A swimmer in a pool. The Formation of Habits

The Formation of Habits

Habit Formation and it’s Importance

Habit formation is something that we start doing from the day we are born. We take on the behaviour that we act out and is accepted by our environment (our immediate family). This behaviour is then reinforced whilst we sleep and it enters the subconscious mind.

What is a habit?

Wikipedia defines a habit as,

“… a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously. The American Journal of Psychology defines a “habit, from the standpoint of psychology, [as] a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.”

In other words, a habit is something that we do, because of an idea that we hold in our subconscious mind, which got to be there because we repeated that action so often that it became a natural action for us.

There are two keywords here – Natural and Repetition. Just like you, reading the text on this page is a natural action. Over time and through repetition you have learned to identify the shapes in front of you as a form of writing that forms a language that you know. You have spoken it, you have read it and you have written it. It’s “second nature”.


Habits are not necessarily bad. Infact, they are beneficial to our way of living.

Imagine having to learn and relearn, every single day of your life how to do some basics tasks that you take for granted. Thankfully we don’t have to do that. Every time we repeat an action we reinforce it. The neural pathways in our brain get stronger with each action we take.

In the same way we form our beliefs – through repetition of thought of that belief or ideal.

It’s not necessarily the action that creates a habit but also the idea behind it. The action backs the idea up, confirming, physically that idea.

For example, if you have a goal to aim for you first have to have the idea. By taking action towards your goal you are confirming in your subconscious that this is what you want. You confirm that you have made the decision to follow your goal.

The importance behind this is that it allows us to live our life effortlessly. It also means that we will consistently get the same results. That can be a good thing, if the results you are getting are the results you want. If they are not, then you have to change your subconscious beliefs, you have to change your subconscious habits.

Creating a Habit

Back in 2009, a research paper on habit was published by Phillippa Lally and her colleagues, from University College London (UCL), London, UK, where they found that the average time it takes to form a new habit is 66 days.

They found that the best way to create a habit was to repeat the habit you want to form in the same environment each time. For example, if you want to visualise then use the same place daily, under the same circumstances. It’s what is referred to as a “cue”, in the same way that when an actor forgets their lines they ask for a cue to be reminded of what they have to say.

Take getting up early, say 6 am, every morning, because you feel that you will achieve more with your day. You have a reason for doing this. You can prime yourself the night before by acting out what you will do when you wake up. Change the alarm sound. In the morning, when the alarm goes off, get out of bed and leave the bedroom.

You have to do this consistently. Inconsistent effort will not change the habit. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

Breaking a Habit

What the study also found was that breaking habits is not easy. You have to remember that you have had this habit for a long time. The longer it’s been with you the stronger the habit and the harder it will be to break.

Our thinking, our beliefs can get an immediate jolt and an immediate change, when there are critical events, such as terrorism or a natural disaster. But this is rare.

Usually we have to change our beliefs and habits ourselves through CONSCIOUS effort. That means that we have to be consciously aware of our habit and be willing to change it. In this way, when the habit kicks in due to a certain situation or because of an environmental condition, we are already prepared for it and respond in a way we want.

Old habits cannot be “deleted” from our mind. Instead, we replace them by a habit we want. We must maintain the discipline and will power needed to continue the new habit, by repetition, until we no longer have to think about repeating it. It becomes second nature.

66 Days

Remember that the 66 days are an average. You have to become aware of yourself and how long it takes for you. You may need less or more time.

The best way to know when you no longer need to consciously repeat the new habit is when you are no longer consciously thinking about repeating it. Oddly enough, you probably won’t even be aware that you are no longer thinking about it. It will be a sudden realisation at some time in the future.

This procedure is the same for creating and breaking any habit.

Set the Goal – what new habit do you want to form.

Decide that you will do this – you have to be emotionally involved with this decision.

Same environment – repeat the new habit in the same environment.

Consistency – discipline yourself to do it when you are meant to (for example, get up at 6am, go to the gym Monday/Wednesday/Friday, eat healthy)

Keep going until you no longer think about having to do it.

If your habit involves an addiction, seek the relevant help. It’s easier when it’s done with support.

Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.

James Ronald Ryun

A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome by habit.


Photograph by: Gentrit Sylejmani on Unsplash

Read more on Wikipedia “Habit” here. Go back up.

Read more on Phillippa Lally’s et al research here. Go back up.

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