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Feel Good Habits

How Feelings Forge Long-Term Habits

A cup of tea, a pen and a napkin with "Build good habits" written on it.

In the quest for personal growth and self-improvement, forming healthy habits is often a common goal. Many of us have heard the old adage that it takes 21 days to form a habit, but is there any scientific evidence to back this up? According to recent research, the link between repetition and habit formation might not be as straightforward as we once believed. Instead, it appears that positive feelings coupled with celebration play a crucial role in wiring new behaviors into our brains as lasting habits.

The Traditional View of Habit Formation

For years, the prevailing belief was that repeating a behavior consistently over a period of time was enough to establish a habit. It was thought that if we could power through the initial stages of discomfort or resistance, the behavior would eventually become second nature. However, countless individuals who have struggled with breaking bad habits or adopting new ones can attest that this approach often falls short.

The Missing Link: Emotion

According to psychologist B.J. Fogg, founder and director of the Behavior Lab at Stanford University and author of the book, “Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything,” emotions play a powerful role in the habit-forming process. When we engage in a new behavior while experiencing a pleasant emotion, like joy, gratitude, or excitement, the brain undergoes a physical restructure that reinforces that behavior. This restructuring helps create neural pathways that make it easier for us to repeat the behavior in the future, eventually leading to the formation of a habit.

Habit Creation

Fogg emphasizes that creating lasting change doesn't require big, sweeping actions. Instead, he suggests that focusing on tiny, achievable habits is more effective. These tiny habits are actions that are so small they almost feel effortless, making them easy to incorporate into your daily routine. Fogg explains that for a behavior to happen, you need sufficient motivation, the ability to perform the behavior, and a trigger that prompts you to take action.

Positive Emotions and Celebrating Successes

The key to establishing lasting habits, then, lies in harnessing the power of positive emotions and celebrating successes – no matter how small. Rather than focusing solely on the behavior itself, we should shift our attention to cultivating emotions that fuel our desire for positive change. If the goal feels rewarding and uplifting, it becomes a magnetic force that draws us toward the desired outcome.

Celebrating your successes creates positive feelings and reinforces the habit loop, making it more likely that you’ll continue the behavior. In his book, B. J. Fogg says as soon as you’ve completed your tiny habit, take a moment to acknowledge your achievement. Smile & give yourself a pat on the back, do a happy dance, or yell out, “I did it!” Whatever blows your skirt up, so to speak. This will help your brain associate the completion of a habit with a positive experience. Use positive self-talk to reinforce your achievement. “I can do this!” will boost your confidence and build your self-image associated with the habit.

Remind yourself why this habit is important to you and how it contributes to your personal growth. Celebrating creates a loop that will strengthen the habit over time. When you make habits fun and easy, you increase the likelihood of your long-term success.

Persistence and Adaptability

Establishing lasting habits is a dynamic journey, far from a linear process. It's a continuous, evolving experiment in self-improvement. Embrace the fact that not all habits will seamlessly fall into place from the outset, and this is entirely acceptable. In fact, it's essential to recognize that your path to habit formation is a flexible one. You should be prepared to iterate, adjust, and refine your tiny habits as you gain experience and observe the results. This adaptability is a hallmark of successful habit formation. It allows you to respond to changing circumstances, challenges, and personal growth, ensuring that your habits remain aligned with your evolving goals and aspirations. Remember, the beauty of habit-building lies not only in persistence but also in your ability to adapt and refine your approach along the way.


In the pursuit of building healthy habits, the role of repetition alone is not enough to create lasting change. Instead, the emotions associated with a new behavior play a significant role in wiring it into the brain as a habit. Focusing on optimistic feelings and setting emotion-based goals can be a powerful catalyst for personal transformation. So embrace the power of uplifting emotions, persist in your efforts, and remain open to trying new approaches until you achieve the change you desire.

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