Learn the 4 simple steps to forming positive habits

Robert Thompson
Stoic Gazette
Published in
7 min readDec 12, 2021

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Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

Most of our lives revolve around our habits. Habits govern a lots of our daily activities. For example, when stressed and incapable of making a decision, we resort to our habits. Old habits are hard to break. New habits are hard to form. This is due the behavioural patterns which humans repeat become imprinted in neural pathways.

In this post I’ll cover four steps which when learned will give you the foundation to change unhelpful habits into positive ones.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle

Formation of habits

As a habit is forming, it can be analysed in three parts:

  1. the cue,
  2. the behaviour, and
  3. the reward.

The cue is the thing that causes the habit to come about, the trigger of the habitual behaviour. This could be anything that one’s mind associates with that habit and one will automatically let a habit come to the surface. Some examples of triggers:

  • When you wake up (trigger), you start the coffee machine (habit).
  • You arrive at work (trigger), you check your email (habit).
  • When you get stressed (trigger), you eat junk food (habit).

We fill our lives with these trigger-habit combos, often without our being aware of them. If you drive home from work every weekday following the same route, you probably often drive by rote. You’ll make turns without thinking about it, because of constant repetition.

The behaviour is the actual habit that one exhibits, and the reward, a positive feeling, so continues the “habit loop”. So, how did these habits form?

  • Through consistent repetition over the years.
  • They started with actions performed very consciously at first, before they were a habit. And over time they became more automatic and less conscious.
  • There is a feedback loop that helped us repeat the habit for a good length of time. For example, if you are stressed and then eat junk food, you might get pleasure or comfort (positive feedback). And if you don’t eat the junk food, you remain stressed…

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