How to build healthy habits

Want to build lifelong habits that improve your life, health and happiness?

Sam Pashley

January 10, 2022

The following is a guest blog written by Sam Pashley, founder of REAL Online Training and Nutrition.

Want to build lifelong habits that improve your life, health and happiness?

Of course you do… Forward progress is a big part of what makes us humans happy.

Habits have a pretty clear operating system that looks a little something like this:

  1. We get a trigger/cue - This is something that reminds us to perform a certain behaviour. For example, we go to the cinema, we see and smell popcorn. Great, now we want popcorn.
  2. We then act out the behaviour - We buy the popcorn. Woop. Popcorn.
  3. Finally, we get a reward from the behaviour - We eat the popcorn and soak up the experience of the cinema in general. Fun times! This then strengthens the behaviour and makes it more likely that we’ll choose to do this again.

Repeat steps 1,2 & 3 enough and you’ll have a habit on your hands.

This loop helps to build automatic and habitual behaviours that we don’t have to think about, they just happen all in the name of making our lives easier. Because if we had to consciously think about every single thing we did in a moment in time, everything would take much longer and would be incredibly tedious. Think about opening door handles or typing on a keyboard, if you had to remember to tap every individual key or figure out how every door handle worked each time, it would take us much longer to act these things out. But it doesn’t, we just do them without thinking.

With this theory in mind, let’s make it easy for you to do cool new behaviours. Perhaps your goal is to eat more fruit and veg? For this, let’s use an example behaviour of eating an apple (they keep doctors away, you know).

We have the step BEFORE acting out the behaviour, which is pretty important. This is our trigger/cue and reminds us to eat the apple.

A few key rules for triggers:

  • They need to stand out.
  • They need to be attractive and make you actually want to perform the behaviour.
  • They need to make the behaviour easy to do.

Examples here:

Make things really obvious. Buy apples. Your favourite kind. Put them everywhere. Make sure they’re in your eyeline.

Start small with one apple per day. Don’t try and eat 100 apples (this is difficult and unnecessary).

Ask yourself at what time you’d like to eat the apple. What are you generally doing at this time? Stick an apple there to remind you. 

This might sound a little simple, but that’s the point. We’re trying to make your life easier here and reminding yourself to do something is step 1.

Following step 1, hopefully at this point you’ll have acted out the behaviour (step 2) and eaten the apple, great job! 

Next up we have the step AFTER the behaviour, rewarding yourself (step 3). This is important as it confirms the behaviour as something good that we’d benefit from doing again. The idea here is to make it immediately satisfying.

Examples on how to do this are:

Find a support group that you can share your experiences with.

Hire a coach to track your apple eating consistency and to give you regular performance based high fives.

Make sure you only eat delicious apples.

So there you go, a 3 step process to improving your behaviours. Because it’s not enough to simply acknowledge WHAT you want to do when it comes to improving your behaviours. It’s about making your job easier and more likely.

Of course I’m sure you’ll realise this isn’t just about apples here, and you can switch out our example behaviour for a more specific one that is in line with your goals. But the theory stays the same, and that’s our point. The ultimate goal is to get good stuff to hang around, and to build habitual behaviours that just become a part of your life. Doing the above will make that more likely.