How to Master the Habit of Forming Good Habits

Rebeka Bergin

Setting a reminder on an Apple Watch

As human beings, 40% of everything that we do is habitual — from brushing our teeth in the morning to checking our emails as soon as we arrive at the office. According to The European Journal of Social Psychology it takes, on average, 66 days to form a new habit.

Although it only takes a tiny fragment of our lives to break a bad habit and reach better life goals, we often find it very difficult to do so. But why, when the benefits of letting go of bad habits are so obvious?

Succumbing to bad habits can make us feel weak and lack the confidence to try harder, which is why many of us get stuck repeating the same bad habits time and time again. Change can be extremely stressful when you’re used to doing things in a certain way, but changing habits for the better has a lasting positive effect on our lives.

Let’s take a look at some ways that we can forget bad habits and adopt new, better ones.

Why Do We Form Habits?

Neuroscientists have discovered that when certain behaviors become subconsciously automatic, our brain doesn’t have to work as hard. Basically, we form habits so that our brain can slack off for a while! What does this mean? It means that doing something spontaneously out of the ordinary exercises our brain!

(And, of course, breaks the habit momentarily).

Curing Bad Habits by Premeditating Them

Bad habits are usually a result of a decision that we made earlier, like deciding to eat lunch at an establishment that doesn’t cater healthy options. The mistake might not occur to you until the “oh crap” moment when you’re sitting down and reading the menu (“Damn it, I’ve ended up here again, oh well I’ll take the double cheeseburger and fries”). Premeditation is the key, because more often than not bad habits lead to other bad habits ⏤ for example: “Since I’ve been eating so unhealthily today, I may as well have that full sugar Coca Cola and forget about the Coke Zero.” No, no, no.

Noting down bad habits and coming up with viable alternatives will not only help you to dodge them, but will also make it easier to come up with solutions that don’t feel like a form of self-punishment.

Getting in the Habit of Writing Down Bad Habits

Writing in a notebook

In this case, the note might say “Eat something healthy for lunch”. “Don’t eat something unhealthy for lunch” has negative connotations and may induce underlying feelings of shame for your past habits — it really does make a difference to your approach. Positive vibes equal more motivation. If you still find this difficult at first (which is understandable, it’s not supposed to be easy), start off small with a simple “Have water or a sugar-free drink at lunch”, and work your way up to bigger goals.

Noting your habits digitally in a list or to-do app will allow you to take your notes everywhere and set reminders for them.

3 Apps That Will Help You Form Good Habits

Wunderlist is a small but massively useful to-do app for noting down important tasks, deadlines, upcoming events, et cetera. Why not use it to break bad habits? Wunderlist is a fantastic way to remind yourself (via your mobile, tablet or computer) to drink water at certain times in the day, have a healthy breakfast at 7am, or squeeze in a 10-minute brain exercise at 8am for better mental performance during the day (which will also boost your willpower to help fight off bad habits!).

Quit That! is an app that tells you how long it has been since you last did something that you shouldn’t have done. People hate to break their winning streaks, so it’s a perfect way to break nasty habits like smoking. It’s very rewarding seeing that you’ve gone an entire week cigarette-free. It even lets you know how much money you save from breaking these habits, which is always a bonus!

Habit List combines Wunderlist and Quit That. It helps you break your bad habits by letting you know, visually with bar charts, how long you’ve gone without doing them, but also allows you to set reminders (to-do list style) for good habits. The app uses badges as a visual reminder of what habits you have left to perform throughout the day. You can even set yourself a reminder to get in the habit of using the app!


A couple running on a bridge

So you’ve finally exterminated a bad habit! But it doesn’t end there, because you never really forget a bad habit and you forever run the risk of falling back into them. Better bookmark this article then, just in case!

By actively reminding yourself about your bad habits, you can bring them to the front of your consciousness and deal with them before it’s too late.

What bad habits have you been carrying around for far too long, or beaten to significantly improve your life?