Habits — Creating Habits That Stick

Apologies for taking so long to release this article, I was in a productivity rut for over a month. Added on to this was the difficulty in coming up with new article topics, which made it much harder to get back to writing. The habit of writing blog articles is quite difficult, so it ends up being quite a fragile habit that is one of the first to go when my productivity dips — though I still maintained most of my other positive habits over the last few months. I should be back to blogging regularly again now.

This is the second article in a series of articles on habits, how we can understand them, how we can improve our chances of creating new habits that stick, and how we can challenge our bad habits. If you want to read the whole series, click here for the first article.

In the previous article, we looked at the four-component model of habits: a cue, followed by craving, then a response (action), and then reward. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend reading the previous article what explains these components are and how they form every habit you have.

In this article, we explore how we can build habits and optimise the four components to ensure that a new habit is formed and sticks.


When we are creating a habit, we need to know when to start. More importantly, we should make it so a cue leads us to start our habit every time we want it to — as automatically as possible.

If you need to do a one-off task, it can be difficult to start sometimes. Often, you’ll need a large dose of willpower to begin the task if the deadline isn’t soon. You’ll eventually start the task if its deadline nears because seeing the deadline being close is a cue to start it.

With habits, you don’t want to invest a ton of willpower each time you want to carry out a habit, nor do you want to forget it. This is why we need to condition ourselves to start the habit on a regular cue. If you get used to starting it every time you notice the cue, it will be way easier to get started on the habitual activity.

The cue can take many different forms. You may take finishing brushing your teeth as a cue to get your exercise clothes on and workout. You might set an alarm to fire at a certain time each day to tell you to start meditating. Other cues you could use could be: after breakfast/lunch/dinner, after making a cup of coffee, every time you get out of your chair, as soon as you enter a room, or any other cue you can think of that you can link to your new habit. It’s a great idea to take something you already do habitually and tag your new habit to start immediately after you’ve done something else. It isn’t necessary to do this though, e.g. you could use an alarm on your phone to use as a cue instead.

If I struggle to start a reading habit, I could create a cue of getting my book out whenever I make a cup of tea or coffee. Then every time I start brewing a cup of tea, I would get a book out and start reading. If you do this multiple times, it will start to get ingrained as a habit, and it will happen automatically without requiring any willpower to get started.

This is an important step in creating a new habit, you need to make it obvious when to start — or else you may easily forget to do it. Feel free to find potential cues that I haven’t listed here, a little bit of creativity may help you find an amazing cue for your next new habit!


When we notice the cue, we want to do the habitual action — though if it’s a difficult habit we may lack the motivation, energy, or discipline to begin. So, we want to make it easier to start.

One way to make it easier to start is to make preparations in advance. If you want to read whenever you make a cup of tea or coffee, placing a book in the kitchen will make it much easier to start the habit than if you’ve left it somewhere else.

If you want to establish the habit of running, get all of your running gear in the same place so it’s easier to get ready to go on a run. Leaving your running shoes near the door of your bedroom can also act as a visual cue to go for a run in the morning.

This area is a bit harder to optimise, though if you can find ways to make it easier to go from cue to action, then implementing them can only increase the chances of forming a new habit.


One way we can increase the chances of creating a new habit is to make the new habit easier. If it’s easier, then there will be less mental resistance to carrying out the habit.

Let’s say you want to create a habit of doing thirty push-ups a day, instead of starting with thirty, start with only one instead. Sounds easy, right? However, once you’ve done the first push-up, it’s incredibly easy to do the second, and the third, and so on until you reach exhaustion. If you only set yourself the task of doing a small amount, it’s easy to get started and you’ll often find that you’ll want to do more. Even if you can’t do much, getting started and doing something once is infinitely times more than doing zero.

Going from zero push-ups per day to one push-up per day is the difficult part. Initially, you don’t need to be doing thirty every day, you just need to get the habit in place; then later you can increase the difficulty.

The same technique of starting small can be used for many habits that generally take more than a few minutes. It could be reading a few pages of a book each day or running for two minutes on a treadmill. Once you’ve established the habit of getting started, you can increase the difficulty/quantity from there.

When you have an easy habit that only takes a few minutes to get done, you’re way more likely to instil that habit. Gradually you should increase the difficulty, if you increase it slowly enough you shouldn’t have to worry much about struggling to find motivation.


The final component of habits is the reward when you get the benefits of doing the action. With many habits, rewards are significantly delayed. When you exercise regularly, it will take a while to see improvement in your fitness. When you do a lot of studying, you only get the rewards after you get your exam results, and even that isn’t too much of a reward — the true rewards will be the jobs you can get after leaving education.

To make it more likely to carry out a habit, we want to reward that positive behaviour with a reward that gets delivered quickly. Having heavily delayed rewards makes it significantly harder to establish habits, it’s quite demotivating.

Let’s say you want to revise for exams for two hours each day. Rewarding yourself afterwards with food or something fun can be a hugely motivating factor. One way you can do this is to say: if you revise for two hours in a day, then you may watch TV shows guilt-free afterwards — if you don’t revise then you can’t watch TV shows.

Creating negative rewards (punishments) for not doing it, such as no TV allowed, then you should make sure it is easy enough else you’ll be very tempted to ignore the negative consequences and watch TV anyway — so be careful.

With my habits, sometimes I will only start preparing dinner if I have finished some of my most difficult habits. So, if I don’t get started early and get it done, I won’t be eating that evening. Not eating dinner isn’t too bad a punishment for me, but it could be a very strong motivator for most people who control their mealtimes.

Other rewards you can use could include: eating a favourite food, playing a video game, listening to music, watching YouTube or a TV episode, going on a calm walk, or any other reasonable reward you can think of.

It doesn’t matter too much if a reward is bad for you (e.g. chocolate bars, spending too long being distracted), you can wean yourself off of a reward for a habit after you think you’ve adapted to the habit and don’t need the immediate reward as much anymore.

Closing Thoughts

In this article, we’ve gone over ways to optimise new habits according to the four components habit model.

When you’re considering implementing a new habit, you should go through the four components (cue, craving, action/response, reward), and try and optimise each area using the ideas described above. In most cases you won’t be able to optimise all four, so don’t worry if you can only manage two of them.

There are many other tactics we can utilise to make habits more likely to stick, which we’ll discuss in the next article(s) in the series.