Applied Psychology

How to Develop Constructive Habits

Aug 15, 2023 | By Jenna van Schoor

Our habits can become so ingrained in our daily routines that they can start to define us. However, while some might seem impossible to break, research shows that behavioural changes are possible through focused effort and building new neural pathways in our brains. 

In this post, we’ll briefly discuss what habits are and how they work. We’ll also share some tips on how to build better ones, with inspiration from two popular books, Atomic Habits and The Power of Habit.

What are habits?

Habits are behaviours we’ve developed over time, including simple tasks such as brushing our teeth before bed or exercising. Many of these help us feel good, but bad habits can develop through constant repetition. This is because repeated behaviours create neural pathways in our brains that reinforce the same behaviour, even if it isn’t good for us.

One classic example is smoking cigarettes, which can become a bad habit. However, if we understand how human behaviour works, we can start to deconstruct our routines. We can begin to learn how they are a pattern of responding to cues through certain behaviours, which aren’t always conscious.

For instance, if you always feel like smoking a cigarette when stressed, smoking is a response to the need to feel calm. However, if you can train yourself to take the time to do something else to relieve your stress instead, it could be just as effective. This process requires commitment if we want to rewire our brains to desire a different outcome, though, and it isn’t easy!

Why build better habits?

If our habits reward us or are responses to stimuli that help us cope, why would we want to change them? The first reason is that no matter how good they might feel at the time, they aren’t always beneficial for our physical or mental health in the long term.

Of course, when it comes to addictive behaviours, more profound and supportive interventions are needed. But, it’s possible to break certain day-to-day routines and build better ones through consistent effort and understanding more about human behaviour.

Tips on how to build better habits

To share some tips on how to build better habits, we’ll discuss two of the most popular books on the topic, Atomic Habits by James Clear and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. By giving a summary of each, we’ll share some ideas on how to build more constructive habits.

Atomic Habits

The core theme of Atomic Habits is that minor incremental changes can have a more significant impact over time. By understanding the four laws of behaviour change, we can understand how the cue, craving, response and reward cycle works and why we have developed certain habits over others. 

Habits are challenging to break because they can form part of our identity, so when trying to change one, we also have to change our perception of ourselves. However, on the flip side, building identity-based behaviours allows us to recreate or shift our sense of identity for the better.

It’s not enough to focus on changing individual behaviours but building systems to support better routines. In summary, you can change your behaviour by using a more holistic approach to changing your overall lifestyle.

The Power of Habit

The Power of Habit covers similar themes to Atomic Habits but goes a bit deeper into explaining why habits exist, how they work and how you can change them. 

Duhigg gives various examples of how habit has played out in the lives of famous people and how noticing simple patterns in our daily lives can lead to powerful transformation.

We can develop more constructive alternatives by getting to the root of what drives specific routine behaviour. So, for example, instead of buying a cookie every day in the mid-afternoon, Duhigg did an experiment that made him realise that what he was craving during his mid-afternoon slump wasn’t a cookie. It was socialising.

It can lead to profound shifts if we approach our daily behaviour this way. Moreover, if we think about this in the context of an organisation, it’s clear that even more impactful change is possible!

Learn more about human behaviour with SACAP Global

Understanding human behaviour is critical to building better routines and relationships. It also helps us be more impactful leaders and change how we think and behave for the better.

At SACAP Global, we offer online micro-credentials that focus on Applied Psychology. Our approach is to use theories, research and practical application to drive more effectiveness in our personal and professional lives, which includes building more constructive habits.

For more information, browse our list of available short courses. These course topics include trauma, counselling and mental health, and industry-related short courses that focus on building interpersonal, leadership and management skills.

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