Ultimate Guide To Understanding The Importance Of Habits

You can predict the course of your life by simply looking at your habits. Habits can be conscious or unconscious, good or bad, but they’ve one thing in common. No matter what the habit is, it’s the force in life that gives you direction.

Yes, habits are the driving force behind your life. In fact, habits are so powerful that if you would lose your memory today, your life would operate on the habits created throughout your life. With this in mind, it’s a great idea to understand how habits work and how they shape your life.

What Are Habits?

Habits are actions that you do every day. Most of your habits happen on an unconscious basis. In most cases, this is great, like drinking water when you’re thirsty for example. Many of these habits are good habits to have.

But these aren’t the kind of habits you hear about in the news. Habits are more known for the bad ones, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating sugary foods. Habits are deeply integrated into our lives. This means that it’s difficult to change them once they’re established.

Charles Duhigg’s 3 Components Of Habit Formation

In Charles Duhigg’s book, the power of habits, he describes that a habit consists of 3 components.

  1. The cue – this is what triggers the action.
  2. The routine – this is the action that you undertake after the trigger.
  3. The reward – this is the benefit you get from the action.

Being aware of these components is necessary for understanding how habits work. Once you understand that these components together form a habit, you can play around with it.

How Habits Start

The creation of a habit starts by doing an action many times for a certain period of time. This is the reason that your parents keep telling you that you’ve to wash your hands when you’re little. They keep drilling an action again and again until it becomes automatic.

The creation of bad habits works the same way. You keep reinforcing an action for a particular reason. These reasons vary per person and situation. If you’ve got a bad habit (and yes, we all do), think about how that started.

For both cases, it starts with a cue. Your parents tell you to wash your hands after going to the toilet for example. In case of the bad habit, it might be that your friend lights a cigarette and so do you. The cues here are your parents telling you to wash your hands and your friend that lights a cigarette.

You then take some kind of action. For the first example, you wash your hands. For the second example, you decide to light a cigarette to feel the connection with your friend.

You arrive at the last component of a habit, the reward. The reward for washing your hands is that your parents are now happy. For the cigarette, you gain the reward of a better bond with your friend.

Over time, these actions become habits. Once the cue appears, the action gets triggered. The reward of the action is the same as before, which gives you a satisfying feeling.

Adding Cues

You’ve now created a new habit. The cue that triggers the habit for these examples, may not happen very often. Maybe you’re alright with smoking cigarettes, as long as you’re with a friend.

But this is only the start of the habit. Once the habit is in place, you can find new cues and start adding them to the same action. This can happen unconsciously. Before you realize it, you’ve now got many cues for triggering the habit.

Let’s take this back to the habit of smoking cigarettes. Most often you start smoking with some friends. Soon you find yourself in a stressful situation at work. You realize that you still have your pack of cigarettes in the pocket of your jacket. You decide to smoke 1 cigarette, just for this occasion.

The new cue in this instance is a stressful situation. The reward is a short moment of complete relieve from stress. The rest is self-explanatory.

Why Habits Are Important

Many people wake up the same way they did the day before. They eat the same breakfast and go to the same job. When they come home in the evening they watch the same programs as the day before. Even the weekends are most often followed by a routine.

Habits determine how you live your life. This isn’t necessarily a good or a bad thing. It’s needless to say that the better your habits are, the higher the quality of your life.

How often have you thought about doing something, knowing it’s going to harm you in the long run, and still did it anyway? This happens all the time. Understanding how your habits work can alter the direction of your life. That’s why it’s important.

The Driving Force In Your Life

Charles Dunhigg describes an interesting experiment in his book. The books show how Eugene Pauly (71 years) lost a part of his brain that’s responsible for short-term memory.

Eugene couldn’t remember anything for longer than a few seconds. When they asked Eugene to describe his house, he was unable to do so. This made him the perfect candidate for some tests to give us more information about habits.

The first remarkable insight was when Eugene went to the toilet. He Instinctively he knew where to go, without asking where to find it. Back at home, he had no trouble finding the bedroom. Every morning Eugene would prepare his usual breakfast. He knew exactly how to do it and where to find the products.

At some point, Eugene started walking blocks outside the house, although his wife didn’t agree. To everyone’s surprise, Eugene was able to walk around the block and find his house without a problem.

This is the first time scientist prove that habits are deeply rooted in our brains. Habits form in the area of the brain that’s called the basal ganglia. To learn more about Eugene I highly recommend you to pick up Charles Duhigg’s book.

Habits Make Or Break You

You can see by someone’s habits, on whether a person is going to become successful or not. Many successful people have a series of habits that run as a script underneath their lives.

Every high-performer has some habits in place that set them up for success. Most high-performers say that starting your day with your success habits guarantees a life of success.

