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The Power of Habit - Part 1

Updated: Aug 8, 2022

by Christian Lamper

"In the new year, I want to make more time for sports and health!"

"Next week I'll finally really get started with my workout plan!"

The success of these statements, and ultimately our resolutions, depends a lot on one particular mechanism: habits.

And of course how good we are at forming and stabilizing these new habits. We can also refresh existing habits in the process.

Because the above statements are nothing else than temporally stable habits, which we have to integrate successfully into our everyday life.

We often set ourselves the task of incorporating positive habits and routines in various areas of life. At the same time, it is best to uncover unwanted routines and replace them with these good habits. This is also very important and sensible, because scientific studies show us that up to 85 percent of our daily actions are a string of formed habits that we have established in the past (Fritz et al., 2020; Wood and Rünger, 2016).

Understandably, this directly begs the question:

Why do we do this?

The reason is an important benefit of this automation for our body, especially for our brain: saving energy!

Because energy, in the form of food, was not always available and therefore a very precious resource thousands of years ago, when our body and our physiology, just as they are still present today, developed.

Consequently, our habits ensure that we no longer have to think about what we do so extensively and over and over again, i.e. expend energy, when we perform something in our daily routine. The "when" and "how" of the execution is relatively stable and a lot of things end up happening automatically. So this describes very well why our habits can determine our lives so strongly and why it is so important for us to have a say in them.

The following challenges can therefore be directly derived here:

1. How can we "switch off" unwanted, negative habits?

2. How can we automate new positive habits and, in the best case scenario, replace the negative ones with them?

In other words, we want to influence ourselves in such a way that the consequences of these habits please us in the long run and are conducive to achieving our goals. To form a new habit so that we truly integrate it automatically into our daily lives, we need to allow 18 to 254 days, depending on our approach (Fritz et al., 2020; Wood and Rünger, 2016).

There is also often talk of 21 days needed to stabilize a new habit. This does not have to be the case, but as studies show, it can take significantly more time - if we do not make the best use of our opportunities.

This shows us the high temporal variability with which habits can be stabilized, and how much the success of habit formation also depends on our knowledge and regular actions. These can be quite simple habits, such as incorporating a walk after dinner or a short daily workout. The reason for this temporal variance is sometimes also that there are differences in mental effort between different people. This is necessary to overcome fatigue after a long day or perhaps anxiety that might prevent the establishment of the desired new habit. Therefore, it is important that we have various tools at hand that make it much easier to overcome these challenges.

A major positive effect of habit formation is that in the future, this same physical and mental effort will be less, as everything eventually becomes "automated."

The underlying process behind this automation is called:


This scientific term describes how connections in our brain, so-called synapses, change in such a way that the brain can react perfectly to new external influences and requirements and ongoing processes are optimized. Neuroplasticity also ensures, among other things, that we perform a habit with a high probability of saving the brain energy.

The simplest tool we can use to rebuild and activate these connections without having to take direct action is visualization. When visualizing, it is important that we take a few minutes, break down the desired action into its individual action steps, and then imagine them one after the other in as much detail as possible.

For example, if we want to regularly use the TabiaFit workout program after work, we can imagine the individual steps that are necessary to do so. This could be, for example, putting on our gym clothes, opening and starting our workout, and performing some exercises.

All of these visualizations already activate the links in our brain that are crucial to stabilizing a habit. And if we activate these links beforehand, then the mental and physical resistance later when we actually implement the action is much lower.

So we can already so easily help ourselves build habits without actually having to do anything directly. We just need to visualize something that we would like to do on a regular basis anyway.

Visualization also allows us to get started on the spot at any time without needing any special equipment.

Additionally, it can help us to write down the individual steps and actions of the desired habit beforehand. This way, we don't have to think as much about which individual action steps are necessary during the visualization and can thus jump right in with the exercise!

Afterwards, it is also important to act and - in this example - work out, but this will be much easier for us now that we have already activated the crucial links in our brain.

In part 2 of "The Power of Habits" you will find more tools that will help you form new, positive habits and also get rid of unwanted ones.

Sources: 1. Fritz, H., Hu, Y.-L., Gahman, K., Almacen, C., and Ottolini, J. (2020). Intervention to modify habits: a scoping review. OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health 40, 99-112.

2. Wood, W., and Rünger, D. (2016). Psychology of habit. Annual review of psychology 67, 289-314.

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