16 Rules to Create Good Habits

We first make our habits, and then our habits makes us.

By Yabesh Dutta

Habits are the autopilot scripts your brain writes, to decrease the cognitive load of recurring problems. Most of the habits are formed unconsciously, naturally from the people, work, and environment around us. This also may bring us to some or many bad habits, with no benefits or negative consequences.

But if we got the power or skill to make and break habits consciously, then we can make better habits and break the ones we don’t need. And it is Completely possible to do so.

Many believe that building habits can make their life dull and won’t give them enough freedom. Habits don’t restrict freedom, they create it. In fact, people who don’t handle their habits are always the ones with the least amount of freedom. For example, people without good financial habits don’t have any control over their money.

To make new good habits— We have to understand the Four Laws of Behavior Change by James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits. But before we get into it, let’s first understand Habits themselves.

How habits works and are formed?

The process of building a new habit can be divided into four simple steps: cue, craving, response, and reward. All these four steps are the fundamental parts of habit-forming and can help us understand what a habit is, how it works and how to improve it.

habits cycle

The four-step process is the backbone of every habit. All habits proceed in the same order: cue, craving, response, and reward. Your run through these steps in the same order.

First, we have the cue. The cue triggers your brain to perform an action or initiate a behavior. It gives your brain a prediction of the reward. Your brain is continuously looking around internal and external hints of where rewards are located. Cue is the first indication of a reward, which naturally leads to craving.

Craving, the second step. Craving is the motive force behind every habit. Without some level of desire or motivation, there is no reason to do it. What you crave is not the habit but the state change it delivers. You do not crave to watch television but to be entertained. You do not crave a cigarette but the feeling of relief it gives.

Response, the third step. The response is the action or the habit you perform. Whether a response occurs or not depends on the motivation and friction associated with the behavior. Your response also depends on your abilities and even beliefs.

Finally, the reward. The Reward is the outcome you get at the end. It is an important factor that decides whether you should repeat the habit or not.

Here’s a quick practical example: Your room is dark (cue). You want to be able to see (craving). You turn on the lights (response). Your craving to see is satisfied (reward).

The Four Laws of Behavior Change

Before we learn new habits, we need a practical framework that we can use to design our habits. I refer to this framework as the Four Laws of Behavior Change, and it provides a simple set of rules to create new habits and break bad ones. Here’s how it works:

How to Create a Good Habit
The 1st law (Cue): Make it obvious.
The 2nd law (Craving): Make it attractive.
The 3rd law (Response): Make it easy.
The 4th law (Reward): Make it satisfying.
We can invert these laws to learn how to break a bad habits.

How to Break a Bad Habit
Inversion of the 1st law (Cue): Make it invisible.
Inversion of the 2nd law (Craving): Make it unattractive.
Inversion of the 3rd law (Response): Make it difficult.
Inversion of the 4th law (Reward): Make it unsatisfying.

How to Create Good Habits

Law 1: Make It Obvious (Cue)

A Human brain is continuously looking for cues. Some cues are so common that they often become invisible to our consciousness. For example, the phone next to you when you study or the cookie on the counter. The key is to remove cues of bad habits and add cues of good ones. First, we have to be aware of our current habits.

 

1. Write down your current habits: The Habit Scorecard

In the Japanese railway system, workers use the “Pointing and Calling” system as a safety system where workers point and call to their various cues, like a signal been green. They bring every detail to their conscious awareness, it seems silly but it greatly works. Our greatest challenge to changing habits is maintaining awareness of what we are doing. We can use “point and call” in our personal lives.

A practical way to do it is to create a Habits Scorecard. First, you have to create a list of your daily habits. Second, decide which is a good, a bad habit, or a neutral habit. You don’t need to change anything at first, simply acknowledge what is going on.

