“Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.” Benjamin Franklin

It often seems cruel how hard it can be to instil good habits, and how easy it is for them to slip, when with bad habits the opposite is true.

How often have you decided that today is the day you’ll start a new habits, determined to make it stick? You WILL exercise every day, work out three times per week, read for 30 minutes a day, fast twice a week, etc etc. And then before you know it, a particularly busy week has meant your desired habit has been broken and you’re left convinced that if you only had more discipline, things would be different.

Wouldn’t it be helpful to be able to create and sustain a habit you wanted without the need for discipline? In this article I’ll try to help you understand the formula that will enable you to achieve exactly that. You see, you don’t need discipline or motivation to sustain good habits. Instead you need a formula that works. So if in the past you ‘failed’ to form and sustain positive new habits it was not because of your lack of discipline, it was simply that your formula wasn’t quite right.

Here is the formula for successful habit creation, with an example of how to use it to form a new habit of daily exercise:

Step 1:

Decide on your goal and the habit you’d like to create.

For the sake of example let’s say you want to exercise more, and you decide the habit you would like to create is to do 20 minutes on an exercise bike every day.

Step 2:

Think of the smallest version of that habit.

The smallest version of 20 minutes on an exercise bike every day could be one minute on an exercise bike every day.

Step 3:

List all your existing habits and decide your ‘trigger’

You need to identify an existing habit of yours that will become the trigger for your new habit. So begin by listing all the things you do every day. For example, this list could included: wake up, have a glass of water, have a shower, get dressed, boil the kettle for a cup of coffee, eat breakfast, brush teeth…there will be loads, so write down as many as you can think of. 

Then decide your ‘trigger’ – the most suitable existing habit that you can now use to trigger your desired new habit. This will depend on the nature of the new habit you are forming. For example, consider when in the day you want to do your desired new habit? If you want to do your daily exercise in the morning, the most appropriate trigger might be your glass of water after waking up. 

Step 4:

Pair your trigger habit (3) with your smallest version of your desired habit (2)

You now pair the following two habits:

‘Have a glass of water after waking up’ = ‘Do one minute on the exercise bike’

Agree with yourself that tomorrow morning, as soon as you’ve finished your morning glass of water you will get on your exercise bike and cycle for no less than one minute. If you visualise performing this routines it will help.

Step 5:

Do it, repeat it, and track your success

The next morning, as soon as you drink your first glass of water, get on the exercise bike and cycle for one minute. As soon as you’ve done that, track your success (I use an app called Done), and then repeat the routine the following morning.

Why it will work:

Step 1 = the goal is probably important to you.

Step 2 = your new habit is so small it will take no effort or discipline. In the case above, you’re not trying to cycle 20km, you just need to do one minute!

Step 3 = You already have loads of habits you are already doing without thinking (or discipline!)

Step 4 = A soon as you have the glass of water it will trigger your desired action by association

Step 5 = As you ‘tick off’ a successful day, it will give you a sense of reward and build your ‘streak’ of success. The longer the streak, the greater the incentive to keep the habit going.

What will soon happen:

Each day you will successfully do your one minute on the bike (or whatever your smallest habit is). As you continue your new habit, some days you will feel like exercising for longer. By day five you might clock 10 minutes – and it will be easy. The next week perhaps it will be closer to 15 minutes. Before you know it, you will replaced your smallest habit (in this case 1 minute on the bike) with your original goal (in this case 20 minutes), and you’ll be doing it every day.

i.e. in a very short period of time you will have upgraded your formula to trigger the habit you wanted in the first place:

First glass of water in the morning = 20 minutes cycle, every day

You may wish to create a habit that is not every day, but for this you just need to adapt the formula. The principle is the same: pair the smallest version of your desired habit with something you’re already doing. Start small and build on your success. Don’t rely on discipline, create momentum from a standing start.

Best of luck,


3 point review

  • Decide on the habit you want to enforce
  • Find a formula that works
  • Repeat and track your success
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