Learn how to create healthy new positive habits and overpower outdated bad habits and negative behaviors with the power of habit, rhythm, and routine!
Our lives consist of a series of unconscious behaviors and habits that we perform daily. These negative or positive habits grow more and more powerful each time we repeat them. We can change our lives by focusing on replacing outdated negative habits with new positive habits and routines.
Related: 10 Reasons to Make Rhythm & Routine a Habit
Our thoughts and the emotional patterns that go with them become habits as easily as the actions paired with them, and these habits–thoughts, behaviors, actions–work to strengthen each other over time. Although most of our daily choices seem like well-thought-out conscious decisions, they are more than likely unconscious routines we complete out of habit.
One of the best things you can learn to do for yourself is to create your life the way you want it to be through the power of habit. The first way to do that is to become more conscious of your current habits, and whether those actions and behaviors lead you towards the life you want to live–or away from it.
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The Power of Habits, Rhythms, and Routines
The difference between the person you are today, and the person you want to be, is a product of your unconscious habits, rhythms, and routines. Understanding how habits are formed is a great way to learn how to replace the negative habits in your life with healthy habits and positive behaviors. When we change our daily habits, we can change our lives for the better.
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How Do Habits Form?
Neurons that fire together wire together and become stronger and stronger over time. The old impulse reactions will still be there–but they will weaken and become less triggered. This change can be hard-won depending on how deeply ingrained the habit is, but behavior modification is always possible.
The Hebbian Theory
This theory about the adaptation of neurons in the brain during learning is known today as the Hebbian theory. Donald Hebb first introduced the idea in his book The Organization of Behavior. The Hebbian theory is also known as Hebb’s rule or the cell assembly theory. Hebb states his theory as follows:
Let us assume that the persistence or repetition of a reverberatory activity (or “trace”) tends to induce lasting cellular changes that add to its stability. … When an axon of cell A is near enough to excite a cell B and repeat cells firing B, is increased. 
The Power of Habit
According to the New York Times bestseller “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business” by Charles Duhig, habits emerge to help the brain conserve energy while executing mundane tasks and basic behaviors.
Duhig explains that when a chunk of habits or a routine starts, the brain shuts down to conserve mental energy. Thus, the brain spends a lot of effort at the beginning of a task looking for a clue about which pattern, routine, or habit it can use. Once triggered, a habitual behavior known as a routine takes over until a reward appears. The brain then comes back online once the routine or habit is complete.
The Habit Loop
Charles Duhig explains that habits consist of a cue, a behavior or routine, and a reward. He titled this three-step process the habit loop and explained it as follows:
First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop–cue, routine, reward: cue, routine, reward–becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges. Eventually… A habit is born.The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business
Duhig also reminds us that it is important to remember that the cue and the reward need to be linked to create the neurological cravings that power the habit or routine. Most of the time, these cravings emerge so gradually that we don’t even notice that they exist or their subconscious power over our daily choices. Make the conscious choice to change your outdated negative behaviors and bad habits into healthy behaviors with the power of habit.
Related: Household Rhythms: The Power of Routine in the Home
How to Replace Bad Habits with Good Habits
Because we often don’t notice these habit loops as they grow, we are blind to our ability to control them. This is why becoming mindful of our own personal habits is so powerful. When we begin to observe the cues and rewards present in our current habitual patterns and behaviors, we provide ourselves with the opportunity to change negative habits into positive ones.
For example, if you go to the fridge to grab a beer each day when you arrive home, this habit will create the thought patterns, emotions, and cravings surrounding the physical act of having a drink. As it begins, it may be a physical action performed out of boredom. Soon, however, you will feel compelled to have this drink every day after work. It will no longer be optional. This is how addictions form.
The brain will become addicted to the habit regardless of its repercussions. Addictive substances, of course, have a lot of added influence because of their addictive nature. They cause an even stronger craving and deliver an even stronger reward than other habits can or do, which strengthens the habit loop even further.
Related: How to Create and Set Goals
How to Create New Habits (and Overpower Old Habits)
We have assembled an amazing collection of digital resources that you can use to create new habits in the Rhythms of Play Dream Life Tool Kit. Grab yours, and follow the simple steps below, to use the power of habit to change your life today!
New habits are created by putting together a cue, a routine, and a reward to create a new habit:
- First, figure out a simple and obvious cue to use as a trigger to execute the habit or routine. (I recommend using the anchor or transition points in your daily rhythm.)
- Next, come up with a satisfying reward that will motivate you to complete the new habit, routine, or rhythm. (A rhythm is a series of habits strung together into a routine.)
- Third, execute the habit or routine when the trigger occurs each day.
- Finally, reward yourself for a job well done once you complete the new habit after a specified period of time! (Habits are a lot like goals, it is best to make them SMART!)
Duhig explains a cue as simple and well-defined, like when you get up in the morning, after you brush your teeth, when your daily alarm goes off, when you return home from work, etc. I like to call these cues the anchors or main transition points in your daily rhythm and recommend using these points as the daily cues to trigger any new habits or series of rhythms and routines that you would like to create. As mentioned above, we have several tools to make this easy in the Dream Life Tool Kit.
