How to create good habits and get rid of bad ones?

In this article, we'll talk about habits. How do you create good habits that last and get rid of bad ones that can negatively impact your life?

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Do you sometimes have the feeling that changing a habit in your life is an impossible mission? Have you always wanted to learn new habits that help you develop personally and/or professionally, but you end up giving up halfway?

What would you say if I told you that it is possible to create good habits or change the ones you don't like and that, furthermore, it could be easier than it seems a priori?

This is not to say that it is not complicated. But, from my experience, if you can create your magic cocktail of positive thinking and strategies to create new habits or routines, you will achieve what you set out to do.

Now I will show you what I have learned and how you can apply it in your daily routine. But remember, the important thing is to learn the basics and then adapt them to you.

Personally, I have relied on the book Atomic habits by James Clear and other authors, blogs, courses and other methods to change many habits that I was not satisfied with or include others that make me feel better about myself:

  • Doing sports every other day with the aim of being stronger and more flexible, having more energy during the day and strengthening my immune system. Being in a better mood and, why not, having more self-confidence.
  • Go to bed early in order to make the most of the morning and have enough energy for the day.
  • Meditate between one and three times a day, to reduce stress, keep my mind clear to perform better and visualize what I want to achieve both in my immediate present and in my future.
  • Go from drinking less than a liter of water a day to an average of 2.5 liters to help my body and mind function better.
  • Quit drinking coffee… well, this one is in the works.

What is a habit?

A habit is a behavior that follows a pattern within our daily routine. It is something that we normally do automatically or unconsciously and that can have both positive and negative consequences.

Some examples of habits are:

  • The coffee you drink in the morning.
  • How to react to a stressful situation in the company.
  • Always shower in the morning (or always at night).
  • Smoke every so often during the day.

According to Duke University, habits represent 40% of each person's daily behaviors.

It can be said that the sum of our lives depends on the customs that we have incorporated.

Positive or negative habits have a direct impact on health, happiness and even on the perception of success. This is because they are recurring thoughts that reveal our personality, what we believe in and shape our way of being.

In this sense, knowing how to create good habits and routines is a fundamental tool to boost your personal development. Understanding how these behaviors work serves as a starting point to transform the current situation in which you find yourself.

I know it may seem easier said than done. But believe me, changing habits is something that is within everyone's reach.

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Why might you want to change your habits?

Deep down, many of us know that we have some behaviors that impede our personal and even professional development, and that can be quite annoying both for ourselves and for other people. But many times it is not easy to get out of the comfort zone and, when we manage to win a battle, a small oversight can throw all the work to the ground.

If you find yourself asking yourself: Why don't I do what I say? Why do I say that something is important and I don't have time to do it? Why don't I save for my retirement, stop smoking, lose weight or decide to start a business? surely you need to change your habits.

Among the many reasons to change your habits, such as being a satisfied, happy, persevering, motivated person, capable of leaving your comfort zone and with better future prospects; I would say that the most important are:

  • Health
  • Stress reduction
  • Improve Life Quality
  • Be more efficient
  • Learn new things quickly
  • Be a better professional

How do habits work?

Habits follow a series of premises that have been established by various scientific studies. Taking James Clear's model, we can break it down into 4 main stages: signal, desire, response, and reward. To better understand how a habit is created, how it works and how to transform it, it is necessary to explain each of these aspects:

1. The signal

It becomes what triggers the behavior in your brain so that you start acting in a certain way. Since ancient times, our ancestors were attentive to signs that could provide them with primary rewards such as water, food and reproduction. It can be said that this mechanism serves to interpret the information that can lead you to a prize.

Nowadays we spend a lot of time learning signs that lead us to secondary rewards (fame, money, love, power, status, beauty, personal satisfaction...), which after all have a lot to do with those ancestral signs that give us They helped maintain our survival.

In other words, these motivations are part of our DNA because they increase the chances of procreation and survival.

With this in mind, you must understand that your mind is continually processing the internal and external conditions of the environment. The purpose of this is to find those clues that can lead you to a reward. Since the signal is the first indication that there may be a retribution, this inevitably leads you towards desire.

2. The desire

It is the second part of this process and represents the motivational force that drives all our habits, healthy or not. In fact, there must be a desire for a reward for there to be a reason to act. For example, we brush our teeth because we want our mouth to feel clean, or we smoke a cigarette because it relaxes us.

Desires vary individually, but are linked to bringing about a change in your internal state.

In essence, any piece of information could trigger this response. However, in practice, everyone pays attention to different signals, since these signals have no effect if they are not interpreted.

In other words:

The thoughts, emotions and feelings of the observer are what transform a signal into a desire.

3. The answer

In this third stage, the way you react is what will create the habit or behavior. This response will depend on the degree of discomfort or motivation associated with the behavior.

