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What Are Habits: Ultimate Guide To Building Better Habits in 2023 (Focus Bear)

Jan 6, 2023

There’s a science-backed explanation for how habits form and how to replace a bad habit with a good one. It all starts with the habit loop.

Here’s a simple question:

How much would you have if you had a dollar every time you heard the word “habit”? 

Congratulations. It looks like you’ve earned at least a hundred bucks. So, yes, you have heard of habits. But do you really know what habits are? Many people think they know everything about habits, but that’s not just true. 

There’s much more to habits than meets the eye. ‘Habit,’ however mundane or ordinary it sounds, holds the key to success and failure. 

When motivation or willpower inevitably dwindles, habits can be the wild card that separates those who succeed from those who don’t.

In this article, we deep dive into the simple-yet-oh-so-complex world of habits. The goal here is to help you understand the fundamentals of habits, how they are formed, how to break bad ones, and how to build better habits. 

All the laborious NASA-like research on habits has been broken down into digestible, actionable bits for you. Hopefully, building healthy habits will be a cakewalk from here on out.

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Table of Contents

What Are Habits

Charles Duhigg is one of the most referenced authors on habits. He explains that habits are created when our brains try to save energy by automating certain behaviors. 

Instead of making individual judgments such as walking to the bathroom sink, taking up a toothbrush, and moving it rhythmically (or not) across your mouth, the brain combines all of those small decisions into a single activity — brushing your teeth.

You don’t think about all those steps that cleaning your mouth requires. You only think of brushing your teeth. Pretty incredible, isn’t it?

The basal ganglia in the brain are mostly responsible for the automatic nature of habits. They are a group of nuclei found deep in the brain. They play a key role in the formation and execution of habits. 

When a behavior evolves into a habit, the basal ganglia takes control of that behavior from the prefrontal cortex. This allows you to do that behavior automatically and efficiently.

Interestingly, basal ganglia features prominently in your life (even if you’ve never heard of it). Around 43% of our daily actions are habitual. To put that in context, nearly half of the things you do daily are done without thinking about it. So much for being in control of our lives, eh?

When a habit is formed, a neural pathway is created. The neural pathway gets stronger as we repeat the habitual behaviour. It becomes so well-established that the habit becomes automatic. This explains why getting rid of a habit is not the easiest thing to do.

James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, explains that a habit is a behavior that is repeated enough times it becomes automatic. 

After considering these two authors and a few others, we’ve also come up with our definition of what habits are.

Habits are learned behaviors that, when done over time, become so natural to us that we do them instinctively.

In summary, habits have the following features:

  • They are learned behaviors
  • They take little or no mental effort to execute
  • They can be difficult to break once learned
  • They have a profound effect on the life you lead


Many people get confused about differences between a habit, a ritual, a behavior, and a routine. If you belong to the subspecies of human beings who might be wondering about these differences, you’re in the right place.  

What’s important to know is there are differences and similarities. A habit is not entirely the same as a ritual, routine, or behavior. 

Let’s explore these differences and similarities together.


Habits vs. Routine

TriggerInstinctiveConscious decisions
ExampleDrinking coffee when you wake upMorning routine can be
drinking coffee, meditating,
making your bed, going for a run
OutcomeBecomes automaticRequires deliberate effort

As explained before, a habit is a behavior that when repeated regularly becomes an automatic response to a particular situation.

A routine is a set of activities usually done in a particular order. 

Side Tip: Routines (like morning routines) can become a tool for learning new positive habits. We discuss how that works somewhere further down this article.

The difference between a routine and a habit is that routines are usually done consciously and are not too difficult to modify or stop. On the other side, habits become part of you and are harder to change.


Habit vs. Ritual

DefinitionLearned behavior that
becomes instinctive
Series of actions that are
performed in a specific order
TriggerInstinctiveConscious actions
OutcomeBecomes automaticStill requires deliberate
ExampleBiting your nails when
Going to church every

Rituals differ significantly from habits. They involve activities followed in a specific order to achieve a desired outcome.

Everything about a ritual is deliberate and geared towards realizing a prescribed goal. For example, going to church on Sunday is deliberate and satisfies a religious desire.

Like routines, rituals can be changed with less effort than it takes to change a habit.


Habit vs. Behaviour

DefinitionLearned behavior that
becomes instinctive
Response of a person to
things happening around
TriggerInstinctive/UnconsciousConscious and unconscious
OutcomeAutomatic actionsDeliberate and automatic
ExampleBrushing your teeth when
you wake up
Playing a sport

Every habit is a behavior but not every behavior is a habit. 

A key feature of habits is that they are automatic. On the other hand, behaviors are more varied and include both automatic and non-automatic actions. 

For example, when we drive, we find ourselves steering the car without thinking much about it because we’ve learned the habit of driving. 

But when we think back to the early days of driving, we remember that steering took more conscious effort. 

