What’s a Habit?

A habit is a behaviour we do on autopilot — there’s no need for willpower or even brainpower.

An example is when we come home from work every night, and automatically nua (laze) on the sofa and turn on the TV.

Why Bother with Habits?

Think of habits as stepping stones towards your goals: start by building small habits, then work towards bigger changes.

For instance, if your goal is to exercise more, start with the small habit of working out for 15 minutes every morning, then progress to a full thirty-minute workout.

Or, if you want to manage stress better, build the habit of making daily to-do lists, then add another habit of getting enough sleep, and so on.

The Basic Building Blocks

There are three parts to a habit:

  • Cue — the trigger, or reminder, that starts the habit. This could be a time, place, event, state of mind, or even a person.

  • Routine — the habit, or behaviour.

  • Reward — what we gain from the habit.

An example:

  • Cue: Every morning, you walk past the kettle in your kitchen.

  • Routine: You see the kettle, fill it up with water, and put it on.

  • Reward: You enjoy a steaming mug of tea in the morning while you read the papers.

You’ve repeated this habit so many times you hardly think about it. And that’s the key to making habits stick: repetition.

Build a Habit

Step 1: Identify the cue.

This should be something you do repeatedly, for example, waking up every morning. The habit to build could be: “When I wake up every morning, I will exercise.”

You can also modify your cue to make things easier. For example, lay out your workout attire by your bed so that it’s the first thing you see when you wake up.

This removes the extra step, and possible obstacle, of walking to the cupboard and picking out what to wear.

Step 2: Start with a small habit.

Instead of jumping straight into a 15-minute routine, begin with a single wall squat. Yes, just one.

Repeat the one squat every morning for a month, until the habit of working out once you wake up becomes automatic. Then slowly build up the routine by progressively adding more squats.

Step 3: Make the reward enjoyable.

The mood-boosting effects of exercise may be enough for some, but for those of us who need extra motivation, here are some ideas:

  • Text “Good morning” to your other half

  • Take a relaxing shower

  • Try a new restaurant

  • Sleep in on the weekend

  • Do something fun with a buddy, e.g. bowling, badminton

Step 4: Be consistent.

Make sticking to your habit easier: pick a non-busy period to work on it, and try to consistently keep at it for at least one month.

Remember: routine is key! Try to repeat your habit at the same time every day, and choose a timing that works for you.

For example, if you’re a night owl, schedule your workout in the evening instead of the morning.

Step 5: Troubleshoot.

If you miss a day or two, don’t say, “forget it!” Instead, figure out what’s stopping the habit from forming, then revise your plan to rebuild the habit.

Perhaps you find it difficult to crawl out of bed every morning, and you keep hitting the snooze button.

Adjust your plan — try exercising after you get home from work or during lunch hour instead. Keep experimenting with the timings until you find one that works best for you!

Learn More About Habit Building From These Resources

  1. 6 Easy Ways to Keep to Your New Year’s Resolutions
    Retrieved from https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/251/6_easy_ways_to_keep_your_new_years_resolutions

  2. My Goal for This Month
    Retrieved from https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/1331/my-goal-for-this-month

  3. How Habits Work
    Retrieved from http://charlesduhigg.com/how-habits-work/

  4. 5 Scientific Ways to Build Habits That Stick
    Retrieved from http://99u.com/articles/17123/5-scientific-ways-to-build-habits-that-stick

  5. The 3 R’s of Habit Change
    Retrieved from http://jamesclear.com/three-steps-habit-change