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How to Form a New Habit and Make It Stick

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The start of the year is a great time to experiment with some new habits.

If you are anything like me, the holiday season has allowed a few undesirable ones to flourish that make the 9-5 life extremely challenging. One of my biggest issues is getting up in the morning, the cold and dark mornings felt during the winter eliminate any motivation to leave the comfort of my warm bed. But as most people know, avoiding a problem will not make it go away! So instead of lying in bed scrolling on my phone and avoiding the inevitable, I have done some research into the science of habits, how we can form them and make them stick.

A habit is a behavior that has become automatic. When you look both ways before crossing the street, chew your nails when you are nervous or boil the kettle every morning. Humans can have good and bad habits, hence why it’s important to understand how they work. James Clear, a New York Times bestselling author describes the 4 stages of a habit in his book Atomic Habits. He states that the 4 stages are:

  1. Cue – The environmental factor that signals our brain
  2. Craving – The craving the habit will satisfy
  3. Response – The actual habit you will perform
  4. Reward – What you will gain

“In summary, the cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue. Together, these four steps form a neurological feedback loop—cue, craving, response, reward; cue, craving, response, reward—that ultimately allows you to create automatic habits.” (Clear, Atomic Habits, 2018)

The Habit Loop by James Clear


Relating this information back to my own issue of wanting to wake up earlier, I can use this knowledge to create my new habit.

  1. Cue – My alarm clock rings
  2. Craving – I want to wake up to feel more accomplished and successful
  3. Response – I wake up early
  4. Reward – I gain more time to conquer the challenges of the day

Now that I have a comprehensive understanding of my habit, I can now investigate how to increase my success rate. I looked to Physician, author, television presenter and podcaster, Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, who explained that there are 5 ways you can increase your chances of sticking to your new habit. I used selected 3 and applied them to my own scenario of wanting to get out of bed earlier.

  1. Start Small – I can begin by waking up 15 minutes earlier, then increasing this as I progress
  2. Connect Change to an Existing Habit – Every morning I tend to have a quick scroll of the news on my iPhone, therefore, if I leave my phone in a different room, when my alarm clock wakes me up I will immediately get up to read my daily news.
  3. Design Your Environment – This is about making your surroundings cohesive to your habit. In my example if I have an alarm clock on the other side of the room, I will have to physically leave my bed in order to turn it off.

So, there you have it. A comprehensive guide to the science of habits. Take this information and apply it to your own scenario today!