Changing habits, it's possible

Who hasn't everset out to change a bad habit, or start to do something beneficial like sports? At the beginning of the year or after the holidays it’s common to hear of many people facing these kinds of challenges.


8 January 2019


Cambiar de hábitos, es posible

Quitting smoking, exercising more or eating a more balanced diet are classic examples of good intentions that are usually started with a lot of enthusiasm but, most of the time, aren’t consolidated.

Habits are patterns learned by repetition that automate behaviour and leave a mark on the brain. They’re one of the great resources of our intelligence, since they make the brain more efficient. 

The repetition of certain behaviours means the brainturns these actions into routines, that are carried out with a low level ofattention, so that other more complex or novel tasks can be attended simultaneously. That's how you can answer a phone call at the same time that you'regetting dressed.

Habits make up a significant percentage of daily our behaviour. These repeated behaviours are important because they influence the formation of personality, values and personal beliefs.

Many of them have been acquired since childhood, somewhat unconsciously, but as you get older, you take control over your behaviourand decide to make changes.

¿Whyis it so hard to change your habits?

The reality is that it is not enough to have a firmaim to achieve a lasting change in behaviour. Neurosciences, including psychology, have addressed both how habits are generated and how they can be modified. 

The psychological formation of habits is known as the rule of the 3Rs, since there are three elements that make up this patternof behaviour:

  • Reminder: is thestimulus or signal that triggers the behaviour
  • Routine: the action itself
  • Reward: theenhancer or profit obtained as a result of such action.

When this pattern is repeated, the reminder signal and the reward overlap, producing a powerful desire and expectation, which strengthens the habit (Schultz, 2006).

Knowing how this works is essential in order to beable to modify any habit. The new behaviour we want to develop must provide a similar level of reward for continuity.

For example, if the goal is to reduce the time you spend watching TV and you want to invest it in exercise, you will need to identify the signal 'coming home from work' and incorporate the new action such as putting on slippers instead of going to the couch. Similarly, a reward ingelement of  'doing sport with friends' should be incorporated, leading to the same level of reinforcement or benefit.

Many unhealthy habits are maintained by the level of pleasure they provoke in the short term. It’s also common for people to fail when trying to change habit-behaviours by setting goals that are too ambitious orby trying to change too many things at once.

Steps to change a bad habit

The first thing is to have a clear objective and turn it into an action plan. To do this, it’s good to follow the following steps:

1) Be aware of what you want to change and why.

2) Connect the new habit with personal values and goals.

3) Plan out small steps.

4) To be disciplined: to practice, to practice and to practice.

5) Positively evaluate any progress.

Types of Habits (Marina, 2010)


These are mental representations of the world and theway we behave in different situations: beliefs, roles, models.


These are the thinking skills need to create concepts,classify and establish relationships, generate alternatives, solve problems andmake decisions.


These are the ones that determine affective behaviours:vitality, sociability, ability to enjoy the good and endure the bad, resilience.


These influence the beginning and maintenance of theaction, the planning and organization of goals, the direction of attention, andthe flexibility or capacity to change mental strategy.


These are operative habits that incline to action, independently of religious or ideological beliefs: prudence, strength, justice, solidarity, temperance. 


These are those linked to the organism and the body, and include physical abilities.