Generally, if a certain action requires a mental or physical expenditure that you don't want to incur, then it doesn't happen.

Often, your response is conditioned on the skills or abilities that it needs. It may sound too obvious, but if you don't have the ability to do it, then you can't form the habit.

A simple example, if you intend to dunk a basketball hoop and you can't jump high enough, you'll need to practice to get there.

In the end, your training and effort will create a habit of training and improving your jump in order to achieve your goal.

On the other hand, if from the beginning, you are obsessed with crushing the ball in the basket without improving those necessary qualities (in other words, creating a habit that allows you to improve the necessary skills to achieve your goal), you will not succeed and you will give up soon.

4. The reward

Within this loop, the last step corresponds to the reward, which is nothing more than the purpose of each of our habits. Reviewing:

  1. The signal tries to recognize what the prize is.
  2. Craving implies desiring the reward.
  3. And the answer is about what to do to get that reward.

The fact of pursuing these gratifications has two purposes: they teach us or they please us.

It can be said that the first purpose of the reward is to satisfy your desire or longing. This final prize usually includes a benefit, such as when you feed or quench your thirst for energy to stay alive. In this sense, the most immediate benefit is to give you momentary relief from what you want so badly.

Also, as the brain tends to collect rewards, this behavior teaches us to distinguish between memorable actions and those that are not.

This is because your sensory nervous system keeps monitoring what gives you pleasure. When you feel satisfaction or disappointment, your brain registers what works and what doesn't .

According to James Clear, each stage of the cycle must be fulfilled, whether it is to create a positive or negative habit:

  1. If you remove the signal, the custom is not activated.
  2. If you don't want the reward, you experience little motivation to act.
  3. When the response to that signal is difficult to carry out, you will not do it.
  4. And if the reward doesn't satisfy you enough, there's no reason to do it again.
Without the first 3 steps, it becomes impossible to create habits as part of your personal development or to get out of the comfort zone. If you do not apply the 4 stages of the loop, the behavior you are trying to encourage will not be repeated.

How to create positive habits?

When it comes to creating new habits, the most important thing is to understand how to encourage them and how the ones you have already incorporated work. This is what will allow you to advance in matters such as health, professional success, peace of mind, personal relationships...

The challenge is to have adequate information to effectively carry out this process. According to James Clear, you need to atomize things (make them very small) to make them easier.

The first step includes:

  • Identify the habit you want to create
  • Find your why
  • Define your goal

From here, the recipe consists of 8 more simple steps so that this new habit becomes something unconscious. This formula to internalize new routines has the following steps:

1. Establish a very small habit

People often say that they need more motivation or that they lack the desire to create new habits. Since the will functions like a muscle, the process must be approached in another way. This means that motivation can go up or down at certain times of the day, so it is not always constant.

This is solved by choosing a habit that is easy enough that you don't even need motivation to do it. For example, instead of doing 50 sit-ups a day, start with 5; Before meditating for 10 min, consider doing it for 1 minute.

The idea, as we summarize later, is to make it so simple that you don't even need the urge.

2. Increase the habit gradually

You have to understand that increases or decreases of 1% add up very quickly. Before trying to go all out from the start, start small and work your way up. As you follow this path, your willpower will be strengthened and your motivation will grow, which makes it easier for you not to abandon the behavior you have learned.

A gradual increase of 1% daily for a month translates to 30% at the end of those 30 days.

3. As you accumulate, break the habit into parts

As long as you keep adding 1% a day, this can be quite a lot over a 2-3 month period. That is why it is important to keep the execution within a reasonable range following the principle of making it as easy as possible. In this way you preserve the "momentum" and you run less risk of throwing in the towel.

For example, if you want to do about 100 sit-ups a day, you can break it up into 5 sets of twenty while you hit the target. You are interested in meditating for at least 30 minutes, you can segment it into 3 sessions of 10 or 2 of 15 minutes. This structuring allows you to see it more simply and as something you can handle in your daily routine.

4. When you falter, recover quickly

It doesn't matter if you're a sports star or an amateur, we all fail at some point in the process . The key is perseverance and getting back on track as soon as possible. According to research, missing a day doesn't significantly affect your long-term progress. You don't need an "all or nothing" mentality or trying to be perfect all the time.

Instead, try to be consistent and build an identity that makes it harder for you to fail. Although you do not expect to fall into this behavior, you must be prepared to control it. You need to take some time to think about what things might interfere with your habit.

Consider what are those daily emergencies that could get in your way. How you can adjust your planning in relation to those circumstances and, in the worst case, how you can quickly recover from any incident to continue with the established behavior.

