Why Habit Formation Builds Changes that Last

Recently I wrote about the benefits of building and constantly replenishing our willpower. While boosting willpower helps improve performance, it (ideally) takes a back-seat to something even more significant: habit creation.

For a Realtor or Loan Originator, the habit formation process is one that drives lasting change, but is often misunderstood and underappreciated. Yet to close more transactions than you are today, you need to build and execute on better habits than those you currently have in place. It really is that simple.

Forming Habits Takes Commitment and Patience

Decades of research has helped us gain a much better understanding of how habits are born.  We can now define habits by saying, “They are actions triggered automatically in response to contextual cues that have been associated with their performance.” Wait, what does that mean?  Let’s keep going.

Initially, with habits, conscious repetition is vital, and this requires the use of willpower However, habits don’t begin with JUST repetition and an act of the will. Habit formation requires repetition combined with “contextual cues.” In other words, if you want to build the habit to go for a run early each morning, a contextual cue (i.e. visual reminder) might be to put your running shoes next to your bed. When you wake the next day and see the shoes, they provide a cue that helps begin the routine. As the routine is built, it becomes a habit, i.e. an automatic, nearly unthinking action.

The Habit Loop

Author Charles Duigg recently penned an outstanding book on habit development, where he coined the term “Habit Loop.”  Duigg explains that not only does a habit require a contextual cue, and a subsequent routine, but habits also need a reward. A reward is what follows the routine, (i.e. after your morning jog, the initial reward might be a small piece of chocolate). The mind’s desire for more rewards works in concert with the cue, which triggers the desired routine, which then follows with another reward. This cue-routine-reward cycle is behind every habit (good or bad) that you and I currently execute.

 Ready to Change or Add a Habit?

To add a new habit to your life, or modify an existing one, you will have to take a serious look at the “Habit Loop” that will initiate and drive the desired routine. For that morning run, the jogging shoes next to your bed might not work as an effective cue; perhaps your cue needs to be the Rocky Theme Song that plays as your alarm. Or, instead of a piece of chocolate as a reward, you may need to treat yourself to a Spa Day after three successful runs.

You see the pattern: to make any routine habitual, you need a compelling cue and subsequent reward. Without these, you’re left simply to willpower, which is a limited resource and doesn’t (usually) bring about permanent changes to our behavior.

Action Items for Habit Formation

The first step toward shaping habits that maximize your potential is getting honest about the habits that need to be stopped/replaced. This week, make a list with two columns: one featuring the habits you want to eliminate, and another with desirable habits to replace the old ones. Then, identify the one habit that, if added to your life, would make the biggest impact. Lastly, write out the cue, routine, and reward that you desire to implement, and ask someone to help hold you accountable to take the necessary actions.