How Do You Build Habits?

In our first email, we went over 9 principles that are key to getting started building your habits. Remember, your habits are what make you who you are, or better yet, they are what you do or not, and what you achieve or not in life. If you haven´t read it, sign up for our newsletter here.

In this article, we will discuss how your habits are formed, and why it is important that you start building them if you would like to achieve your simple healthy life.

You need 2 main things in order to create new habits, a big “why”, especially if you want to break some not too healthy habits, and you need a routine.

Many experts have explained habits, how they are created, and how we can change them. One of the people that I have been following regarding building habits is Leo Babauta. Not only does he put this concept in a very simple way, but he also is a live example of how it is possible to create momentum and achieve major changes in your life by doing tiny steps, one at a time. Another awesome resource that I have been learning from and applying is “The Slight Edge”, an excellent book by Jeff Olson.

The Slight Edge

Here are 2 excerpts from the book:

“To understand patience; to understand that little steps, compounded, do make a difference. That the things you do every single day, the things that don’t look dramatic, that don’t even look like they matter, do matter. That they not only make a difference—they make all the difference…”
…“No matter what you learn, no matter how many books you read, CDs you listen to, or seminars you attend, if you don’t absorb this philosophy of simple steps and their compounded effect over time, you won’t successfully apply those things you learn to create the results you want…”


How do these habits form?

According to Charles Duhigg’s“Habit Loop” in The Power of Habit.

The Power of Habit

“Habits are formed by a 3 step process: triggers (reminder), routine (the actual habit), and a reward (positive or negative feedback).”

  1. Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behavior)
  2. Routine (the behavior itself; the action you take, the actual habit)
  3. Feedback (Positive or negative feedback. The benefit you gain from doing the behavior or the pain you avoid by doing it)



The actions get tied to a trigger by consistent repetition. The habit is so powerful that when the trigger happens you feel the urge to do the action.

For example: Being stressed out (trigger-reminder), you eat junk food once (action). That junk food increases your endorphin hormone levels, making you feel better, although this is a short effect. (Positive feedback).

Then you learn that by eating junk food you can have that comforting feeling when you are stressed out, so the next time you feel that way you will go an eat more junk food (habit).

This process also works with the opposite feedback loop, to avoid negative feedback.

For example: Doing exercise, if you don´t enjoy it, will be unpleasant, a chore (negative feedback), so not doing exercise is a lot more comfortable (positive feedback).

This concept works because normally we tend to aim for short-term results, instant gratification, rather than the long-term consequences. In this example, the short-term outcome is to be nice and comfy by not putting the effort into exercising. The long-term result of not  exercising would be having little energy and feeling heavy in a flabby body.

Conversely, the short-term consequence of exercising is the pain or discomfort of putting the effort into working out (even though you do get the endorphins as a result of exercising you must put the effort before you can feel the benefit, so it is not an instant gratification). The long-term result is to start feeling good and more energetic with a healthier, fitter and stronger body.

Building your healthy habits:

Now, if you are pursuing a simple healthy life, you can combine the positive feedback with the negative feedback, creating your new habit more efficiently. Leo Babauta puts it this way, continuing with the previous example:

Create positive feedback for habits that you want to form.

Reward yourself for doing exercise. Make it fun. Play uplifting music while exercising, find a fun exercise class, workout with a friend, let your spouse take care of the kids while you are working out, making this a time for yourself. Basically make the actual habit fun, and short. Remember you should start with small habits.

Create negative feedback for not doing the habit.

The problem with a lot of habits is that there is not an immediate negative consequence. For instance, if I don´t exercise today, I won´t necessarily gain weight or feel chubby or get sick. Even the negative results take time to build up.

So it is important that you create a more immediate negative feedback. You could ask your family to help you with this by reinforcing the negative consequence when you don’t do your exercise (the habit). Maybe putting $5 in a jar every time you don´t exercise (they will love this!). You could reinforce the negative consequence yourself simply by writing it down on your calendar.

Reduce negative feedback for doing the habit.

If the habit you are trying to build is not pleasant at all for you, you won´t be able to stick to it. You need to make it very easy to start; it should be short, 3-5 minutes at first. Don´t make it something you dread. Sue for example, has clients who now come to exercise with her 3 times a week, but started with just once a week. Once they felt the positive results of working out and moving their bodies, they wanted more!

Reduce positive feedback for not doing the habit.

How Do You Build Your Habits?
Watching TV

If you don´t do exercise and normally watch TV instead, create a negative consequence for that. Ask your family to take away the TV control, or put on your TV pics of obese people, or ask your kids to start jumping on you and making a lot of noise while you are watching TV, etc. Do not allow the TV watching to be a pleasurable time. Of course, if you are watching an exercise program on your TV, and actually doing the exercise, that is a whole different story!

Performance doesn´t really matter while building a habit:

It is important to consider that in the beginning, performance doesn’t matter. What matters is that you build the skill of creating and sticking to your habits.
In my case for example, I took on the challenge to exercise 3 times a week for 5 minutes, plus 2 days of 6 min of qi gong.

At this point, my goal has been to rebuild the habit of exercising consistently (For various reasons, I had a setback of almost a year). After that, I will worry more about the best exercise strategy for me and about building up to the level of performance.

Final Thoughts:

What if you stop thinking of your goals as these huge audacious life-changing events that can only happen when you have the right circumstances?
What if instead, you think of those goals as the everyday actions that you take, something that you can control, rather than waiting for the magic pill that can make you achieve your goal without effort?

It is sexier to think about losing 50 pounds in 6 months, than thinking of the daily actions like choosing spinach over fries, doing 5 min exercise over watching TV and drinking water over pop.

The fact is that these everyday tasks are not sexy; they can be challenging and dull, (unless you learn how to make them fun). It would be easier to look for the quick fix to drop those 50 pounds or be frustrated because that goal is not a simple task, but those daily activities (habits) are the ones that will make you succeed.

“If you pick the right small behavior and sequence it right, then you won’t have to motivate yourself to have it grow. It will just happen naturally, like a good seed planted in a good spot.” —BJ Fogg

Please share with us the baby steps you have been taking to build a specific habit. If you like the article , please share it with your friends.

Meme´s photo copyright: anhoog / 123RF Stock Photo (Meme was made by

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