 

2. Be Certain: Use Implementation Intention

Many think that lack motivation to do a certain task, but what they lack is clarity. When and where to take action are always not obvious. Some people spend their entire lives waiting for the time of day to start. We tell ourselves, “I’m going to start exercise” or “I’m going to study more,” but we never say where and when we are going to do it.

A simple solution is to use Implementation Intention. To apply this strategy to your habit just fill out this sentence:
I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].

Behavior” is the habit or action, that you will do in a certain “time” and “location“. Here are some practical examples of Implementation Intention;
Exercise. I will exercise at 5:30 a.m. in my backyard.
Studying. I will study at 7:00 p.m. in my bedroom.

 

3. Use current habits to make new ones: Habit Stacking

You decide what to do based on what you just have finished doing. Many behaviors follow this cycle. You can spot this cycle everywhere. You buy a dress and have to get new shoes. You buy a couch and started questioning the entire layout of the living room.

You can use this connectedness of actions to your advantage. You can use an old habit to form a new one. This is called habit stacking. Habit Stacking is a special form of implementation intention. Instead of, pairing a new habit to a time and location, you pair it with a current habit. Here’s the habit stacking formula;
After/When I will [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”

For example:
Exercise. After I brush, I will start the exercise.
Studying. After I take a bath, I will start to study.
Health. When I will serve myself breakfast, I will always put on veggies.

You can also take this further by connecting a habit to multiple habits. For example;

After I wake up, I will brush.
After I brush, I will drink a tall glass of water.
After I drink a tall glass of water, I will do breathing exercises.

 

4. Design Your Environment

People often choose to do something not because of what they are but because of where they are. If you walk into the kitchen and saw doughnuts on the counter, then you will eat them, even if you haven’t thought about it beforehand. Environmental is the invisible hand that shapes one’s behavior or habits.

You have to design your environment by adding the cues of habits you want. It’s hard to practice guitar when it’s tucked away in the closet. Here are the ways you can redesign your environment:

If you want to eat fruits daily, place a large bowl of apples in the middle of the kitchen.
If you want to read before bed, place a book near your pillow.
If you want to remember medication after lunch, place it near your dining table.

Law 2: Make It Attractive (Craving)

 

5. Use Temptation Bundling: Pairing what you want to what you need

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter most implicated in pleasure or addiction but it isn’t just associated with the experience of pleasure it’s also released when you anticipate pleasure. This anticipation is what gets us to take action. So how do we use this to our advantage? — Temptation Bundling.

Temptation bundling is one way to make your habits more attractive. The strategy is to pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do. For example, I love to watch my favorite T.V. show. So, I can watch it as long as I want but I must stretch.

You can also combine Temptation bundling with habit stacking, here’s is the formula you can use:
After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED].
After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT].

 

6. Join the Culture where your desired behavior is the Normal behavior

We also need to be aware of the importance of our family and friends. You are the average of every five people you spend the most time with, we don’t choose our early habits we imitate them. The closer we are to someone the more likely we are to imitate their habits.

We tend to adopt the habits that are approved and praised by our culture because we have a strong desire to belong to the group and to fit in. One of the best things you can do to build the habits you want is to— Join the culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior and you already have something in common with the group.
We can join groups, spend more time with friends and family members who approve, respect or praise the desired behavior.

 

7. You don’t have to. You get to.

You can make hard habits more attractive simply with a small mindset shift. For instance, we often say about the things we have to do. You have to exercise. You have to make your breakfast. You have to study. Now, imagine changing the word “have” to “get”.

You get to exercise. You get to make your breakfast. You get to study. By simply changing one word, you shift the view of each. Instead of, looking at them as a burden you turn them into opportunities.

To make a habit more attractive you have to —Re-frame your habits to highlight the benefits rather than their drawbacks. Here are few examples:

Public Speaking. You need to give a presentation and your heart is racing. Instead of associating it to fear, associate it with excitement. “My heart is racing not because but because I’m excited.”
Finance. People often associate saving money with sacrifice. However, you can associate it with freedom instead of sacrifice. “If I live below my current means, it will increase my future mean.” The money you save this month will increase your purchasing power for the next month.

