Building Habits – The Methods I Use for Lasting Change

Habits, they can be good and they can be bad, it all depends on how the habits you hold affect your daily life and goals. Everyone is guilty of having bad habits and wanting to have better ones, but building good habits can be difficult and frustrating. 

Building habits is the process of practicing actions until they become mostly unconscious, easier to do, and easier to continue doing. They can include personal routines, performances, athletics, and most any area of day-to-day life.

Let’s talk about what makes a habit a habit and how to make your bad habits into good ones. 

What Is Building Habits?

Building habits is the process of developing routines that become so integral to your daily life, they are no longer a struggle to start or maintain.  There are many kinds of habits, most can be divided into good habits and bad habits.

Building a new habit can be as difficult as breaking a bad one, but with discipline and the right tools it can be easy to understand how habits are formed so when you want to form a new habit like waking up an hour earlier, or exercising daily, or washing dishes right away after a meal, you can.

Group of people exercising - Building Habits - Gone Minimal
Group of people exercising

Why are Habits Important?

Habits are an important force for our cognitive function. The brain is always looking for the easiest and quickest way to get pleasure chemicals and often times this is how bad habits form. Smokers, for instance, become addicted to nicotine because it releases good chemicals in their brain. So their brain knows that when it smokes, it feels good, and then smokers start to crave nicotine and they develop a habit that becomes difficult to break.

The same goes for people who are addicted to social media and checking their phones or binging tv shows online. Once your brain recognizes that something gives it a serotonin rush, it wants you to keep doing that thing. Fortunately, it’s not just bad habits that give us a rush of pleasure chemicals in our brains. Good habits, though they can be difficult to begin, also can become habitual once we clear the neural pathways of bad habits to make room for the good. 

Why Do People Build Bad Habits?

People often build bad habits for different and personal reasons. One key factor is the human need for immediate gratification. Bad habits often provide quick rewards or relief from discomfort, providing a temporary escape or satisfaction. Additionally, patterns can develop due to coping mechanisms and dealing with difficult emotions. Overcoming bad habits is possible when you acknowledge them and try to change them.

How Long Does it Take to Build a Habit?

Studies show that it takes a disciplined 60 days to make a habit. The first 60 days are the most challenging when wanting to form a habit because you are essentially rewiring your brain to find pleasure in a new activity when your brain already knows that another bad habit exists and gives us quick and easy dopamine.

It can be frustrating to build a habit because while you are saying to yourself, I know this workout will be difficult but it will make me feel good, your brain is very convincingly arguing, yes but we could watch a few more episodes of that TV which will make the happy chemicals and not make you sore in the morning! However, if you can stick with a habit for 2 months, your brain gets rewired to enjoy the new good habit over the bad habit you once had. 

Studies show that it takes a disciplined 60 days to make a habit.

Good Habits vs. Bad Habits

Good habits help move you toward a goal or destination, whether it’s to be happy, healthy, lose weight, make more money, or finish your projects on time. Bad habits, however, stop you, hinder you, slow you down, or ultimately prevent you from reaching your goal or destination. The problem is….your brain can’t tell the difference between a good habit and a bad habit– all it knows is that whatever you’re doing is creating dopamine and it wants that.

Bad habits become habitual because they are easier ways to get dopamine than good habits. A bag of cheetos is infinitely more intriguing than carrots and hummus because even though carrots will benefit your body and mind, cheetos are cheap and salty and delicious and bring more immediate pleasure chemicals to your brain. Even if the temporary high of cheetos doesn’t last as long as carrots your brain doesn’t care because it wants its fix of dopamine and it wants it NOW!

Habits to be made sign - Building Habits - Gone Minimal
Habits to be made sign

How To Develop Good Habits

Building good habits takes time and discipline. It’s difficult to tell your brain that going for a walk is just as rewarding as watching a few hours of Disney+ because walking means getting dressed, leaving your house, and god forbid…walking. ugh. The best thing to do with developing good habits is to be reasonable.

You’re not going to be able to change into a completely different person with all good habits overnight, but once you can get the ball rolling, good habits form more easily. Start with something little that you know you can manage like going for a walk after dinner instead of watching a show, or waking up 20 minutes earlier every day.

Examples of Habits

Not every bad habit is deadly like smoking, or unhygienic like nail-biting, and not all bad habits are bad habits for everyone. But if a habit is not helping you toward a goal or a version of yourself that you want, then it’s a bad habit.

