How To Form a Habit and Make it Stick 

Written by Ollie Wilkinson

make protecting the planet a force of habit

Three-quarters of people plan on being more sustainable in 2023. Check out our guide to discover how to form a habit, stick to sustainability, and make this year count! 

What is a habit? 

A “habit” can be defined as any number of things, but the most basic meaning is “a settled tendency, behaviour, routine or practice”. 

For all you hardcore Latin fans (we know you’re out there), the word “habit” derives from the words habere – which means “to have” – and habitus, which means “state of being”. 

A habit can be anything, from exercising regularly and journaling right on through to toenail-biting, leaving the toilet seat up and consistent accidental muting on video calls.  

What we’re trying to say is, some habits are good. And some are bad. FYI toenail-biters, that habit of yours falls very much into the bad category. 

What happens in the brain while building a habit? 

When building a habit, the brain starts to create a psychological pattern known as a “habit loop”. This consists of: 

  1. 1. The cue that triggers your brain (e.g putting your car into reverse when you spot a space to parallel park) 
  1. 2. The routine, also known as the habit, behaviour or action (e.g your parallel park method) 
  1. 3. The reward of completing the habit (e.g the release of endorphins and relief when you get it just right)  

Once a habit is formed, the conscious decision-making part of your brain is allowed to have a little nap. 

Despite weighing no more than four pints of milk, the brain is a fascinating little gizmo that sends signals around your body at up to 268 miles per hour. That’s faster than a Lamborghini, peregrine falcon and the speed at which you shut your laptop the second it hits 5pm. 

Habits, much like our brains, are a driving force in our lives. And the more we do them, the easier and more automatic they become. Think about riding a bike. At first, you’re wobblier than jelly on a washing machine. But before you know it, you’re commuting to work in full Lycra and pulling wheelies on the weekends. 

Throughout an average day, you do thousands of things without a moment’s thought, from picking your nose and snoozing your alarm to locking your door and turning the cooker off (wait, I did turn the cooker off, right…). These are all unconscious habits you’ve formed over time. 

How long does it take to create a habit? 

Some psychologists suggest it takes four weeks to form a habit. Others claim it can take around 66 days. And the 21 90 rule says that it takes three weeks (21 days) to turn a goal into a habit, and 90 days to make it a permanent part of your lifestyle. 

The reality is, asking how many days it takes to create a habit is like asking how long’s a piece of string. Or how long it’ll take to find something to watch on Netflix.  

There are far too many variables to put a solid number on this sort of thing. Some habits are much harder to form than others, and some people are more determined (or stubborn) than others. It may take a few cuppas to commit to one less sugar in your tea but bench-pressing your own body weight or becoming fluent in Klingon are gonna take a fair bit longer than that. 

One thing we are certain of, however, is that it only takes a minute or two to: 

  1. 1. Reduce food waste 
  1. 2. Wipe out single-use plastic 
  1. 3. Support British dairy farmers and independent suppliers 

How do we know this? Because on our milkround, you can do all of this and more, without leaving your front door. Sign up for plastic free doorstep groceries, and easily protect the planet with every fresh delivery! 

Why building habits is hard 

A cheeky pint during Dry January… The chicken nuggets during Veganuary… The many skipped leg days… Anyone who’s set themselves a New Year’s resolution will know that building habits ain’t easy. 

But why is sticking to a habit so hard? 

Kicking a bad habit is difficult because habits, by their very nature, are usually unconscious. It’s like trying to stop yourself saying “bless you” when someone sneezes or refraining from asking a taxi driver if “they’ve been busy tonight”. 

New habits are most often abandoned because people try to achieve too much too soon. Going from zero to a hundred may work for the first few days or even weeks, but it’s tough to keep this going for a long period of time. For example, it’s no use going from a couch potato to hitting the gym 24/7. All you’ll do is push your muscles beyond the limit, exhaust or injure yourself, and then not be able to go to the gym for the next month. 

Another reason why building habits is hard is because the level of fulfilment after completing them the first few times is usually underwhelming. Your first run of the New Year is probably going to make you feel more Kebabby Hungover than Rocky Balboa. And your first-ever attempt at a homemade salad will most undoubtedly look more GCSE cookery class than anything like Gordon’s, Jamie’s or Delia’s.  

But this is no reason to give up! 

How to build a habit 

Forming healthy habits isn’t easy. But that only makes it all the more rewarding. 

And look on the bright side; you’ve been developing habits your whole life. Very few babies are natural-born tooth-brushers, journallers, gym-goers, after all. 

Here are five simple tips to forming habits and making them stick: 

  1. 1. Be consistent 

Daily habits tend to be the ones that last the longest. That’s because they’re repeated enough to become unconscious, like brushing your teeth or entering a password.  

Many of us get sucked into fads that quickly become daily habits. We all remember the Wordle phase of 2020, right? One day you’re checking out that fun new word game your mate recommended. The next, you’re waiting until one minute past midnight for the next high-octane, letter-themed hit. 

Consistency is a key tool in your habit-building arsenal. The aim is to make positive behaviour such a strong force of habit that it feels wrong, weird or unsatisfying to not do it. This is why the likes of Duolingo and Wordle are so addictive – because you build up streaks that you don’t want to break. It’s also why plastic-bottled milk tastes rubbish after weeks of fresh, return and reuse glass-bottled milk deliveries. 

  1. 2. Habit trackers 

It’s more rewarding to stick to habits if you can see the progress you’re making. 

Habit trackers, believe it or not, are a useful way to keep track of your habits (shocking, right?). 

For a chef, this might be tasting the casserole as they’re cooking it, to continually adapt and improve the flavour. For a runner, it might be keeping tabs on their distance or 10k records on Strava. For a gym-goer, it might be measuring the circumference of their biceps or recording how much they’re bench-pressing. For a Dry January or Movember effort, it might be ticking each day off on your calendar.  