 

 Law 3: Make It Easy (Response) 

People often ask, How it takes to cultivate a new habit? Is it 3 weeks? 21 days? 2 months? When they will end creating a habit. Habits form based on frequency, not time. It’s not a question of how many weeks but rather than frequency and number of repetitions it needs to become a habit. It’s the frequency that makes the difference. Over time it gets easier and easier but there is no magic duration for it to happen.

 

8. Reduce Friction. Decrease the number of steps between you and your good habits

Rather than brute-forcing, making the habit easy any effortless is much more likely to work. To do this, you have to reduce the friction of good habits and increase the friction of bad ones. For example, you can reduce the friction of working out by joining a gym that is on the way home from school, even better if you set up the workout clothes, water bottle, shoes, and gym bag the night before.

Habits are easier to build when they fit into the flow of your life. When we remove the friction, the habit becomes effortless. You can remove all the extra steps to do a certain habit. This leads us to the next rule.

 

9. Prepare the Environmental to make future actions easier

Prime the environment for future use. Nuckols dialed in his cleaning habits refers to a strategy as “resetting the room.” The purpose is not to reset each room simply to clean up after the last action but, to prepare it for the next action.

“When I walk into a room everything is in its right place,” Nuckols wrote. “Because I do this every day in every room, stuff always stays in good shape. . . . People think I work hard but I’m lazy. I’m just proactively lazy. It gives you so much time back.”

There are many ways to prime your environment ready for future action. Here are some examples to do it:

Want to read more? Put the book on the desk, which is easy to reach.
Want to exercise? Set out your shoes, gym bag, water bottle ahead of time.
Want to improve your diet? Put a large bowl of fruits, ready to eat and easy to reach.

 

10. Optimize the small choices that deliver out sized impact.

William H McRaven has given an excellent speech on the importance of making your bed. The reason is simple, habits are like decision trees. If you’re able to start your day by reinforcing good habits, then you’re much more likely to have a good day. These decisive moments are what decides your quality of the day, not willpower. If you went to Tender greens instead of McDonald’s, you are much more likely to eat something healthy.

 

11. Use the Two-Minute Rule to stop procrastination

Don’t try perfecting your habit from the start, just try getting it to stick. Oftentimes, we overdo our new habits burning ourselves out. If you expect too much it quickly will feel like a chore. The key is to stay below the point where it feels like work. You are much more likely to a small task rather than a huge one. A better way to start a new habit is to start small.
The most effective way to start a new habit is to use the Two-Minute rule. Nearly every habit or behavior can be scaled down to its two-minute version. Here are some examples:

“Read book daily morning” becomes “Read one page.”
“Write a book” becomes “Write one sentence.”
“Study for 2 hours” becomes “Open your notes.”

The idea here is to make the habit as easy as possible to start. You can’t achieve mountains in one night. It’s better to do it less than doing nothing a all. This strategy helps you start new habits at a small level, you can scale it up as much as you want. For example, from writing one sentence to one paragraph, to a thousand words, to 5000 words, to finally a book.

 

12. Automate your habits. Onetime actions that lock in future behavior

The Final but effective thing you can do is to automate your habits. My friend Raj struggled to pay his bills on time, he always criticized his memory and how he can’t make a habit. But one day, he decided to set up automatic bill pay, and Now the bills always get paid on time. These one-time choices require a little bit of effort up front and create increasing value over time.

Many one-time actions can lock in good habits, are a straightforward way to employ the 3rd law. When you automate as much as of your life possible, you can spend your effort on tasks that machines can’t do yet. Here are examples of one-time actions that lock in good habits:

Sleep
Buy a good mattress.
Install a blue light filter in your device.
Productivity
Unsubscribe email that you don’t need.
Mute chats and turn off notifications.
Clear up your email inbox using filters.
Finance
Set up automatic bill pay.
Cut down expenses.
General Health
Get vaccinated.

