Developing Habits: A Step-By-Step Breakdown

Habits are awesome tools for developing your game. If you don’t believe me, look back at part 1 of this series.

But changing your behavior is not easy. Ask anyone who has struggled with their weight; it can be brutally challenging to make significant life changes. But that’s where habits come into play. Once you turn an action into a habit, all the effort required for that action is gone.

But how do you turn an action into a long-term habit? Here are the steps outlined in Charles Duhigg’s bestselling book “The Power of Habit.” They provide a great framework for any habit you want to form. 

1. Reminder: The trigger that initiates the action
2. Routine: The actual action itself
3. Reward: The benefit you get from performing the action

Each step is vital in formalizing the habit. Without any one of them, the habit won’t stick.

Let’s dive deeper into habit formation by looking at a simple example: putting your shoes on.

1. You’re about to leave your house. This is the reminder that triggers you to actually put your shoes on. It cues you to think about completing the action.

2. Put your shoes on. This is the routine itself. When you’re about to leave your house, you slip your shoes on and tie them up.

3. You get to walk around in comfort/style. This is the reward. It’s much more comfortable to walk around with shoes on and you look damn good too.


Now that you have the structure of habit formation, how do you actually use that to change your training habits?  

Pick your Goal

Start small. Don’t make your first attempt at habit formation to add 20 lbs of muscle in a month. I love ambitious goals, but too much massive change at once will lead to discouragement and failure to create long-term changes.

At first, your goal shouldn’t be performance, it should simply be creating a habit. To do this, follow this advice.

“Make it so easy you can’t say no.” – Leo Babauta

If you want to improve your ball handling, start with 1 minute a day of ball handling drills. By making it as easy as possible, you have no excuse to avoid it and may actually enjoy it.

Once you have fully established your habit, then you can slowly increase your ball handling workout to 5, 10 or 20 minutes. Make sure that you don’t push it past the threshold of what you’ll actually perform or else your habit that you worked so hard to develop will fade away.

Choosing a Reminder

Ok, now that you’ve got your easy habit in mind, choose a reminder to trigger your action. Maybe it’s just a recurring notification on your phone. Maybe it’s a sticky note on the steering wheel of your car. Whatever it is, make it easy to spot and time it so that when you see it, you will be in a position to complete the desired behavior.

Another option is to link the 1 minute of ball handling into something you do every day. If you walk by the gym after your last class finishes, use that to trigger your action. 


Now, what’s your reward? This step is vital because it reinforces your behavior and makes it more likely that you’ll respond to the reminder the next time it occurs.

For me, simply knowing that I’ve completed that action provides enough intrinsic satisfaction. I know I’ve accomplished my goal for the day and feel better because of it.

But if you need more of a push, try something small. If you reward yourself with eating a king-size Snickers every time you lift weights, two bad things happen. First, you counteract some of the positive effects of lifting weights. Second, you become dependent on the Snickers as your motivation for working out.

I suggest basically giving yourself a mental pat on the back. This sounds ridiculous, I know, but just internally congratulating yourself can be helpful. It doesn’t have to be as cheesy as “good job!” or “I’m the best!” Say whatever you want to yourself that gives you a sense of genuine accomplishment.  

When should I start?

Now. Don’t push this off to tomorrow or next week. It will take all of 5 minutes to choose your goal, routine and reward.

To help motivate you towards your goal, here’s a habit that I started on April 4th. As you strive toward formalizing your habit, I’ll be working towards mine at the same time.

First, some background: For the past few years I’ve meditated regularly every morning for 10 minutes. It helps me clear my head, focus my attention and put me in a great mindset for the day. But for the last month or so, I slipped up. I stopped meditating and my habit disappeared. Unfortunately, when you stop a habit, there’s no reset button, you have start from step 1 and build it back up.

So here’s what I’m going to do:

My goal: Meditate for 10 minutes every morning when I wake up.

My reminder: When I wake up in the morning, I always take a 10-20 second ice cold shower to energize myself and shake off the grogginess. I’m going to use that shower to trigger my meditation practice. Whenever I take my morning cold shower, I will know it’s time to meditate immediately afterward.

My reward: The intrinsic feeling of accomplishment when I actually meditate is enough reward to stimulate repeated actions.

So that’s my next habit; what’s yours?

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