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Dr Gina Cleo on making and breaking habits

This article is sponsored content from our health insurance partner Australian Unity.  Australian Unity are offering Business Chicks members an ongoing 8.5%* discount (and a 7%* discount for non-members).

Research suggests that anywhere between 45% to 85% of everything we do every day is habitual. That’s right, these automatic actions influence our everyday lives including how we eat, how we sleep and how we act every single day. So, needing something sweet after dinner, and not being able to go to bed until you get at least four episodes of Netflix in, might not be completely your fault (go you!). In a recent Masterclass sponsored by our health insurance partner Australian Unity, Business Chicks sat down with one of the world’s leading experts in habits Dr Gina Cleo to discuss all things habits, from why we have habits to how we can go about changing them.

Why do we form habits?

We form habits as they preserve energy. As humans we make over 35,000 decisions every single day, if you had to consciously think about each and every one of those decisions you would be completely exhausted before 9:00am. Forming habits is a natural process because your brain doesn’t have to consciously think about your habits, it gives your brain more space to think about other things.

And how do they form?

Forming a habit requires three key ingredients:

  1. Cue: The cue is the trigger which sets off the habit. It may be the place, the time of day or the emotional situation you are currently in.
  2. Routine: The routine is the automatic reaction to the cue. The routine is the habit itself.
  3. Reward: The reward is the beneficial gain from engaging with the habit. When the reward is positive, then the cycle forms and tells your brain ‘Hey next time this cue is encountered, do the same thing’.

What does self-control have to do with habits?

Habits are the autopilots that take control when we don’t utilise our self-control, they’re automatic and they’re effortless. This is helpful as the greater demand placed upon our self-control, the less self-control we can experience. Some other elements that also deplete our self-control include stress, fatigue, sleeplessness, calorie restriction, having tempting foods around, being hungry and finally negative emotions. However, you can replenish your self-control through things like rest, sleep, meditation, taking periodic breaks and feeling positive emotions.

So, how can we form new habits?

There are four steps to forming a habit.

  1. Decide on a goal: Our brains are only capable of changing up to three things at once. If you only focus on one goal, you’re more likely to achieve it than if you focus on many goals.
  2. Choose a consistent action to move you towards the goal: Take on one small, simple action, this will make the goal easy to achieve and easier to maintain long term. The action needs to be simple but also motivating.
  3. Pair your daily action with a cue: When you associate that habit with a cue, you’re going to eventually start doing the habit automatically. Focus on implementing intention and utilising the cue to trigger the action.
  4. Each time you encounter the cue, do the chosen habit: The more you complete the actions, the more automatic it will become. Consistency is the key to forming a new habit. Keep on keeping on.

How long does it take to form a new habit?

It can take anywhere between 18 days to 254 days to form a new habit. This means the average time it takes to change your habit is 66 days. The more you do it, the more automatic it’ll become.

How can you change a negative habit?

There are two ways to change negative habits. The first is to avoid the triggers. Without a trigger the habit is not going to happen, so if you can avoid the trigger in the first place you can avoid the habit. Another way to change the habit is to replace it. Replacing the habit with something else that still provides a reward will ensure a more positive habit occurs. Our brains are always changing, and it is never too late to break a habit.


Is taking care of your health one of your habits? Our friends at Australian Unity have a cracking offer to take care of Business Chicks members – an ongoing 8.5%* discount (and a 7%* discount for non-members).

Australian Unity truly cares about its members – with features like no-gap dental, quick-and-easy claims thanks to its mobile app, and a range of hospital and extras covers that you can mix-and-match to suit your lifestyle, it’s our go-to for trusty health insurance.

You can switch your insurance to Australian Unity online in minutes by clicking here (Business Chicks members click here) so you can spend more time looking after yourself.

* 8.5% and 7% discount includes all retail discounts and is available only when paying by direct debit. The discount is not available through brokers or comparators, and excludes Overseas Visitor Cover.

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