Reward Yourself to Power the Habit Loop
Once a new behavior is in place, one must cultivate the desire to start the new behavior and energize the new habit. In other words, you must figure out a way to want it or create a craving for the new action to power the habit loop. Otherwise, the new habit may not be able to overpower the old habit, and you will return to your old ways.
Studies have shown, however, that a cue and a reward alone are not enough. The brain must begin to expect, or crave, the reward to empower the habit. A habit will become automatic only when the cue triggers both a routine and a craving for the reward.
Related: 7 Reasons to Add the Color of the Day to Your Daily Routine
How to Reward Healthy New Positive Habits
Reward yourself after completing the new habit daily or after completing the new habit for a specified amount of time. If you would like to create the habit of going for a daily walk to lose weight, eating a cookie after your walk as your reward wouldn’t be the best choice. A better choice might be a cup of coffee with a friend or a new outfit after you’ve been walking every day for a month.
Other rewards might be allowing yourself some free time to work on a favorite hobby or some time to read or watch a favorite show. Whatever you choose, it must be something that creates desire and anticipation. Otherwise, it will not work as a reward. In other words, you gotta want the reward–or it’s not likely to work.
Another technique is checking off the new habit each day you complete it. There is nothing more motivating than seeing another big red checkmark for honoring your commitment to yourself. Conversely, the lack of seeing a red checkmark can work to motivate you to get you back on track.
We have a great Monthly Habit Tracker and Weekly Action Plan (with a weekly habit tracker) that make it easy to create new, lasting healthy habits, including our Dream Life Tool Kit. Or, put a sheet of paper on your fridge to track your progress.
Related: How to Create an Action Plan to Accomplish Goals
The Golden Rule of Habit Change
Charles Duhig claims that the golden rule of habit change is that “You can not get rid of a negative habit, but you can change it.” To change a habit, you must keep the old cue and deliver the old reward while changing the behavior or routine.
Duhig explains, “That’s the rule: If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.” (Kindle Loc 1053)
Using the example of the habit of going to the fridge to get a beer every day after work–Let us assume that the reward is the relief of letting the day go. To change this habit, you could choose to slip into a pair of running shoes and head out the door instead. I don’t know about you, but I find nothing better than a nice walk or a quick run to help me shake off the day.
Related: Barefoot Health Benefits
3-21-90 Rule of Habit Creation
While studying psychology in graduate school, I learned that habits become established after 21 days of repeating them. At least, that was the primary psychological theory taught at that time. Many theories around habit formation have changed since the 1990s, and several more research studies have been conducted. I, too, have continued to mold and refine my 3-21-90 rule of habit formation.
What is the 3-21-90 rule of habit formation?
My 3-21-90 rule of habit creation helped me see the forest through the trees during the dark times when I struggled to create positive habits in my life. I noticed over time that new habits were much easier to complete once I had completed the action for three days. It was nowhere near automatic, but repeating that same behavior was no longer a daily struggle for me.
After repeating a habit or task for 21 days, the new behavior would become more established, and the action was even easier to complete. And, after 90 days of repeating that same behavior, or series of behaviors (rhythm), I could forget it. The new positive habit I created had become automatic. In other words, I no longer had to think about executing the behavior or task to accomplish it.
3–Set it, 21–Establish it, 90–Live it!
Today, after continuing to research habit formation and the updates over the years, combined with over 30 years of self-evaluation and the changes I have seen in my clients through time, I get excited about creating my life through the power of habit. I know that I CAN do it, and you CAN, too! I’m so excited that I want to help you learn how to make the magic happen for yourself in your own life because I know how transformative it can be.
3–set your goal, 21–work to consciously establish or anchor the habit, 90–live it… Enjoy your new reality now that the habit is a part of your daily life!
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I have proven that if I can complete a new habit for 3 days, I can do it for 21 days or three weeks. And if I can repeat that same habit, task, or behavior for 21 days, I can do it for 90 days or three months (one quarter). Do you see where I’m going here? Today, I feel I can make anything a habit because I know I can do it once I complete 3 days. In other words, I start to believe–and for me, belief is 99% of the journey.
We can ACHIEVE what we BELIEVE!Nell Regan
Research today shows that there can be a lot of variation among individuals regarding habit formation. However, I have a lot of confidence in my updated 3-21-90 rule. Completing day three is a reward that I crave, making creating new habits even easier for me. I hope that it works the same for you!
My best advice? Make a plan and get started. Don’t wait. The hardest part of creating habits is overcoming the initial inertia. Once you can overcome it and make that first step, you’re 50% of the way there.
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The Final Rule of Habit Formation
Go easy on yourself.
Creating new positive habits takes time, effort, and a whole lot of grace. Take it easy and do your best to stay positive. Only choose one habit at a time to add, change, or modify. Don’t try to create another new habit until the first is established and getting closer to automatic, or you may become overwhelmed and give up.
Before you know it, another month will have passed, and you can consider adding a new positive habit into your daily rhythm. Congratulations, you are well on your way to reaching your highest potential–one habit, goal, or rhythm at a time!
Learn more about Rhythms of Play–>HERE
Best Books About Habit Formation
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhig
- The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People By Stephen Covey
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
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