5. Be patient and keep a sustainable pace

Among the essential qualities you can add to your repertoire is patience. Along with perseverance and consistency, you can achieve anything you set your mind to. Creating new customs is usually quite easy at first. If you are consistent and gradually increase, it is likely that they will consolidate in a short time.

The secret is to find that middle ground between laziness and burnout to have a sustainable routine. For example, if you're adding calls as part of your sales strategy, start with fewer than you think you can handle. If you're going to put more weight in the gym, go much slower. If you are patient, the results will come.

6. Integrate your new habits into your daily routines

By using the 4-stage approach to building good habits, you have an effective frame of reference for generating positive behaviors and eliminating negative ones. James Clear calls this system the 4 Laws of Behavior Change.

You can see each of these rules as a lever that drives human behavior. When it's in the right position, you can create or change habits without much effort. If it's not lined up the way it should be, then it's next to impossible.

These 4 laws are defined as follows:

  • Make it obvious (referring to the sign)
  • Make it attractive (desire wise)
  • Keep it simple (answer)
  • Try to make it satisfying (reward)

Later we will see how we can reverse this system so that you can break your bad habits.

7. Track your progress

When you do a search on the net about apps to create habits and follow them, you will find many interesting options. But I have compiled some very effective ones that can be very helpful:

  • HabitHub. Although it is only available for Android, this app is worth checking out. It is a program that has an excellent design and lets you visualize the occurrence of your habits as strings. Among its features, it lets you set goals for your streaks, like “exercise for a month.” You can mark them as "skipped" in case you get sick or have to go on a trip. You can get it for free or for a one-time payment of $5.99 (Premium).
  • Habitify. This application stands out for its attractive interface and well-designed design. Simple and effective, it shows you a list of the day's habits for you to review once you have completed them. It has a widget for Apple Watch, you can download it for Mac/iOS/Android and you get it for free or for $4.99 per month (Premium).
  • Notion. It is not an application to measure the progress of your habits in itself, but it can be used for that purpose, among others. I use it to have all my projects and tasks collected in one place. From a checklist to go shopping to a kanban panel (Trello type) in which to keep all the organization of all your tasks. It also has a module that allows you to control your habits.

8. Have a support system or person to help you

Many times we do not want to share what we are doing for fear that someone will see us fail. Whether it's acquiring a new routine or changing a negative habit, it's always good to lean on someone who wants to achieve the same as you. More than healthy competition, it implies having a support system to avoid giving up.

A friend or family member can be that motivating force that drives you because you understand that someone expects you to keep improving. This powerful effect can be further magnified when you hold the other person accountable and celebrate their accomplishments together. When someone is looking out for you, you feel a greater commitment to being a better version of yourself.

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How to maintain those daily habits to improve your life?

When we talk about developing good habits and maintaining them, we have to understand that all behavior is guided by the desire to solve a problem. Sometimes it is about perceiving or seeing something that attracts you and trying to get it. Other times it may be something that bothers you or causes you pain and you want to eliminate it.

Returning to the idea of ​​the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, take into account the 4 laws of behavior, be patient, persevere and apply the increase of 1% daily. This may not seem like much, but in the long run there is a lot you can do. In mathematical terms, after a year you will be 37 times better than before.

  • Connect your new habit to an existing one: An effective way to get new habits established is by linking them to something you're already doing. So that you don't forget and you can repeat it every day, connect it with something you do naturally. For example, you can meditate after you take a shower, exercise before you make breakfast, or before you shower in the morning, or whatever works best for you.
  • Adjust your environment to encourage the habit: Your environment can often become a subtle trigger for your behavior that can go unnoticed. That is why we recommend changing your current conditions so that you can start your new routine in a different place that is not plagued by unproductive signals. After a while, that site you have organized or chosen will be associated with the behavior.
  • Schedule your new habit (you can include it in the calendar): as with any goal, you need to establish a suitable time of day to follow the routines that you have decided to incorporate. What you are trying to do is reduce the friction or the difficulty so that you don't have excuses when spending the time that the activity takes. If necessary, you can program them in an app or in your diary to keep track of your progress.
  • Reward yourself for small successes: Although having positive habits is already a daily reward in itself, it never hurts to reward yourself for those small milestones that you are reaching. Rewards are a powerful incentive and activate your internal motivation to stay focused on the goal. You can celebrate with a dinner or a gift for persevering for a week, 2 weeks...

How to break bad habits?

There are plenty of reasons to end our bad habits. These harmful behaviors are what prevent you from achieving your goals and waste your time and energy. Faced with this revelation, it is always good to ask: Why do we continue in the same? Now, this doesn't mean you can't do something about it.

What causes bad habits

In essence, bad habits are the product of two factors: boredom and stress. Most of the time you pick up bad habits to try to deal with these two causes. Behaviors such as checking social networks, drinking every weekend, spending your salary on purchases or biting your nails are the result of these sensations.