The difference between you and a high-performer are the small things they do every day. There is no big thing that makes someone successful. It’s all the small things, stacked on top of each other, that determines your level of success.

You don’t have to be a magician to figure out someone’s habits. In fact, there are thousands of articles written about the success habits of high-performers, such as here and here.

List Of Success Habits

To save you the search, let’s see what some of these success habits are. Some of them are very obvious, while others are more hidden. There are many habits to list, but let’s start by looking at some common ones from the most successful people in life.

1. Seeking Clarity

Consistently seeking clarity is one of the things that successful people do. Since I’ve applied this principle to my life, I’m gaining more direction in life. You can do this by setting goals on a frequent basis. You can read more about goal setting here.

2. Waking Up Early

I’m sure you don’t like to hear this but yes, most successful people wake up early. They start the day by doing productive things for themselves. I believe that it’s great to have a morning routine that sets you up for the rest of the day. No matter what happens after that, you can feel great about your day.

3. Make Exercise A Must

Everyone knows that exercise gives you more energy. Yet, most of us fail to exercise on a regular basis. Regardless of whether you like to do exercise or not, this habit improves every other aspect of your life.

4. Focus On Self-Growth

Successful people focus on self-growth. It doesn’t matter what you do in life, if you focus on getting better at it, you’re going to become more successful. Make sure that you’re developing an area that you can use straight away. This is how you use your time in the most effective way.

5. Plan Your Days

If you want to become more productive in life, you’ve to start with proper planning. Plan your days at least 1 day in advance. This keeps you away from distractions and gets you up and running straight away. Doing this isn’t only going to give you more free time, it also has a positive effect on your stress levels.

6. Take It Slow

Most successful people have a moment throughout their day to meditate. Other’s have a gratitude practice to stand still by the things that they are grateful for. I recommend you to add both aspects to your life. Instead of rushing around all day, take a step back and appreciate the world as it is.

7. Gain People Skills

You’ve different values than most other people around you. Learning the values of other people and learning people skills in general, is going to help you in life. Let’s face it, everything you do involves around other people. If you’re able to influence other people in a positive way, it doesn’t only have a positive effect on your life but also the lives of many others.

8. Make Priorities A Must

The habits discussed so far are going to be useless if they don’t become actual habits. You’ve to take a decision what’s most important for you and then go for it. Saying that you will do it or that you have to do it, is no longer an excuse. You must change your perspective from willing/having to must. So for example; you must start exercising and you must start smiling at other people.

There are more habits that make successful people the way they are. There’s no reason to overload you with more for now. Pick one habit that you want to introduce to your life and work on that until it becomes a habit. Apply the rule of making this single habit a must.

Developing New Habits

Developing new habits isn’t something you do overnight. It requires patience and persistence. But once you’ve established a new habit, it becomes automatic. When it becomes automatic, you start to feel that something is missing if you don’t act on your habit.

But before it becomes automatic you’ve to put some willpower and effort into it. You must take conscious and consistent actions until the habit forms.

How Long Does It Take To Develop A New Habit

Creating new habits can take up to anywhere between a week to a couple of years. The amount of time you need to create a new habit depends on the intensity of your emotions. It also depends on the habit you’re trying to create.

According to Brian Tracy, you can create simple habits in approximately 21 days. Simple habits are habits that are easy to integrate, such as waking up earlier or start reading every day.

Other habits can be more difficult to integrate, such as social habits. It requires deliberate practice every time you encounter people, which can be hard to do at first. Of course, you can do it. But it requires the understanding that these habits take a long time to master.

Don’t become obsessed with figuring out how long it’s going to take you to integrate a certain habit. Instead, immerse yourself in the action with conscious and consistent effort.

Start with one of the easy habits, so you can get a quick win. Once you prove to yourself that you can build new habits, you get momentum. You can choose to use your momentum to create the more difficult habits.

30-Day Challenge

This is my most favorite way of developing new habits. As you can see, 30 days overlap the 21 days that’s necessary to develop a new habit. If you haven’t decided what new habit you want to enforce into your life, start there first. Make this habit a must in your 30 days.

The 30-day challenge means that you’re going to work on this habit for 30 days, no matter what. This means that no matter what other things you do in a day, the habit is a priority above everything. If after 30 days you still struggle with the habit, or not enjoy it at all, you can decide to quit.

If you dedicate yourself to 30 days, you push yourself past the difficult initial phase. Most of the time you’ll adapt to your new habit. By the time the 30 days are over, you’ll be at the point where you’re enjoying the benefits of your new habit.


Make sure to reward yourself throughout the challenge. This is important because when you reward yourself, this gives you a boost in dopamine. And dopamine gives you that feeling of happiness.

