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“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going”

— Jim Ryun

We all know that motivation doesn’t last for a long time. Forming a habit is a must to enjoy the benefits of any activity in the long term. However, forming a habit isn’t as easy as we think. Many people face lots of problems during the process of forming a habit. The habit formation process seldom lasts long because we tend to break the chain and then forget all about it. All of this because life got busier and things started to interfere with our habit-forming process.

After all, habit formation is not an easy task. It requires commitment, determination and consistency to make it happen. To make the habit formation process go smoothly, the right environment and methods are also needed. Let’s talk about a deadly mistake when it comes to habit formation:

Too Many at Once

When it comes to forming habits, most people have high targets. We want to achieve as much as we can in the shortest possible time. We decide to integrate a list of habits into our lives all at once. We wanted to eat healthier, read more books, and exercise more frequently, all at once, without considering the difficulties of forming a habit.

We have too many active goals at the same time. After a few weeks of struggling, these goals start to overwhelm us. The truth is we can’t handle so many habits at any one time. I, myself is also a victim of this mistake. It’s good to have high hopes and expectations for ourselves, but at the same time, we must also face the brutal reality. Habit formation isn’t easy. We need to realise our limitation and focus on one habit at a time.

The Optimal Way to form habits

1. The One Habit

First, take a look at all the habits you wanted to form. Scan through it thoroughly. How many is less important? Cross those off.

Take a look at the lists, which habit benefits you the most? Is it eating healthier or exercising more frequently? Choose the most important habit you think you should be practising. Prioritize the most important habits first.

2. Start small

Let’s take eating healthier as your choice. Look at the habit, how can you further simplify it? How can you break the task down into smaller pieces?

Eating healthier also means:

  1. Drink more water.
  2. Avoid junk food.
  3. Consume more fruits and vegetables.

Out of the three, drinking more water is easier than the others. So start forming your habits by drinking more water. Break this habit further simpler.

First, drink a cup of water every day after waking up. Practice it every day and make it a routine. After this tiny habit is formed, starts adding in other tiny habits, such as drinking a cup of water every night before sleeping. Repeat the process again and again until you’re satisfy with your “drinking” habit.

Then start to focus on the second not-so-tiny habit – avoiding junk food. To prevent yourself from doing something, the best way is to create the right environment. Stop buying junk food and distance yourself from all the seduction.

If you have a bad habit of binge eating, instead of thinking of how to get rid of the bad habit, just replace your bad habit with a good one. Whenever you feel the urge to eat junk food, instead of eating junk food, feed yourself with some other healthy snacks such as berries or nuts.

Start it slow and steady. Always break things down to form simpler steps. Practice the simple steps over and over again until it becomes a daily routine for you. When you have succeeded, it’s time to move on to the third step.

3. Make Your Habit A Cue for another Habit.

According to the book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business”
by Charles Duhigg, a habit consists of three parts:

  1. Cue – A trigger to tell your brain which habit to use.
  2. Routine – The physical or mental tasks you carried out according to your habit.
  3. Rewards – The feedback you received after you are done with your routine.

For an example, the cue is a trigger when your phone vibrates or buzz. The automatic response, the routine, which is to check your phone, is carried out.  The rewards are the messages or emails you’ve received, and also a relief from worrying about what you might be missing out on.

It’s called a habit loop. This is how a habit is formed. Overtime, this habit loop becomes more and more automatic.

Let’s continue from the scenario from step 2. Assuming drinking a cup of water every morning has become your habit, now let this activity becomes a cue for your next habit – exercise. Your cue is the fulfilling sense after finishing a cup of water. Now, add in the routine, do 5 simple push ups. And the reward, obviously, is a sense of achievement from your healthy well-being.

As usual, break it into simple tasks first. Remember, the key is always building up a routine. In our example, it is the routine of drinking a cup of water and 5 simple push ups every morning.

4. Increase the Intensity of the Habit

When the loop starts to happen more automatically, then you might consider adding in more stuff into your routine. Instead, of drinking a cup of water, now you might change it to drink a glass of warm lemon water every morning. Instead of doing just 5 push ups, add in another 10 sets of jumping jacks or sit ups.

Since you have formed the tiny habit, a higher difficulty routine becomes more bearable to you. You can now deal with it much easily as you are familiar with the process.

The process of improving the habits keeps going on gradually until you have met your end goal. Remember to take only one step at a time. Improving a little by a little is more than enough.

The Reason Behind This

Here, we emphasize on building up a simple routine in your life first. After the routine is formed, we used it as a cue for another habit we want to form. When the tiny habit is formed, we start to improve the intensity of the routine progressively.

Building a simple routine first is necessary. The routine must be simple and easy to carry out. Here’s the reason why a simple routine is so important:

  1. Since it is a simple routine, it’s harder for you to refuse to do it no matter how busy your life is. This alone reduces the possibility of you breaking the chain during the process of habit formation.
  2. A simple routine also means that it consumes less time to get it done. Therefore, excuses such as “I don’t have enough of time” are now invalid. It becomes harder to come up with excuses to procrastinate.

So, start small and improve little by little.


The key factor for building a habit is actually forming a daily routine, be it simple or complicated. When a routine is formed, improve it progressively until you’re satisfied with it. Building a habit takes time. No matter how impatient you are, it’s going to take you at least 21 days to form a habit. Start it simple, steady and don’t break the chain.