How do Olympic athletes succeed? Sports psychologists, of course, will tell you that the difference between competing and winning gold is all in the mind. Nutritionists would beg to differ, no doubt, saying it is more to do with the right kind of diet. Meanwhile, coaches will say it is about the mix of training. But probably, more than anything, it is about habit formation. The reason people are even good enough to enter the Olympics is because they train every day. Rowers get up at 5am each day to be on the river at first light. Swimmers are in the pool before it is open to the public. Athletes run to the gym before you have woken up.

They do this automatically; it is not a conscious, thought-out process. Indeed, the daily routine at the gym the rowing down the river or the endless lengths in the pool are habits. The difference between truly successful athletes and the rest of us is the fact that the medal winners habitually do all the right things to succeed.

You can see this outside of sport, of course. The best surgeons don’t have to think about how they hold the scalpel – it is a habit. Similarly, the greatest inventors don’t occasionally come up with ideas, it is a daily habit. And the best sales people cannot stop selling, they habitually sell, sell, sell.

Teeth cleaning is a daily habit

Cleaning your teeth is a daily habit; you want your website to be automatic behaviour just like this.

Online we also exhibit habitual behaviour. When did you last make a conscious decision as to the most appropriate search engine or tool for finding our what you wanted to know, or did you just go straight to Google? When did you last make a conscious decision as to the best way to contact your friends, or did you just go straight to Facebook?  When did you last make a conscious decision about where to buy that book, or did you go straight to Amazon? The common feature between these sites is that they have become habits.

Habits are behaviours you do repeatedly without conscious thought. Not all habits, of course, are good; smoking is a disease causing habit, driving with one hand on the wheel is a danger-laden habit and eating cream cakes every day is a life-threatening habit. But some habits are good; getting up at 5am to row down the river keeps you healthy, going to bed at the same time each night and getting plenty of sleep reduces stress and giving your partner a present every week just for being them helps prolong relationships. When we hear the word “habit” we often associate it negatively, but we don’t have to; good habits are valuable.

So, the habit of using Facebook for social interaction is good – you keep in touch with people more often than you would otherwise and the extra social contact has stress-reducing effects on you. Similarly, the habit of buying books on Amazon is also a potential good habit because it stops millions of people driving their cars to bookshops, saving them time, money and impact on the environment.

If you are a website owner, what is the habit that your visitors engage in? Indeed, is your website a habit for people? If not, then you are much less likely to succeed. A website that is a habit is amongst the medal winners, whereas a website that only every now and then gets visitors is rather like the amateur sports person.

How long though does it take to form a habit amongst your visitors? You will read plenty of information which suggests a habit is something that takes 14 days to produce. However, research on the formation of habits shows that it takes an average of 66 days. There is also tremendous variation in habit forming, with some people needing around eight months of daily, continual behaviour before it forms an automated habit.

If your website does not promoted habitual behaviour, though, you are much less likely to gain the levels of success you want. So what habit do you want to form in your readers? Focus on that and you will do well.

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