You should also create smaller rewards within the challenge to make it easier to stay on track. But be careful. Make sure you don’t reinforce a bad habit by giving yourself the wrong rewards. You can decide to allow yourself an apple every time you went out for a run. Or you can reward yourself with an episode of your favorite series on Netflix when you’ve have done your workout.

Changing Bad Habits

Bad Habits Addiction of Smoking Reduce Over Time

Developing new habits is a lot of fun while changing bad habits can be more difficult. Especially habits that have been in your life for a long time. It’s much more difficult to get rid of a bad habit by doing a 30-day ‘without’ challenge. To change a bad habit, you must become aware of the habit first.


Being aware of your bad habits is the first step towards changing it. This might sound obvious but many people struggle with this part. They allow themselves to believe that the situation isn’t that bad. Or they brainwash themselves into believing that their behavior is actually helping them.

Becoming aware of your bad habits and acknowledging them is a big step towards change. You admit that this isn’t where you want to be in life. It allows you to take the next step in the process.

Deconstructing The Habit

To change a habit you must understand the 3 components of a habit as described earlier. As a quick reminder, you’ve got the cue, the routine or action, and the reward.

The Cue

The cue is something that triggers the habit. For smokers, this could be a moment of stress or boredom. It can also be a trigger that you relate to smoking. A morning coffee combined with a cigarette for example.

The cue can be difficult to find. It can relate to a certain emotion that comes up, such as boredom. Or maybe it’s a certain time frame at which the cue actives. Ask yourself some questions and experiment with different factors to find out the real cue for your habit.

The Routine

This one is the most obvious and it’s the action part of the habit. According to Charles Duhigg, you can change this part of the habit, as long as the other parts (the cue and the reward) stay the same. Let’s describe the reward before we move further into this one.

The Reward

The reward can be more hidden, like the cue. Either way, your mind is giving you positive feedback for the action you’ve taken. For example, smoking a cigarette makes you feel happy at the moment.

But smoking a cigarette could also give you the reward of being away from your desk. Or if you smoke cigarettes with other people, it could be the social aspect that’s the reward. You’ll have to find out what the real reward is that you’re getting out of this habit. Only then you can change the routine effectively.

Changing The Routine

The easiest way to change your habits is by changing the routine. The reason is that it’s difficult to get rid of the cues. Also, your body seeks for the same rewards.

To change the routine you’ve to find something that’s related to your old habit. This means that the cue should be able to trigger the new habit and the reward you in the same way as the old habit.

If you smoke in the morning while you’re drinking coffee, the obvious thing to do is to stop both things together. You could try to do this but if you don’t change it for something else, you’ll feel that something is missing. Instead, you could fill this time up doing something productive, like reading a book.

For your smoking breaks throughout the day, you can decide to eat an apple instead of smoking a cigarette. If you usually go outside for a smoke, still go outside. The only thing you change right now is to eat an apple rather than to grab a smoke.

However, if you usually smoke with colleges, it might be best for you to have a walk around the block. You can enjoy your apple while you’re walking without the temptation around you to smoke a cigarette.

If you smoke a pack of cigarettes per day, I don’t recommend you to start eating 20 apples instead. This results in obesity at which point you’re running around in circles from one bad habit to the other.

I hope you get the idea with the above example. There are many different ways to change your routine and you may have to become creative. Besides, if you’ve decided that you must change your habit, you’ll find a way.


Implementing new habits or changing old ones sounds easier than it is. But with the right strategy and a game plan, you’ll succeed. Decide what habit you want to change. Don’t become overconfident by picking too many at once because this might backfire. Instead, focus on 1 habit and focus on it until it becomes automatic.

With the strategies described above, you can create or change any habit you want. If you want to create many new habits, make sure you start off with an easy habit. This gives you a quick win, which results in a boost in your confidence.

Remember that the same action can be triggered by different cues for different people. Also, the rewards can be different. Where one person smokes for the benefit of the relief of stress, another might do it for the social aspect.

Key Points

Habits are the ultimate driver of success in your life. When you’ve got a look at your habits, you can estimate how much success you’re going to have in life.

Habits are automatic and mostly unconscious. To understand how habits work you’ve to understand the 3 components of a habit. These components are the cue, the routine, and the reward.

You can create new habits through a 30-day challenge. Before this challenge, you decide a single habit that you must create in your life. Then decide you’re going to reward yourself. Stick with the habit for 30 days, no matter what happens.

You can change your old habits by changing the routine. The cue stays the same but the action that gets triggered is a new and better action. The reward you receive for this new action should be the same as for your old action. For example, you could change smoking by eating an apple.

Changing a habit can take time. Decide what you want to change or implement. Combine the strategies described in this article with a proper plan and you’ll succeed.

If you want to implement some new habits into your life, start thinking about a powerful morning routine.