Creating a habit

“Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy.  But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped” 

Charles Duhigg ‘The Power of Habit’ (2014)

As you will have seen from Charles Duhigg’s short video, he’s done some research into how habits work, and devised a framework to encourage us to look at how we might change or reshape any of our current habits.

Research from MIT shows that there are three parts at the core of every habit which loop around to reinforce the habit we have.  That’s great if it’s a habit we want to keep doing.  Not so good if it’s a habit we want to kick.  And, hopefully, helpful if we want to create a new habit.  That’s what we want to focus on here.  How might you apply this when you want to create a new habit in service of your developing resilience.

 As you’ll have seen from the video, here’s how the loop works.

The habit loop

And the habit-changing/forming framework is structured as follows:

  1. Identify the routine
  2. Experiment with rewards
  3. Isolate the cue
  4. Have a plan

Let’s try to apply this to how you might create a new habit in service of your developing resilience.

Step 1:  Identify the routine.

  • Start by identifying the routine – this is the specific habit you want to develop
  • What do you want to be doing more or less of?
  • Be as specific as you can
  • Initially it might help to write down this new habit in as many places as you can so that you get a regular reminder; and make sure it looks like the right new specific routine for you

Step 2:  Experiment with rewards

  • Rewards are really important if we think of them in terms of the positive outcome of the new routine we have created.
  • Think of your new habit as being a routine that will satisfy your craving for something.
  • What is/are the rewards that will really satisfy your craving?
  • By experimenting with different rewards, it can help you to really clarify what you are craving.
  • You can create both extrinsic (external / tangible / visible) or intrinsic (internal / felt / experienced) rewards, and you can create short-term or longer-term rewards.
  • Make sure you are clear that the reward is directly linked to the craving you are seeking to satisfy and not counterproductive (rewarding yourself with plentiful snacks or high-calorie drinks after taking exercise comes to mind!).
  • Over time the rewards may become more intrinsically linked to the routine and you might need less extrinsic rewards over time.
  • Make sure the reward feels significant.  Enjoy it.  Savour it.  Celebrate it. Appreciate it.

Step 3: Isolate the cue

  • Now you need to organise and isolate a helpful cue that is going to be the initiator of your new routine.
  • Almost all habitual cues come from one of five sources:
    • Location.  A habit derived from being in a certain place
    • Time.  A habit linked to a particular time of the day.
    • Emotional state.  Where the habit emerges from a particular feeling we have.
    • Other people.  When the habit is generated from cues we get from specific other people.
    • Immediately preceding action.  When the habit cue is linked to something that has just happened.
  • From which of these five sources are you going to get the cue to initiate the routine that will give you the reward that will satisfy your craving?
  • What is a specific cue you can rely on?
  • How can you consistently create this cue?

Step 4: Have a plan

  • An embedded habit is one where our brain automatically follows a formula:  When I get a cue, I will do a routine in order to get a reward.
  • So, how can you plan to get the right cue to help you choose the best routine in order to deliver a reward to satisfy something you are craving?
  • Make an initial plan and get going with it.
  • Over the coming days, notice how well you are sticking to it and keeping up the new habit.
  • If necessary, make some adjustments to the plan; create some different cues and/or change the rewards.
  • Give yourself lots of reminders at the start.  Put alarms on your phone.  Write notes to yourself.  Put something in your diary.  Over time, less of these will be required.
  • Keep experimenting, amending and adapting until the habit is embedded and routinely another part of ‘what you do’.


Take one of your ideas for a new habit or routine that you want to create for renewing your energy resources for increased resilience and apply the strategies suggested by the research of Charles Duhigg:

In our programmes we would normally present an opportunity to share experiences in doing this in a typical healthcare context. We suggest you experiment with the development of at least one new habit or routine before a group meeting where you might reflect and exchange experience on changing practice; journal your activity and use an appropriate discussion forum to share any successes, or to seek advice from others for any continuing challenges.