. F., & Kirscht, J. P. (1989). Attitudes, decisions, and habits as determinants of repeated behavior. (pp. 213-239). Hillsdale, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. 

Author: Zac Lo
Editor: Cathy Xie
Researcher: Maureen Arsenal