Back in those early days, steering was a behavior. Now, it’s a habit.

The Habit Loop (Explained): How Habits Are Formed?

Why do some behaviors become habits and why do others do not?

The secret is in habit formation.

Indeed it is fascinating to discover the process behind habit formation. The interplay between cues, routines, rewards, the unconscious events in our minds, and several other factors influence this process.

Many theories explain how habits are formed, but few explain it better than “The Habit Loop.” 

Ever heard of a loop before? 

You're on the right track if you’re thinking of something that looks like a circle or the “infinity” sign.

A loop works like this:

You start at a certain point. You follow a few more steps. Then, you return to the starting point. 

Driving a car is an excellent example of following a loop. You drive the car from your garage. You go to work, the shopping mall, or the yard you shoot hoops with your folks. When you’re done, you take the car back to your garage. 

Next day, you repeat. That’s a loop right there.


So, how does a loop play out with habits?

Charles Duhigg introduced the Habit Loop in his book ‘The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business”. 

The habit loop model explains that habits form and develop through three main stages:

Trigger, Routine, and Reward.

These stages are all connected in a loop.


Also referred to as the cue or the reminder. 

A trigger is anything that can initiate a particular behavior or action. Any of the following can be triggers:

  • Location
  • Time
  • Current emotional state
  • People around you
  • Your last action

Here are some examples of triggers in action:

Habit — brushing your teeth.

Trigger — waking up (last action) or when the clock hits 7 AM (time)


Habit — drinking coffee

Trigger — Walking past the coffee shop or the coffee maker in your kitchen (location or last action) or feeling groggy (current emotional state).

Other examples include:

When you’re nervous, you might rub your hands together. 

When it’s 1 PM, you may take it as a cue to go and get lunch. 

That’s how the trigger works. 



The routine is the habit or repeated behavior. It’s what you want to stop doing or start doing (if it is healthy).

Some routines are good, and others are bad. 

For example, brushing your teeth every morning prevents bacterial growth and gives you excellent oral hygiene. So, it’s a good routine. 

Chewing your fingers when you’re anxious is a bad routine. Overeating when you’re bored and adding unwanted pounds is a bad routine. 

Both diminish your mental and physical health.



This is the kick or benefit you get from following the routine. It’s the part of the loop where your brain and body get some form of excitement from doing the habit. Rewards satisfy the craving.

For example, the reward for brushing your teeth is a clean mouth. That always feels good. 

The reward for eating more of that extra chocolate chip cookie can be an extra taste of creamy sweetness. 

Whatever benefit you get out of the habit is the reward. 

The reward reinforces the routine and ultimately fuels the habit loop.  


These three stages of the habit loop lie at the center of habit formation. 

The cue starts the process, the routine is the process, and the reward completes the process. And on it goes. 

Building better habits and breaking away from bad ones begins with truly understanding the habit loop. If you can recognize the cue, you have a good chance of stopping a bad routine before it even begins. 

If the cue is impossible to stop, focus on dealing with the reward.


Real-life scenario of how the habit loop works

Doomscrolling is a prominent term in pop culture. You probably do it all the time, even if you don’t know what it is. 

That’s a reminder of how powerful habits are. They can control you without you even realizing it. Pretty sleek if you ask us.

Anyway, doomscrolling.

Doomscrolling happens when you’re continuously scrolling through negative and distressing news on social media and the internet, often to the point that you start feeling overwhelmed and anxious. 

The habit loop in action:

Cue: You’re alone, and you receive a social media notification with an exciting yet distressing headline. 

Routine: You hit that notification, your unconscious state takes over, and you start absorbing lots of information. 

Reward: FOMO has nothing on you because you didn’t miss out. More importantly, your brain releases a significant amount of dopamine.


Types of Habits (and Examples)

We are not always conscious of our habits. Like with the doomscrolling example, there are habits in your life that you know nothing about. 

Sometimes, it’s because we’re not perceptive enough. Other times, it’s because we don’t even know there’s an actual name for what we do. 

However, if we are to build better habits, we need to do a better job of identifying them and sorting them out into the category they belong. 

In the spirit of sorting out, we’ll now discuss the types of habits. They’re simple enough that you probably already know them.

Good Habit

A good habit is a behavior that benefits your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Good habits make you healthier and more productive.


Getting enough quality sleep. 

Bad Habit

Bad habits harm your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. They might make you ill, weak, sad, or unhappy. 


Procrastination. This one’s an entirely different monster. But still killable.

Neutral Habit

Neutral habits include behaviors that do not clearly impact your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. 

They could be good or bad or neither or both. 


Putting your keys in the same place every day

Rubbing your palms together when you want to do something fun.


Why Are Habits Important?

Habits are important because they have a tremendous impact on our daily lives. They affect our choices, the people we’re close to, and our lives.

