Change Bad Habits and Develop Healthy Routines with Flow

It isn’t easy to change old habits. In order to get excited about personal progress and celebrate milestones, we first need routines. They help us stay on track, keep growing, and not lose sight of our goals. But how do positive habits work? And how can flow help you with that? Those are the questions we will be taking a closer look at in this article.

Woman holding her fists up in a boxing position.

Why are routines important?

When we think about habits, we cannot avoid looking at the findings of scientific research. In the past few years, the interest in routines, habits and their influence has increased tremendously. Especially as researchers found out that changing habits not only influences our behaviour or our way of thinking but can even restructure our brain. According to studies, more than 40 per cent of our daily actions are not based on conscious decisions but habits! That is remarkable when you consider that each of these habits – as banal and incidental as they may be – have an enormous influence on our health, productivity, financial situation, and ultimately our entire well-being. Reason enough to take a closer look at one’s routines.

Four facts about habits you need to know:

  1. We generally find it easier to adopt a new habit into our lives than to break an old one.
  2. It takes an average of 66 days for people to adopt a new task as a routine, whether it’s doing 50 sit-ups in the morning or committing to eating a piece of fruit every day at lunchtime.
  3. We are more likely to make significant behavioural changes when essential things in our lives change (a new relationship, a job change, etc.) – also known as “teachable moments”. 
  4. But the most important thing is and remains: We are not slaves to our habits and can intentionally influence them. Or, as Charles Duhigg puts it in his book The Power of Habit [1]: “Habits can be changed if we understand how they work.”

Trigger, reward and craving – how do we form habits? 

According to science, we create habits because our brain constantly strives for maximum economy. In other words, it always keeps looking for ways to reduce the amount of effort it has to make. Therefore, it transforms activities into routines in order to shut down more often and work on stand-by. A good example is driving a car. Once we learn how to drive, we can do it almost in our sleep; our feet press the pedals as if by themselves, and we shift into the next gear almost without thinking. Unless you specifically fight such a habit, it will become automatic. And they don’t usually disappear suddenly (that’s why we can still drive a car after a two-week holiday).

Unfortunately, our brain doesn’t distinguish between good and bad habits. Meaning, we are more likely to indulge in habits that are pleasant and appeal to our brain’s reward centre. Be it the bag of chips in front of the TV, or scrolling through Instagram first thing in the morning instead of using the time to go for a run. That’s why it’s so challenging to make exercise or a healthy diet a habit. Our brain is an unreasonable hedonist who craves quick rewards and usually prefers the banoffee pie to the fruit plate.

Woman jumping and smiling.
VAHA fitness mirror in a green livingroom.

How to build better habits

Old routines can be broken and replaced by positive new ones. Studies of people who have succeeded in permanently integrating exercise or a healthy diet into their lives show that they were more successful when they had two things at their disposal:

  1. A trigger stimulus: for example, in the form of an exercise or diet plan that gave people some structure and reminded them to do it again and again.
  2. A reward: things or actions that people use to treat themselves after accomplishing something or reaching a milestone.

Micro Habits: small steps to success

Another great way to change long-held habits and replace them with new, positive routines are so-called micro habits, minor things that you can change and improve immediately. The Berliner psychologist Miriam Junge has studied micro habits in detail and recently published a book on the subject [2]. Her philosophy: stop being overly focused on efficiency and optimisation and instead be more proud of what you have accomplished. After all, each little step towards your big goal is just as important and should be celebrated accordingly. Instead of always making others happy and worrying about their well-being, we should also listen to our own needs and care for ourselves.

Establish a healthy routine through flow

Now what do routines have to do with the flow state? The key point is this: no reward is stronger than doing an activity for the sake of doing it. In other words, the delicious breakfast you treat yourself to after a run on Sunday morning eventually becomes not nearly as fulfilling as the post-run endorphin rush and feeling of triumph. When our brain begins to expect the reward for the positive action in the moment of doing it, our desired routine becomes self-fulfilling. And this is where flow comes into play.

When we’re in flow, no activity feels like work but rather like we’re part of one long,  flowing river. We draw motivation for our actions from the thrilling feeling that we are getting better and better at it. And when we are good at something, when we feel that something suits us, we usually enjoy doing it. Our progress turns into a kind of perpetual motion machine that keeps stimulating itself and thus remains in constant motion. When you are ‘in the zone’, you no longer have to force yourself. Developing a routine out of flow is so easy precisely because the action becomes its own reward. In a state of flow, we are not only at the peak of productivity and success but at the same time incredibly satisfied and happy.

How to build a fitness routine that sticks with VAHA 

At VAHA, we help you experience the flow state and integrate it into your daily life so that you can develop habits that help you move forward, grow and maximise your well-being. Once you have learned how to get into this state, you will quickly trade in your old motivational problems for the experience of achievement. Find out here how to get into the flow and how VAHA can help get into that state of consciousness.


[1] Duhigg, Charles (2014). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York, Random House Trade Paperbacks.

[2] Junge, Miriam (2020): Kleine Schritte mit großer Wirkung. Mit minimalen Veränderungen zu maximaler Zufriedenheit. Kösel Verlag.

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