How to master habit formation

Master the process of forming good habits for self-improvement.

Good habits vs Bad habits

Habits are formed by repetition until such time that doing the activity becomes automatic.

The process for habit formation will be the same whether we are forming a good habit or a bad one. It is the repetition of the activity that will make the habit. And we are the determiners of the habits that may be good or bad for us.

For self-improvement purposes, we would of course want to form habits that will be good for us.

What to change

Before we go and form a habit, we should first determine what is it that we want to change or improve upon. In what aspect of our life do we want that change? Do we want to improve on the physical, mental, financial, or social facets of our life? What is our goal for making such change?

We should list each of our goals down and then determine where we want to focus our attention first. This is because we would create a simple plan that will be easy for us to do each and every single day. Again, because a habit is a repeated action. The more you do an action, the more the habit will stick. The simpler the action, the easier it will be to perform.

Why form a habit

Why? Because when an action becomes automatic, it will require less effort on our end. Like tying our shoelaces or brushing our teeth.

So, for example, we want to improve our health by exercising. The first few days of exercising will require greater effort on our part compared to when we have already mastered the habit down pat.

The goal in habit formation is to make the action automatic that we do not have to think about it. It becomes a motor action.

How to form a habit

According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, there are three Rs to habit formation. These are:

  1. Reminder- the thing that triggers the habit
  2. Routine- the actual habit, and
  3. Reward- the benefit you will get by doing the action


The reminder should be something that we see or do each day in order to set the correct tone of our habit formation. In the example of fitness improvement, we may set an alarm to remind us to do some exercise or it may be the same alarm that wakes us up.


So the new routine will then be, wake up and do some exercise. The alarm will trigger the action of exercise.

For the action, it is important to note that it should start simple. Because we would like for the habit to stick. So a simple exercise will be for us to probably do a one-minute stretch for the first day. On the second day, a one-minute stretch and another minute of warm-up exercise will suffice. On the third day, you can either increase the time or the intensity of the exercise.

You build from those simple routines each day. Until such a time that the moment you wake up, your automatic action is to put on your workout clothes and shoes.

How long does it take

It takes 66 days on average for a habit to become automatic according to a 2009 study titled How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. So it is important to make the habit so basic that doing it will not take too much effort. Before you know it, a good habit is formed.

It may be difficult however to be consistent for the whole duration of 66 days. Let’s face it, we may get sick or simply not up to the task of doing some exercise routines.

When this happens, remember that this is okay. What you can do according to James Clear is to avoid missing the routine twice in a row. This is because when you miss one day, it can be considered as an exception. But when you miss it twice, it may be the start of another habit. One that is opposite to the good habit you are trying to establish.

So when you miss exercising today, make an effort to exercise tomorrow.


Once a good habit is established, your reward will be to experience the good that will be a result of that habit. Going back to the habit of exercising, the reward you will get will be more energy, better sleep, and an overall fitter body.

So to summarize, for us to form a good habit and make it stick, we need to make it simple and be consistent in following it.

What are the habits you want to develop or do you have a habit formation method that worked well for you? Please share in the comments below.

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