These one-time actions will give you more time and freedom. Use the time to work on more difficult tasks or the ones that can’t be automated.

Law 4: Make It Satisfying (Reward)

“What is reward is repeated.”

 

13. Give yourself an immediate reward after completing your habit

Human are evolved for an immediate-return environment, our ancestors didn’t work to get a paycheck at the end of the month or study for years to get a job. In modern society, we live in a delayed-return environment because we can work a year before our actions deliver the intended payoff. Most of the habits we want pays off only in the long term. You can add a bit of immediate reward, whenever you perform a behavior.

Eventually, you will experience intrinsic rewards like better mood and increased energy. At that point you don’t need to be chasing a secondary reward, the identity itself becomes a reinforcer. Incentives can start a habit, Identity sustains a habit.

 

14. Immediate Reinforcement: Use Instant Gratification to your advantage.

You can use Instant Gratification to your advantage. You need to make the ending of a habit satisfying. The simple approach is to use reinforcement, which is the process of using a sudden reward to increase the rate of behavior. Reinforcement ties your habit to an immediate reward, which makes it more satisfying when it finishes.

For Example:

Let’s say, You open a savings account and labeled it for something you want— maybe a “leather jacket”. Now, whenever you pass on a purchase, put on the same amount of money in that account. Pass on another month of Netflix? Transfer 10$. You are making it satisfying to do nothing.

15. Use a Habit Tracker: Keep track of your habit streaks

When you measure your progress, you make your progress satisfying. When you track a habit, you can’t lie about it. And When a streak is going, you don’t want to break it. The best thing about habit tracking is that— It keeps your focus on the process, rather than the goal.

Habit tracking is powerful because it follows multiple laws of behavior change. It simultaneously makes a behavior obvious, attractive and satisfying. Here are three tips to track habits:

1. Automate the measurement whenever possible
2. Manual tracking should only be done for the most important habits
3. Record the measurement after the habit occurs

You can also use Stacking with Habit tracking. After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [TRACK MY HABIT]. For example, After I meditate, I will track the duration.

5 Best Habit Tracking App To Use

 

 

16. Never miss twice. Get back on track immediately

“Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit.”

Inevitably, you won’t miss days, you won’t be perfect. I guaranteed it. Whenever you skip, the key is to remind yourself of a simple rule— Never miss twice. Missing one workout happens, but you can’t let yourself miss two in a row.

This the difference between winners and losers. Everyone at some point performs badly. But when successful people fail, they rebound quickly. It’s never the first mistake that ruins you, it’s the spiral of repeated mistakes you make. Always remember— Never Miss Twice.

Summary

How to Create Good Habits

Law 1: Make It Obvious (Cue)
1. Write down your current habits: The Habit Scorecard
2. Be Certain: Use Implementation Intention
3. Use current habits to make new ones: Habit Stacking
4. Design Your Environment

Law 2: Make It Attractive (Craving)
5. Use Temptation Bundling: Pairing what you want to what you need
6. Join the Culture where your desired behavior is the Normal behavior
7. You don’t have to. You get to.

Law 3: Make It Easy (Response)
8. Reduce Friction. Decrease the number of steps between you and your good habits
9. Prepare the Environmental to make future actions easier
10. Optimize the small choices that deliver out sized impact.
11. Use the Two-Minute Rule to stop procrastination
12. Automate your habits. Onetime actions that lock in future behavior

Law 4: Make It Satisfying (Reward)
13. Give yourself an immediate reward after completing your habit
14. Use Instant Gratification to your advantage
15. Use a Habit Tracker: Keep track of your habit steaks
16. Never miss twice. Get back on track immediately

Next Suggested Read: How to break a bad habit

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  1. Build a system for every day getting 1% better.
  2. Make time for making new habits.
  3. Overcome lack of motivation and energy.

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