A slight change in your daily habits can guide your life to a very different destination — James Clear

Your success and failure ultimately depend on the habits you have. And that’s not me trying to give you a half-baked cliche motivational talk.

Because habits are done unconsciously, a good one can make success more effortless, while a bad one can hamper your ability to thrive.

Several studies drive home this point:

In this Nigerian study, researchers discovered that good study habits made the difference between academic success and failure.

In this study, researchers found that healthy sleeping habits helped some students do better at school.

Good habits can help you improve in the short and long term.


How Long Does It Take To Build A Habit

Experts tell us that it takes anywhere between 18 to 254 days for a person to build a new habit.

It’s important to note that the amount of time required to form a new habit depends on several factors.

Some of these factors include a person’s age, character type, motivations, and the complexity of the particular habit.

For example, most people find drinking a glass of water after a meal less taxing than 50 push-ups before sleeping.


Time Required To Build A New Habit 

Although it generally takes 18-254 days to form a new habit, the average time for habit formation is 66 days.

As Charles Duhigg has reminded us, the idea that habit formation always takes 21 days is wrong.

Sometimes, it's longer. Other times, it's shorter.


Time Required To Break A Bad Habit

To be fair, it may take 18-250 days to break a habit. So, yes, it is about the same time it takes to build a new habit.

However, breaking a bad habit is much more complicated. Sometimes, it may take longer than 250 days.

That said, it’s pertinent to note that several factors go into habit formation and reformation. These factors can affect an individual differently. This makes it very hard for scientists to offer the specific duration it takes to break a bad habit.

You’ve learned what habits are, how they are formed, why they’re essential, and how long it takes to build or break one. 

Now, let’s discuss how to build better habits.

How To Build Better Habits

Building better habits requires time, effort, and dedication. But it’s sooo worth it. 

When you consider that you’re more likely to live a happy and fulfilled life if you build better habits, putting in the work feels less stressful.

There is an acceptable way to build better habits. It is science-based and has proved very effective for hundreds of thousands of people. And that’s not us trying to pull out tricks and stops to get you to buy a product. 

Everything detailed here can be done 100% on your own. 

Remember to stay patient and focused throughout the habit-building phase.

Step 1. Make A Plan

You need a plan/strategy to build a new habit. You can simply get a notepad and a pen and write, “My strategy to turn healthy sleeping into a habit.”

Making a plan also involves the following:

  • Identifying the habit you want to build
  • Start with the tiniest step
  • Think of a trigger. Remember the habit loop? For example, if you want to sleep early, you could set the alarm for 9 PM so you can be reminded that you need to sleep. 

BTW, Focus Bear is really good at reminding. The best.

  • Gather suggestions for an accountability partner too. It’s best to go with people in your inner circle, like your family and close friends. 


Step 2. Set Simple, Achievable Goals

Don’t start with a habit so tough that it’d scare someone as daring as James Bond away. Keep it simple at first.


Because willpower is like a muscle. It can get stronger, but it needs to be trained. 

You want to avoid tiring your willpower out on the first day of a long habit journey, so you must take it slow.

Rather than building a morning routine that will keep you fit, sharp, and energized all at once, you can start with one small behavior, e.g., making your bed. 

When that behavior becomes a habit, you can build another one. You continue building until you have enough habits to make a productive morning routine.

Remember that plan we asked you to make?

Break down that habit into small goals there. Start with five pushups every day and then work your way up slowly to fifty every day. 

It’ll be a really tough habit to break when you let it develop organically.


Step 3. Improve Your System

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your system” — James Clear. Also, one of the most genuine words to be said.

Your system is an essential piece of the puzzle. Building a new habit can be incredibly difficult without a system. We’re talking herculean task kind of difficult.

However, with a sound system in place, positive habit formation will be a slam dunk.  A system makes the automatic part of habits come alive.


How to build a system for you

It’s all about exploiting the habit loop (a kind of system). Here’s how to go about it:

Choose a specific habit

Being specific is vital. Don’t just say you want to exercise more. Say you want to do ten push-ups and ten sit-ups daily at 7 AM.

Control the trigger

Find out what triggers/reminders will prompt you to perform the habit. If you want to develop the habit of studying at 4 PM every day, you could set a reminder on your phone to prompt you. 

Another good example:

If you want to focus better, you could set up website blockers to prevent distractions. 

Focus Bear is really good at blocking distractions, keeping you focused, and a lot of other really cool stuff. 

You should give it a go if strengthening your focus is part of your New Year’s Resolutions. (If it’s not on there yet, it should be!)

Identify obstacles

Pay attention to the things that make forming a new habit harder. Fatigue, distractions, and lack of motivation are common examples. 

If there’s an obstacle in the way, you either remove it or go around it.

Good systems have similar features. They make habits obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying.

BJ Fogg, a Stanford University professor and behavior scientist, developed this framework. 

