The 3-step method of changing a habit

January 11, 2021 8 min read

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

  • To modify them it is necessary to work internally on the beliefs and paradigms that usually limit people to achieve what they yearn for and desire.

How true is it that habits are changed by practicing them 21 days in a row?

To answer we go back to 1960, when the plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz defined a duration of 21 days to create a habit. More recently, the neurosciences affirm that this is not always the case, and that neurons could respond in a longer time; above all influenced by the tendency of the majority to abandon or procrastinate the training of habits before 21 days.

It can be said that the time is variable, although if you manage to sustain it for three or more weeks, you will be closer to incorporating it as a new routine, and, therefore, you will have the experience of what it would be like if you continued .

The results that any person wants to obtain involve changes and transformations in their habitual behavior. Many times a desire, desire or goal is expressed verbally, which does not mean that it is followed by the steps necessary to achieve it. To achieve this, it is necessary to change habits for those that bring you closer to the result, and do not drive you away.

In his book “The Power of Habits,” author Charles Duhigg shares his vision about the dynamics that can be followed to acquire the appropriate proactivity.


The three fundamental moments are:

  1. Trigger or trigger: something happens and the brain interprets that signal to act automatically through a cognitive bias (a “pre-armed route” and previously tested), or what response to give.

  2. Routine: it is a physical, emotional and mental action, which is automatically triggered by that trigger.

  3. Reward: it is when a positive stimulus appears and gives an indication to the brain that the executed routine works, and that is why it must be stored to be used again in the future, or replicated as many times as necessary.

A method to change habits

Any aspect of life that you want to manage more proactively requires a change in habits. For example, taking more responsibility at work, dieting, learning something new, starting an exercise program, or reading more.

To modify them, it is necessary to work internally on the beliefs and paradigms that usually limit people to achieve what they yearn for and desire; overcome the inertia of automatic response, and redirect effort, attention and focus towards the new, which will lead to a new life experience that is closer to the result.

There are many ways to achieve this, which are not based solely on the will, since the human being tends to decline if he does not see the result fairly quickly. However, one of the keys is persistence, combined with the inner strength to persevere over and over again; and the prize that will be received at the end.

Based on the previous ideas, a practical way to initiate a change of habits is:

1) Create a new trigger

From identifying the new habit you want to incorporate, you can work internally to detect the exact moment in which the tendency to fall into the old pattern appears, and, right there, redirect conscious thought, physical and mental energy, to drive it towards the goal you already have in mind.

It is essential that your goal is credible, achievable, measurable and concrete, and that it inspires you enough to accompany the self-motivation you need to sustain it over time. Write it down and visualize it with total clarity: having the idea in your head is not the same as putting it on paper, seeing it and measuring it daily.

Habits are built on repetition. And the new proactive and positive behavior too; so you will need to reproduce that new neural pathway in your brain over and over again to chart the appropriate path to reach it.

Remember that energy follows thought, so it is essential that your subconscious mind is aligned with this spirit of creating the new habit, so that it indicates to your conscious mind (the one that is in charge of thoughts and “give the order” of execute actions), that there is something new to incorporate into your life, and this you will achieve only by linking it in the subconscious through positive emotions and feelings. For example, imagining how you are going to feel when you are already achieving what you want to achieve.

2) Associate it with a positive routine

When the emotions that accompany the routine of the new habit are optimistic and propel you forward, the mind feels comforted because it knows that it is doing a good job: there is the inner satisfaction, the sense of accomplishment, and the energy that will take you to do it over and over again until you incorporate it into your daily life.

To associate the new habit with a positive routine, it is important to focus on small actions that contribute to your success.

Many people are very good at defining “what they don’t want,” although the appropriate approach here is that you can express and feel “what you do want.”

Image: Jordan Beal / EyeEm | Getty Images

This connection is emotional and deep; It requires discipline to design the small steps that you will take until you affirm the new behavior in your mind and how you are going to express it daily in concrete terms; that is, take it to action.

There are people who do not achieve the result of, for example, a diet, because they create it only at the conscious level of the mind (thoughts, ideas), and do not hold it in the subconscious (which feeds that experience with the associated emotions).

At this point, when creating the steps that will lead you to concretize the new habit, you need to associate it with feelings of expansion that will permanently energize and drive you. The step can be progressive, although you can be sure that if you persist, the result will come.

3) Create a mental or physical reward associated with maintaining that habit

The third point to change a habit is decisive: you need to create a reward to activate that center that is within your brain. This area contains neurons that emit impulses to numerous regions of the brain, fulfilling a fundamental role in motivation, desire, pleasure and affective evaluation.

Like all human beings we do things because we feel we are getting some benefit, the reward of the habit, in this case, has to be challenging and tangible enough to excite you, and, at the same time, fuel your mind to do it continuously.

A reward is an internal or external reward that you give yourself; It can be simply words of encouragement, keeping a notebook of your progress with respect to the habit, discussing your achievement with someone you love, cooking something delicious that you have not eaten in a long time, or indulging in a treat.

Apply your creative mind to reward yourself: what is important is that the moment you do it, you associate it mentally and directly with the habit that you are incorporating, since this will produce that internal connection that will enable the extra energy associated with the stimulus- trigger that awakens this new experience.

In this way, you can begin to change habits that are harmful or that you no longer need to maintain in your life, and incorporate others that lead directly to the result you want.

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