Some examples of bad habits include:

Bad HabitWhy It’s Not Good For Your
Bingeing TV ShowsIt can take anywhere from a half hour to…god it’s been 7 hours already? and it’s morning?? Spending too much time in front of a screen can impact how much sleep you get and the quality of your sleep, especially if you watch before bed. It can also keep you from moving around for a long time and getting your heart rate up and can lead to mindless snacking as well, even if you’re not hungry.  
Mindless SnackingWe’re all guilty of eating when bored and not when hungry. Food is a stimulant so not only can it make you feel full but it is something to do when your brain gets bored and restless. When we get that restless snacking urge, we often don’t want to eat something that takes too long to make or doesn’t taste really really good so we reach for junk food. This kind of snacking can impede our appetite for healthier meals so the best thing to do is practice listening to your body when it is hungry and reaching for small, healthy snacks rather than a whole box of cheez-its. 
Constantly Being On Your PhoneThis one is tough. Everything is on our phones these days: conversations with friends, our email, banks, social media. Checking your phone not only gives you a hit of dopamine, but apps are programmed to feed that urge to check. It can be easy to fall into an endless loop of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email, Twitter, Instagram, email, Facebook, twitter, and we know this can last for hours. This can prevent you from stimulating your brain in more productive ways such as reading or crafting or going outside. One way to quell this is to assign offline hours. Start with an hour a day where you put your phone away and do something else and build from there. 
Online ShoppingOh man, is this one tempting. Everything can be bought online these days and shopping gives your dopamine. Unfortunately when we shop online, we take money away from local businesses, support online shops that might not have the best ethical practices, and it is really hard to keep track of money spent online which can lead to overspending.
Drinking water daily is a good habit - Building Habits - Gone Minimal
Drinking water daily is a good habit

Where there are bad habits, there are good habits. Some of which include:

Good HabbitWhy It’s Good For You
Eating Breakfast, Every DayAnd no, iced lattes do not count as breakfast. Making sure to start your day with a meal can prevent you from snacking or overeating throughout the day and can help get you to lunch without getting cranky or running low on energy.
Drinking Enough WaterI get it, water doesn’t taste like much, and it certainly isn’t as tasty as coffee. There’s nothing immediately satisfying about drinking water unless you’re already really thirsty, but by that point you’re already dehydrated. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day can help with digestion, keeping energy up, flushing your system, preventing headaches and so many more things. 
Getting Good SleepWe all struggle with going to bed at a reasonable time and waking up refreshed in the morning. Getting good sleep sets you up for a more productive way, prevents you from needing a midday nap, and sets you up for a stronger mental health day. One thing to help set up that habit is by not checking your phone right before going to sleep which can keep you up longer.

Helpful Habit Insights:

What Is the 21 90 Rule?

The 21/90 rule says that it takes 21 days to build a habit and another 90 days to make it permanent. If you can commit to your goal for 21 days, it will become a habit. Commit to your goal for 90 days and it will become a part of your lifestyle.

What Are the 3 R’s of Habit Formation?

The three R’s of habit forming are: Resolve, Rehearse, Repeat. Resolve what will be the habit you want to build, Rehearse your new habit, and Repeat the new habit until it’s automatic.

How Habits Are Formed in the Brain?

Our brains form neural pathways–connections between neurons–that get stronger the more often we perform a task. When you perform a task enough times, you no longer have to think about how it’s done, then it becomes a habit.

Apps to Help Build Habits


Streaks is the to-do list that helps you form good habits. Every day you complete a task, your streak is extended. Choose or create up to twelve tasks, such as: not smoking, brushing your teeth, walking the dog, and more. 

Fabulous – Daily Routine Planner

Fabulous is summing up tiny habits into profound long-term changes. They organize suggested habits based on a quiz you take when you download the app and the time of day each habit is the most successful, and how that habit will help you like: energy boosts, better sleep, calming down.

Productive – Habit Tracker

Productive is a good tool to help you build a routine of positive, life changing habits. You can set personal goals, track your progress, and find motivation You can set smart reminders for your day and keep track of your daily, weekly and monthly progress.

Here is an insightful video on breaking bad habits.

Books to Help Build Habits

Atomic Habits

A book by James Clear is a comprehensive guide to how to change your habits a little bit at a time until you achieve your goal.  The book helps to outline the best course of action to set the foundation for building new habits. 

The Power of Habit

This book by Charles Duhigg explains through psychology why we form habits and what it does to the brain along with offering advice about how to rewire the brain to form new habits. 

Tiny Habits

BJ Fogg is a world-renowned behavioral scientist at Stanford University who uses his 20 plus years of research to help readers understand the psychology behind building new habits so they are equipped to build their own.

Other Resources:

Building new habits and good habits can be difficult. Luckily, there are many books, apps, and articles to guide us on how best to form new habits so we can live our personal best lives. 

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