Many of us set ourselves goals. Whether they’re big or small, long-term or short-term, we all start off with the right intentions. We might want to become fitter or eat healthier, maybe we want to try and create some more ‘me-time’ throughout the week. But did you know that unless we make this intention part of our routine and turn it into a habit then seven in ten people (70%) of us fail to achieve our goals.1
So how do we go about turning these goals into habits, so that they become part of our routines to the point where we’re not even consciously thinking about it; like putting on socks or brushing our teeth?
Dr Steve Granier, AXA Health’s Medical Officer, explains the science behind forming habits and how to make it easier to slot into our existing behaviours, so we’re in the three in ten people who make a positive new habit.
How do we form habits?
Most of us turn off a light when leaving a room or check the front door is locked at night, often doing these actions without thinking. That’s because they’ve become a habit, they’re etched into our brains and have become an automatic part of our routine.
But there is some science behind all this. In fact, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology found “a three-step neurological pattern that forms the core of every habit”.2
- The cue – this is a reminder or trigger that tells your brain to complete this routine behaviour. Examples of this could be a notification, the time or even whether it’s daylight or night-time.
- The routine – this is the action itself or the behaviour you undertake.
- The reward – if the behaviour then leads to a reward then this helps our brains determine whether it’s worth remembering this habit loop.
Our brains actually turn off the decision-making part and instead the part of the brain that controls memories and pattern recognition takes over, allowing behaviours to become automatic.3
Most habits also do have rewards, whether that’s instant or for the future. In the example of turning off the light – the longer-term reward is saving electricity and therefore lowering bills. But if a behaviour has a more immediate reward, then we’re more likely to repeat it and turn it into a habit.