Let’s break it down together:


Good systems make the habit obvious i.e. clearly defined. Details about the habit need to be clearly spelled out. 

For example, saying I want to run more often will not be as effective as saying I am going to run for five minutes at 5:30 PM every day this week.



Habits need to be appealing. They should give you a feel-good vibe so that they easily tie into the brain’s reward system for automating behaviors.



Good systems break habits into small and easy steps.



Habits should bring a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. Focusing on one task is satisfying because you feel accomplished when you complete it.


Step 4. Modify your environment

The environment is another essential part of habit formation. The triggers in the habit loop exist in the environment. Your brain unconsciously absorbs most of the environmental cues.

Consider how complicated it’ll be to master drinking a glass of water if you have to drag your sleepy self to the kitchen to get it. 

On the flip side, if you keep a glass of water by your bedside before going to sleep, it becomes much easier to get prompted to water. 

That’s the power of your environment. James Clear knows it too. Your environment does not respond to you more than you respond to it. 

Do you want to start running every evening? Keep your running shoes at your doorstep, creating an environmental cue with which your mind can work.


Step 5. Track your progress

An app (like Focus Bear) or a simple notepad can get this done. Record the days you succeeded and the things that made it easier to do so. 

Record your failures too. All that data will come in handy.

Make sure to review your progress at least once every two weeks.


Step 6. Celebrate your victories and learn from your failures

It is OK to fall off the wagon a few times when trying to learn a new habit. Happens to the best of us. 

But you have to go again. Go back to the habit loop and see why you failed. Did you correctly identify the trigger? Is the reward the problem?

When (not if) you win, celebrate. Share your victory with those who love you. It makes the whole process more enjoyable.


FAQs About Habits

The world of habits is intricate and has many layers. Like an onion. 

But to fully explore that world, you need to know the basics. So, we’ve curated answers to the most frequently asked questions on habit to help you get started on exploring the world of habits.


What are some ways to build a good habit?

Here are some ways to build good habits:

Step 1. Start small

It is better to divide the habit into smaller bits. Then start with the smallest. If you want to work out consistently, start with a simple short walk.

Step 2. Be consistent

Consistency is key. Do the small bits regularly at a specific time too. This simplifies the “routine” process.

Step 3. Set a reminder

Anyone can forget stuff, but alarm clocks and reminder apps always remember. Trust your apps to notify you when it is time to perform a habit.

Step 4. Be accountable

Choose someone like a close friend or family member to help keep you accountable to your goals. It’s harder to give up when you know someone’s looking for you.

Step 5. Celebrate the small wins

Every time you perform your desired habit, pat yourself on the back. Yes, reward yourself.

Don’t give up:

Keep going. Just keep going.


How do incentives help build a habit?

Incentives help build good habits because they offer positive reinforcement for performing the desired behavior.

When you receive an incentive for behaving a certain way, you’re more likely to repeat that behavior.

Incentives should be used moderately. Make sure the incentive is in agreement with the habit you’re trying to build. 

If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t reward yourself for sticking to your meal plan by letting yourself eat chocolate. That’s a good way to sabotage your efforts. 

Buying yourself a nice book or getting a massage would make sure that the incentive is aligned with the person you want to become.


Why is it so hard to change bad habits?

Bad habits are bad to change because they are rewarding. Every time you engage in a bad habit, your body gets some pleasure.

This pleasure is a result of a chemical reaction involving dopamine.


How do I stop a habit?

  1. Figure out why you want to stop
  2. Accept that success will not come overnight
  3. Study the habit loop and observe what part of the loop you need to tweak. Environmental changes are often the best strategies. If your phone distracts you, put it in a different room while you’re working/studying.
  4. Replace the habit with a positive and good one
  5. Track your progress and stay accountable
  6. Don’t give up


What habits will improve my life?

Habits that will improve your life include

  1. Waking up early
  2. Spending less time on social media
  3. Regular exercise
  4. Meditating
  5. Focusing on one task at a time
  6. Keeping things tidy
  7. Being grateful

Ready To Build Better Habits for 2023?

Habits are so integral to the point that it is reckless to ignore their importance. Habits need to be identified, modified, and improved upon regularly. 

Building better habits and breaking bad ones is a lifelong task. It’s part of the price we pay for happiness and a life free from complete chaos. 

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how habits work anymore. But it takes a dedicated person willing to grow to apply the habit formation hack.

We’ve shown you the hack. You can take it from there.

Because we can’t resist the urge to make positive building habits super easy for you, we’ve created an app to guide you through everything habits. 

Focus Bear can help you better your habits by prompting you to take action through gentle reminders, tracking your progress with the Habit-tracker feature, and modifying your environment.

Whatever positive habits you want to build, you can trust Focus Bear to walk with you in the right direction.

Jan 6, 2023

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