The Subtle Art of Developing a New Habit

If I could offer one piece of advice, it’s this. Develop a habit.

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Habits are daily routine actions and decisions.

Change takes time. Sometimes, it demands frequent experiments and repeated setbacks. You can take control over it once you understand how it works.

In the words of Adam Costa,

It’s a simple process. First, define your purpose. Second, break your purpose into a series of goals. Third, develop routines to achieve your goals. Over time, these routines become habits, they become automatic — and eventually, those habits define you.

Sometimes habits emerge outside of our consciousness or can be deliberately designed. They are so strong that they often shape our lives without our permission, but they can reshape by fiddling with their parts.

Why you should develop habits

Will Durant once said,

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

When habits develop, they lower brain activity. Whenever similar patterns happen, the brain automatically follows the cognitive scripts.

Have you ever thought about why your hands automatically type the password when you keep your hands on the laptop? It’s a habit that automates our hands and saves the willpower reserves.

What you are, it’s the sum of your habits.

How successful or unsuccessful are you?

How happy or unhappy are you?

How good or bad are you at speaking?

Your whole life is the total sum of your habits.

The personality you repeatedly portray to the world becomes your habit, and habits show who you are.

How to develop a new habit

What if someday you wake up with a passion for developing a new habit.

Adopt James Clear two C’s, 2 R’s framework which consists of four steps.

  • Cue
  • Craving
  • Response
  • Reward

The first two steps are problem phases, while the last two are solution phases.

If you pass through these four stages each day, you can inscribe any habit on the walls of your mind.

1. Cue

The cue is a trigger that predicts the reward. It helps us to perform complicated tasks.

It’s about noticing the return — a reward.

Trigger tells our brain to adopt an automatic mode. Once you develop a routine, actions happen on its own.

Adam Costa says,

“Good habits help you achieve your goals — without thinking about it. That’s right: self-improvement on autopilot.”

The same is true for the opposite. Bad habits automate the terrible version of ourselves.

In ancient times, the cue was food and water. Now, cues that hint rewards are money, fame, etc.

If you know the cue, you have already crossed 25% off your ‘habit loop.’

2. Cravings

Craving — It’s not a habit; it’s the condition or the state it delivers.

It’s about wanting the return — a reward.

It’s a motivational force. Without motivation, there is no reason; without reason, there is no action.

A hiker doesn’t crave for hiking; he craves for the excitement it provides.

A thief doesn’t crave for the theft; he craves for the money it provides.

A smoker doesn’t crave for the cigarette; he craves for the relief it provides.

One cue or the same craving does not motivate every person. It differs from person to person. Cue that is not interpreted is meaningless. Interpret and transform them into cravings.

3. Response

It’s about obtaining the return — a reward.

Your response is the actual habit you perform, and it depends on three things.

  • Your ability.
  • Your motivation.
  • Friction your habit generates.

Habits pay off when you have the ability to perform that action. If your height is so low to jump high enough to reach the basketball hoop, cue and craving will not help.

4. Reward

Response pays off with the reward, and reward satisfies our desires and teaches us.

It satisfies our desires and teaches our sensory nervous system which activity satisfies our desires.


Researchers of Duke University have found that 40% of human behaviors originate from habits.

Eliminate the trigger, and habit will never begin. Decrease the craving, and you will not be able to act. Complicate your behavior, and you will not be able to do it. If payoff doesn’t fulfil your appetite, you will not be able to do it in the future. All steps are so interdependent that their existence is not possible without each other.

Develop small habits

Akash Karia, in his book, “Small Habits + Keystone Habits = Big Results!”, says small habits are behavioral patterns that make adaptation easy than trying to adopt a single big change in your life.

If your habit lasts for too long each day, take a 20-minute pause after 90 minutes of practice. ‘Pause’ strengthen your habit when you repeatedly do the same action after every short interval.

Connect your existing habits with the new one. Don’t say that ‘I will do this each day’; rather, you should say ‘I will do this each day after having breakfast.’ It creates room for your new habit within your pre-existing habits.

Possibility of developing multiple habits

What if someone focuses on multiple habits to develop them all at once.

The answer is no. You cannot do this.

Roy F.Baumeister and John Tierney, In their book Willpower, describes ego depletion as,

“A person capacity to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and actions.”

They performed different experiments and concluded that it’s almost impossible to develop multiple habits at once. You may succeed in this effort for a short period, but you will deplete your willpower reserves that you were going to use in other daily life activities.

Only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions because they rely on willpower rather than routine to get their job done.

Use your routine to follow through, not willpower.

To boost habits, you need to increase your dopamine level.

Boost your dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and reward setting behavior. It releases during the situation of pleasure and stimulates one to seek out the pleasurable activity.

To increase your dopamine level,

Pull the trigger

It is a feeling that your idea will change your life.

Make your act a reward

When you like the response you are performing as a result of cue and craving, an act itself becomes a reward.

Set deadlines

Setting deadline works. They increase your focus and dopamine level.

Final Thoughts

Peter Drucker said,

“What gets measured, gets managed.”

That shows you need to define your purpose that can be measured. If they aren’t measured, they aren’t managed.

The secret of developing a new habit lies in finding a measurable purpose and then keep sticking to the response it generates.

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