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the secret ingredient behind effective behaviour change

Author: David Cuffley

One of the positive outcomes of the last few months of lockdown is that I have got into the habit of walking my dog in the woods behind our house every morning. It’s a great way to start the day and both the dog and I benefit from the fresh air and exercise. Habits can often be dismissed as both negative and trivial, but actually little habits can be incredibly powerful as they can add together to drive successful behaviour change and I want to share a simple process that you can use to develop high performance habits of your own.

So how do you build useful new habits?

Habits are the auto pilot of the human brain. They sit in the long-term memory and automatically kick in when they receive certain cues. Making habits out of the key building blocks of behaviour change, frees up your short-term memory and allows you to focus on other areas of your behaviour that you need to develop.

So how do you build useful new habits? I will give you a 4 -step process that will help you to speed up and embed new habits. But firstly, you need to think carefully about the new habit you want to create. It’s good practice to align your habits to a wider long term goal. Then as this habit becomes ingrained in the way you do things, you can progressively add new habits to it that will to move you closer towards the bigger goal.

In creating a habit, the 4 steps to think about are:


  1. Cue – this is the ‘trigger’ that will set the habit off. It may be a certain time, or an event, or an action by someone else. The cue for walking my dog is the excited squeals she makes as I come down the stairs in the morning.
  2. Craving – this is addressing the ‘why’ – there has to be a good reason for developing a habit, and being clear on this will help you to keep on developing the habit even when you’re not in the mood or you have other distractions.
  3. Routine – in developing a good habit, you need to practice. Remember the saying ‘perfect practice makes perfect’? The way to do this is through routine and repetition. In the same way that paths develop in the woods through constant use, your brain develops neuropathways through repetition. Having a good routine for this will speed up the development of good habits and skills.
  4. Reward – getting a prize when you finish the routine makes you feel good and develops a virtuous circle which will get stronger with repetition. Clearly the reward needs to be appropriate to the habit you are developing. For instance, if you are exercising in order to lose weight, it might not be a great idea to have a chocolate bar as the reward! Sometimes, the reward can be just the dopamine rush as you complete your routine.

Build small steps…

The best way to develop new behaviours is by underpinning them with high performance habits, and you can use these 4 steps to develop habits in any area of performance. For instance, in sales, what are the small, marginal gains that you could work on to develop that extra ‘1%’?


By identifying the cues, cravings, routines and rewards, you can build these small steps into new habits and step by step, your performance will improve.

The Habit Cycle

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