The power of habit

Bad habits are a little bit like that dripping tap.  On their own they might seem small but over time they can make a massive difference.  Are your habits making a positive or a negative difference in your life?  That 3.50pm chocolate to pick yourself up just before the PGDA lecture?  Only climbing into bed at 1am on a school night?  I think we can all see where those habits are going to take us.

Charles Duhigg has written a great book, The Power of Habit, that looks into the anatomy of habits.  He has identified that they consist of 3 elements.  Understanding each of these elements, and using them to our advantage, can help all of us develop better habits.  Here is a video that illustrates these elements well and I will discuss them below:


What will make you remember to do what you want to do?  Let’s take exercise for example.  I aim to run four times a week but always on certain days (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday).  When I wake up on those days, I have a trigger that says, “Today is a running day”.  If I don’t specify the exact days, it becomes easier to forget about my goal of four runs a week and it doesn’t happen.


This is the easiest part to understand.  This is the routine that you want to become a habit.  Running, studying, calling your parents more and eating healthily would all be examples.  Make sure you have what you need, like running shoes and clothes for instance, but usually this is not where the problem lies.  We know we need to exercise, its actually following through and doing it that is tricky.


This part is key, and was the most helpful insight from the book.  You need to reward yourself for finishing the routine.  Let’s take running again as an example.  I wake up early on Monday morning, I have the trigger that says, “Today is a running day” and for the next 15 seconds there is a battle that rages.  I will either stay in and “run later in the day” (which seldom ever happens) or I will get changed and get out the house.  For that 15 second battle zone, what will help me overcome my lazy thoughts?  A reward!  It could be a coffee or smoothie from my favourite spot (Discovery Vitality has figured this out for sure!) or anything else that would help win this battle.  This makes a massive difference to habit formation and I now try and use it all the time.  On Fridays, a hard day to work, I often will set a goal with my wife and then if I hit it, we go out as a family to a cheap pizza place.  I also get to buy a book every time I beat my personal best for park run.

What is also powerful to consider is the positive knock-on effect of adding a new habit.  For instance, going to bed earlier, would mean better decision making the next day, which could lead to sharper study sessions, which could lead to better marks.  You changed one habit, seemingly unrelated to your marks, but they improved as a result.  Have you tried any of this?  I would be keen to hear your stories.

Whether it is studying, running or calling your parents more, this information should help develop new and better habits.  May the rewards keep flowing in!


Paul Maughan


  1. Awesome advice. Especially the part about rewards. But what will it take to take your wife to a less cheap pizza place? 😉

  2. Love this article! brilliant stuff. Routine is key to success. that 15 second battle! haha. #gda2014

  3. Thanks Terran and Jasheen – after writing this I am now having to practice what I preach even more – running more than ever!

  4. Hi thanks
    Simple and effective read. The best way to improve our life is through habit. When I fought through cancer , I practiced this. After every “chemo Tuesday” I would reward myself with a supper by the sea and some vegetarian pizza.
    I still worked during my cancer and actually made “chemo Tuesday” and dinner something to look forward to.
    Now I’m 16 months in remission ?
    A small habit ..unrelated to living a healthy life ?

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