3 Simple Steps for Forming High-Performance Habits

In an earlier post, we talked about how seemingly small actions in our relationship add up over time having profound effects. This doesn’t hold true for just relationships–it’s applicable to most areas of life. In fact, when you take a look at people who are successful at just about anything, you find that much of their success stems from a number of well-serving habits they’ve developed over time.


Success in Most Areas of Life is Based on Habits


For instance, let’s take a look at someone who is incredibly fit. Did their washboard abs develop overnight? No, instead what they developed are a number of habits that helped them build muscle mass while keeping their body fat percentage low. Exercise has been habituated into their daily routine. They eat lots of fruit and vegetables on a regular basis while habitually avoiding sugary, processed foods.



The same goes for the majority of wealthy people in this country. They established habits like frugality, tracking their spending, tracking their net worth, investing the difference wisely, etc. That’s their secret to wealth–habituating a number of small actions that produce positive results.


40% of Your Day is on Autopilot


Surprisingly, a substantial amount of what we do on a day-to-day basis is habitual. A study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in 2014 suggested that nearly 40% of what we do is habitual. [1] Since much of our day is based around habits and given that habits can help us develop success in many aspects of our life, let’s take a closer look at how habits are formed. By doing so, we can start to add more positive habits to our life, extinguish negative ones, and work toward becoming better versions of ourselves.


How to Form a Habit


In Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, we are provided with a 3 step guide for forming any habit. [2]


  • Cue: A cue can be any number of stimuli that trigger a behavior. They can range from a location, to an object, to a particular time of day, a certain sound, or even an emotion. Most anything can be a cue as long as it triggers some type of response.


  • Routine: Your routine is a specific behavior that is linked to a cue. The behavior is the habit itself and will produce a particular outcome or reward.


  • Reward: The reward is the benefit after performing your routine that reinforces the cycle.


When this cycle is put on repeat, eventually a habit forms. The nice part is, once you familiarize yourself with these three steps, you can use it to your advantage by developing new habits.


For instance, if you want to develop a habit of meditating for 10 minutes each day, you can start by setting an alarm in your phone reminding you to meditate when you wake up in the morning. The alarm would serve as your cue reminding you to meditate. The act of meditation will serve as the routine with the reward being a number of health benefits such as reduction in stress and anxiety levels.


How Long Does it Take to Form a Habit


Research varies on the length of time it takes to form a habit. One of the most widely cited articles on habit development is from the European Journal of Social Psychology by Dr. Phillippa Lally. Her research suggests that the time it takes to form a habit can be highly variable ranging anywhere from 18-254 days, however, on average a habit appeared to be fairly automated by day 66. [3] Obviously, this will differ from person to person and depend on the cue, routine, and reward system that’s established.



Now that we know more about habits, how to form them, and the impact they have in our life, I’d like to leave you with a quote by Charles Duhigg, “And once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom and responsibility to remake them.”


How about you? What habits serve you well in your life? What reward systems have you implemented to help reinforce positive habits?


References:


  1. Neal, D. T., Wood, W., Wu, M., & Kurlander, D. (2011). The pull of the past: When do habits persist despite conflict with motives?. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(11), 1428-1437.

  2. Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. Random House.

  3. Lally, P., Van Jaarsveld, C. H., Potts, H. W., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European journal of social psychology, 40(6), 998-1009.


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