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In this article we will talk about the science of changing habits and how you can use it to make sure those new year resolutions stick! Coming up.

Hi, I’m Nick Redmark, a professional life coach. For a free coaching session just pick a date and a time and we can get rolling!

Why Focus on Habits?

Very soon we are going to talk about changing habits, but first we should ask ourselves: why change habits in the first place?

There are two types of behavior:

  1. goal-oriented
  2. habitual

Your goal-oriented behavior is more flexible but weaker. Your habitual behavior is less flexible but stronger. It has much more momentum. So imagine that this is your life:

You want your life to go up, so you use all your willpower to pull it up.

But if your habits pull in the opposite direction, you have no chance to turn your life around. So, what you need to do instead, is use your willpower to modify your habits.

The advantage is that in the end it’s your habits that will drive your life upward:

Another way to think about it is this: imagine that your brain is a garden. The structures in your brain are the plants growing in that garden. You, the gardener, cannot produce fruit. Your role is to tend that garden, water and protect the good plants and uproot the weeds before they get too large. The yield will come on its own.

How Habits Work

There are different types of habit. External, behavioral habits are easier to see. Waking up early, eating healthy, drinking enough water, writing down TODOs are all external habits. But then there are internal, mental habits. Worrying, ruminating, self-perpetuating moods and thought patterns can be powerful and hard-to-see habits. Good mental habits include mindfulness, gratitude and self-compassion.

So, how do we change our habits? For this we need to understand the so-called habit-loop. And for this I’m using James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits” as a reference. I highly recommend it. It has a ton of practical advice. I believe it’s the best book out there about habits.

  1. The first component of a habit is the cue, the signal for the habit to start. The cue can be something in your environment, the time of the day, an emotion, a feeling, a thought.
  2. The cue then originates a craving within you. You feel like opening the fridge. You feel like checking your phone.
  3. Then follows the visible part of the habit. You actually perform the habit, the so-called routine. The action.
  4. Finally, what transforms an action into a habit is the reward.

How to change a habit

Now that you know this, you have the tool to design your habits, to make them stronger or weaker, depending on what you want.

Perhaps you want to stretch in the evenings, but you haven’t specified exactly when, in what situation. The solution is to make your cue obvious, such as an alarm clock telling you it’s time to stretch. Or it could be a sign on the bedroom door saying: “stretch before entering”.

The next problem could be that you don’t feel like doing it what you need to do. The secret here is to make your habit attractive. You know you need to stretch, but don’t feel like it. What about always doing it while starting your favorite TV series, before crashing on the sofa?

But perhaps it is the routine itself that is way too hard to perform. You never stretched before, and now you want to do that 1hour youtube yoga session every evening? What about doing 3 positions as a start? With 30seconds per side you are done in 3 minutes.

And finally, if your new action isn’t satisfying once it’s done, it won’t be reinforced in your brain and never become a habit. It’s important that the reward comes immediately after the routine is done. For example, tick off a box every time you are done stretching and feel the satisfaction of the building streak. Reward yourself with something that reinforces your identity.

If you want to stop a bad habit do the opposite. Make the cue invisible, reduce the craving by making it unattractive, make the routine hard, and make the outcome unsatisfying.

Advanced technique: ROUTINES

One of the most powerful tools you can use is called habit stacking. Basically, design your own routines, step by step, where ending one habit becomes the cue for the next one.
Inspired by the book I have built a morning routine, a work routine and an evening routine. For example, my evening routine now has 10 steps, the first 4 being:

  1. Protein shake
  2. Order
  3. Magnesium
  4. Evening stretch

I shared my full routines on, it’s a personal development community, you can join for $1.-/month.

As a final note, it is important to remember that whatever your habits are, you are never done refining and improving them, so make it a habit to review and adapt your habits.

Hi, I’m Nick Redmark, a professional life coach. For a free coaching session just pick a date and a time and we can get rolling!