How to Build New Habits with Simple Systems

October 19, 2015 • Rehack Team


There is one thing you have in common with every other person, and you may not even realize it. This one thing separates the successful millionaires from everyone else.

So what am I talking about?

Your habits.

Everything you do throughout the day is a direct result of your habits. How early did you wake up? Did you exercise? How much time did you spend playing video games? Did you eat a healthy breakfast?

It’s easy to develop bad habits, and it happens way too often. It’s difficult to shake these habits once our brain becomes comfortable with them.

Luckily for you, it is possible to build new habits. There’s one strategy that gives you a higher success rate at breaking old habits and building new ones that will improve your life. But first, let’s take a look at how habits form.

Cue, Routine and Reward, in That Order

There are many strategies that can be used to build new habits. However, there is only one formula that explains how habits stick in our brain. This formula is called the habit loop, and it consists of three parts:

  • Cue: Something that triggers your habit. For example, a bell goes off at work when it’s time for lunch. The sound of the bell going off is the trigger that tells your brain it’s time for lunch.
  • Routine: Event that happens as a result of the cue. When the bell goes off, you go to lunch. The act of going to lunch, sitting down with colleagues, and eating your lunch is the routine. This routine doesn’t happen without the cue.
  • Reward: A feeling of satisfaction that comes from the routine. When you eat lunch at work, there are two rewards. The first reward is socializing with colleagues, and the second reward is fulfilling your hunger.

It’s important you understand how habits form. This information can help you consciously develop new habits that will increase productivity. There is one strategy you can implement that is very effective for building new habits.

Break Habits Into Smaller Systems

You may have noticed when you have a large assignment or task to complete, then you feel drained and tired. It turns out our motivation and willpower are on a timer, and it depletes as the day goes on.

When you try to create a more involved habit that takes up a lot of time, you might not fully commit to that habit. This is why it’s important you break down a habit into smaller steps. This can be done by creating a cue, routine and reward for tiny parts of the habit.

How to Build New Habits in Practice

Let’s say you want to start waking up early to exercise and get in better shape, but you are used to sleeping in until the early afternoon. The cue for this situation would be the alarm clock going off at 6 a.m. The routine would be waking up and going to the gym, and the reward would be feeling healthier and being proud of yourself.

But the first time you try, the alarm clock goes off at 6 a.m., and you hit snooze. Next thing you know, you’re waking up at 11:30 a.m.

You should set a cue, routine and reward just for waking up. Your cue will still consist of that alarm clock going off, but maybe your routine is you getting out of bed and listening to your favorite songs. The reward is you feeling better about yourself due to the music, as well as pride. Even though this habit has nothing to do with exercise, it helps you wake up early in the morning.

Now that you are awake, you can set a cue, routine and reward for exercising. Your cue should be getting in the car, the routine should be driving to the gym and working out, and the reward should be you feeling good about yourself. Once you get good at this, you can combine these two smaller habits into the larger habit you want.

Smaller Is Better When Building New Habits

Just by understanding your habits and how they form can make a difference in your life. By simplifying these habits into smaller systems, you are on your way to increasing productivity and improving your life.