Sustainable habits can be tricky to keep track of, and this lack of measurable impact can lead to people giving up on eco-friendly hobbies. That’s why every person on our milkround has their own habit tracker in the form of a personal impact score. This measures how much plastic you’ve prevented from polluting the planet, as a result of being on our milkround.  

  1. 3. Strength in numbers 

Almost two-thirds of people (64%) say they’re more likely to stick to a sustainable resolution if they partner with a mate.  

Hoping to be greener and kinder to the planet this year? Get by with a little help from your friends by asking them to join you in the fight against waste. Every person you refer to our milkround will get £15 off their first three weeks, and we’ll even throw in a free tenner for you, too. Don’t say we never treat you! 

Start sending our invites to double your positive environmental impact and save pennies, plastic and the planet together. 

  1. 4. Reward yourself 

Remember when you were a kid and your parents tried to make you eat more veggies? What was the oldest trick in the book, other than turning the spoon into an aeroplane? 

“If you have one more mouthful of peas, you can have ice cream for pudding.” 

The same applies to adult life too. And the reward doesn’t always even have to be dessert!  

When it comes to making habits last, incentives go a heck of a long way. Here are a few examples of habit-building rewards: 

  • Treating yourself to a takeaway or trip to your favourite restaurant after making home-cooked or home-grown meals for a month. 
  • Giving yourself a “cheat day” after eating nothing but greens for a week. 
  • Adding a sweet treat to your next milkround delivery after beating your 10k record. 
  1. 5. Adapt your environment 

You can’t spell habitat without habit. Coincidence? Probably. But your home does play a key role in sticking to sustainability. 

Removing unsustainable options and adding greener alternatives makes it much easier to make environmentally friendly habits last. 

Example: Reduce your energy usage (and bills!) by switching to low-energy light bulbs and pledging to only switch the heating on when the temperature gets below a certain point. To make this habit easier, improve your environment by adding blankets to your sofa, loading your bed with a hot water bottle, and buying thicker PJs. These are very small changes to your environment that result in huge savings over time. 

How to break a bad habit 

Bad habits are like air fryers, everyone seems to have them. Especially after Christmas. And just like John McClane, they Die Hard.  

Breaking bad habits (not to be confused with Breaking Bad habits) is all about looking at your own habit loops. Ask yourself… 

1) What are the triggers for your bad habits? 

Do you bite your nails when you’re nervous? Get yourself a stress ball, stay away from avoidably nervy situations, and build your confidence for the unavoidable ones. 

Do you give up eating healthily when you’re hungover? Try alcohol-free alternatives on your next night out and don’t stock the cupboards with junk food. 

Do you stop recycling when the bin’s full? Swap recyclable plastic for more sustainable packaging like return and reuse glass bottles and home-compostable paper bags. 

Constantly throw excess food away? Stop bulk buying, shop little-and-often, and build your own compost bin

2) What’s the routine for your bad habit? 

If you repeat something enough, it becomes second nature. Kind of like when an annoying song on the radio gets stuck in your head. Yes, we’re looking at you, Baby Shark. 

If you want to break a habit, break the routine associated with it and put yourself in environments that make it more difficult. For example, if you want to give up social media, uninstall the apps for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Or if you want to stop procrastinating at work, move your phone to room away from your office. 

Or if you’re one of the 86% of people who want to actively help the planet, but are unsure where to start, explore your current routines and identify any bad environmental habits. 

You could start by seeing how often you buy excess food wrapped in single-use plastic from the convenience store.  

Ask yourself what prompts these shopping trips. Is it because you regularly run out of bread or milk? If so, rather than starting a crazy bread-and-milk-free diet, consider how you can start planning to avoid running out in the first place. One way you can do this is by joining a milkround that provides regular plastic free deliveries of your everyday essentials. Cough, cough, hint, hint.  

3) Is there any reward for your bad habit?  

If so, how long does it last? Does the short-term benefit outweigh the long-term impact? Can you get a similar reward and longer fulfilment by replacing your bad habit with something more positive?  

Sustainable habits for a sustainable habitat 

87% of people think personal actions can have a positive impact on the planet. And we couldn’t agree more! 

Our average customer, for instance, removes 100 plastic bottles from the waste cycle each year. And that’s just one customer. Combined with every other household on our milkround, this amounts to millions upon millions of plastic bottles prevented from polluting the planet. 

You don’t have to start a kelp-only diet or strap on your best tree-hugging gloves to be more sustainable.  

Many small changes make a huge difference. And by starting small, you can gradually reduce your impact on the environment, without making stressful, difficult or life-changing changes. 

Some of our favourite eco-friendly habits 

Here are a few of simple, eco-friendly habits you can start right away: 

Adopting sustainable habits gets easier the more you do it. And you’ll soon notice perks and benefits you’d never even thought about.  

Composting, for instance, doesn’t just reduce waste. It also reduces the number of trips you make to your wheelie bin. Buying second hand, meanwhile, adds interesting and rare items to your wardrobe that you won’t see anyone else wearing.  

And joining a plastic free milkround ensures you avoid filling your bin with stinky, rotting food while saving you the time, hassle and money you’re currently spending on heading to the shop every few days. 

Make this year count 

Reducing food waste and recycling more are top of people’s sustainable New Year’s resolutions for 2023. And guess what? Both couldn’t be simpler on our green milkround! 

Our fresh, sustainably packaged grocery deliveries help you fight food waste, swerve single-use plastic and support independent British dairy farmers… without so much as leaving your doorstep. It really doesn’t get easier than that. Simply sign up, select your fresh produce and hey presto, you’re all set to protect the planet! 

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