Of course, the reasons behind that superficial stress or boredom can also be due to deeper issues. It may not be that easy for you to deal with them, so you need to be honest with yourself if you really intend to change your habits. Only by finding the cause can you overcome these harmful behaviors.

Chances are there are certain reasons or beliefs behind your negative behaviors. It can also be the consequence of an event, a fear or a more internal problem that holds you to something that limits your personal development. In any case, it doesn't have to be this way, and you can learn other, more productive ways to deal with stress or boredom.

There are two things you need to do first:

  • Identify the habit you want to change
  • Find your why

Bad habits are replaceable

It doesn't matter if your current habits are good or bad, they are there for a reason. In some way, they may be benefiting you and at the same time affecting you in another way. It can be an emotional advantage (bad sentimental relationship), a biological one (smoking, taking drugs) or a way of dealing with stress (pulling hair, biting nails, grinding teeth...).

These "benefits" can also extend to other daily attitudes. For example, we have a habit of checking email as soon as we turn on the computer to feel connected. As this behavior avoids "being uninformed", you repeat it even if it means losing focus, reducing productivity or accumulating stress.

Before quitting completely, it is preferable to replace a bad habit with a better one that gives you the benefits you need. If you decide to cut off what could be affecting you without replacing it, it will be more difficult to meet your expectations and establish a fixed routine. If, for example, you smoke when you are stressed, the answer is not to stop cold, but to find another behavior that relieves your anxiety.

Try to eliminate those habits in your daily routines

Using the dynamics of how to create positive routines and habits as your guide, you can use the 4 Laws of Behavior Change in reverse. Having said that:

  • Make her invisible (the signal)
  • Take away the attraction (the longing or desire)
  • Try to be complicated (the answer)
  • Try to make it unsatisfying (the reward)

This formula helps you to break the loop that habits naturally follow. In addition to this, you can use other effective techniques that serve to reinforce what is causing your bad habits. That's why we suggest:

  • Cut any trigger. Everything that represents a trigger for harmful behavior must be eliminated. If you eat a lot of sweets while at home, stop buying them; if you watch a lot of TV, hide the remote control or get rid of it; if you smoke when you drink, avoid those situations.
  • Visualize success. Positive thinking is important to change habits or generate new behaviors. Imagine getting up early and rested, throwing away cigarettes or exercising. Accompany these visualizations with feelings of accomplishment, happiness, and accomplishment.

Use the word “but” in your self-talk. When you fight against your bad habits, you blame or judge yourself for not doing better. Instead, if you fail try to end your sentences with a "but"; for instance:

  • I speak little English, but the course I am doing will help me to do it fluently.
  • I'm fat and out of shape, but I'm going to be healthy soon.
  • Nobody takes me into account, but I am improving my communication skills so that they do.

track your progress

Habit-building apps can also be used to eliminate harmful behaviors. Apart from the ones I recommended above, there are some that focus on specific topics, such as losing weight or going to bed early. I will name them below:

  • My fitness pal. Ideal for monitoring your diet and controlling your weight, this application motivates you to achieve your daily goals. This app analyzes your lifestyle and your physical characteristics to tell you how your daily intake should be. Since you have to record what you eat, it tells you how many calories you have left to consume, etc.
  • Quitzilla. This app has achieved a lot of acceptance when it comes to freeing yourself from bad habits. This is because you can monitor them and analyze how your progress has been. It is inspired by Jerry Seinfeld's productivity secret, you can export your data to Dropbox or Google Drive and it has several useful widgets. In addition to including positive reinforcements, its download is free.
  • Sleeptown. This program is designed so that you don't stay watching TV or surfing and lose your precious sleep. Its purpose is that you go to bed at an ideal time. From the scheduled time, the construction of a building begins that will only collapse if you use the mobile. It's free and available for Android and iOS.

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Example of how to break a negative habit

When you have an unhealthy habit that affects your daily performance or finances, you must first be aware of what it is. Although it's easy to get involved with how you feel about it, you waste time thinking about how things would be or experiencing guilt about it. In fact, this makes you lose sight of what is really going on.

One way to control it is to monitor it throughout the day. If, for example, you bite your nails, every time it happens you write it down on a piece of paper or an app. At the end of the day you will know how many times you are engaging in this behavior. Once you are aware of its frequency, you can begin to replace it with another habit or use the techniques that we have mentioned before.


According to the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, creating positive habits to replace negative ones is a process that requires recognizing the problem and making small adjustments. If you apply the gradual increase of 1%, there is a lot you can achieve after 1 year. With a little perseverance, perseverance and patience, motivation will appear and your little routines will be consolidated more every day.

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