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Are you ready to start a new habit?
The right habits can transform your life. Good habits can help you be happier, healthier, more productive, and so much more. But if you lack the willpower or the tools to put those habits in place, you’ll miss out on all of the great benefits habits can bring to your life.
If you’ve ever tried to start a new habit, you know just how hard it can be. Even the smallest change can feel like an impossible challenge – but why?
In this post, I’ll help you understand the right way to form good habits in life. We’ll cover:
- How to start a new habit
- The science behind how habits actually work
- Steps to form long-lasting habits that stick
How To Start a Good New Habit
So, you’ve decided you want to start a new habit. How do you make it happen? What’s the right way to form new habits that will actually last?
Scientists, sociologists, and others interested in understanding how people work have studied the topic pretty extensively. James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, does an excellent job explaining how habits can change your life – and how you can effectively change your own behavior with habits.
Clear created a simple set of rules which establish a framework for creating good habits:
- make it obvious
- make it attractive
- make it easy
- make it satisfying
Clear’s ideas are reinforced by The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. His book highlights the concept of the feedback loop. By rewarding the behavior you’re trying to make a habit, you start to anticipate or crave that reward. This effectively makes that habit a permanent part of your routine.
Why Is It Hard to Start a New Habit?
Starting a new habit can feel almost impossible. Why?
In many cases, it can be hard to start new habits because we’ve set ourselves up for failure. Our habits are too ambitious. We try to dream too big. We set our goals too high. When that happens it’s easy to get overwhelmed and intimidated.
We want to achieve it all – but we need to start from the beginning and take baby steps in the direction of our goals.
And in other cases? We can struggle to adopt new habits because we just don’t like change. Doing something new, like starting a new habit, can be scary or uncomfortable.
It’s easier to stick to what we’ve done in the past. If we aren’t focused on the reason behind the change, it can be hard to make the commitment.
How To Make A New Habit Stick
Not sure how to make a habit stick? There are some simple steps you can take to create lasting habits:
1. Start small. Don’t try to implement ten new habits at once. Instead, pick one and focus for a month. Then, incorporate another.
2. Make it easy for yourself. Identify obstacles that will make it harder for you to practice your new habit – and get them out of your way! Keep yourself from making excuses. Want to start going to the gym in the mornings? Set the gym clothes by your bed to change into first thing in the morning. Then, all you need to do is quickly change and go in the morning.
3. Track your progress. Write it down and hold yourself accountable. Sign up for the free Habit Tracker worksheet below!
The Science of How Habits Work
Understanding how habits work can help you figure out how to build healthy habits into your own life. It isn’t rocket science – it’s actually pretty simple.
If you’re familiar with Pavlov’s dog, you already know the basics. Habits are built and reinforced by tying an action – ideally, a small, specific action – to a stimulus. By making this connection, and reinforcing it by rewarding yourself for your behavior, you’ll be well on your way to creating better habits.
Want to make exercising after work a habit? First, focus on a small, specific part of that process. Going on a three-mile run might sound intimidating when you’re just starting out. Start even smaller – putting on your gym clothes.
Then, tie that action to a stimulus, which should be part of your routine you’re already doing. For instance, tell yourself you’re going to put on your gym clothes as soon as you get home from work. Instead of putting on something comfortable to lounge around the house in, change into gym shorts and lace up your sneakers.
Then, once you’ve exercised, reward yourself with something small but fulfilling – a fruit smoothie, a healthy snack, a five-minute dance break to your favorite song, or a warm bath – to complete the feedback loop.
Does It Really Take 21 Days To Build A New Habit?
They say it takes 21 days to build a new habit.
Is that true?
The real answer? There isn’t an exact one. One study found a range of 18-254 days to build a new habit. So there’s really no defined number of days you have to do something to make it a habit. There’s no secret answer.
Want to figure out how long it will take you to build a new habit? You’ve got to do the work yourself. Use an app or grab your favorite notebook and track the habits you’re trying to build.
So… How Do I Know If I’ve Built A New Habit?
Not sure if something’s become a habit or not? Ask yourself these questions:
- How much willpower or effort did it take?
- Did you worry about doing it beforehand?
- Did it feel natural or forced?
Habits are actions that don’t require much willpower or effort. They’re things you do without stressing out about them beforehand. Once something feels like it’s become part of your routine, and it doesn’t feel like it requires too much extra effort, you can consider it a habit.
Steps to Forming A Long-Lasting Habit
Not sure how to create lasting habits? It’s hard to start a new habit and make it stick – but it’s not impossible. There’s a tried-and-true methodology for building better habits and ultimately reinforcing any positive behavior you want to encourage in yourself or others.
Here’s how it’s done:
Step 1: Choose A New Habit To Start
The first step in the process? Figure out what habit you want to start. Be clear and specific. Here are a few examples:
- “I will stretch for 5 minutes in the morning.”
- “I will floss once a day.”
- “I will start a daily gratitude practice.”
Step 2: Connect That Habit To Something You’re Already Doing
You can build a habit out of the blue, but it’s much easier to implement a new habit when it’s tied to something that’s already in your routine. By building your new habits into the flow of your current routine, it will be easier for you to remember them.
To continue our example:
- “Each morning, after I start to brew a pot of coffee, I will stretch for 5 minutes.”
- “I will floss every morning after I brush my teeth.”
- “I will think about three things I am grateful for while I walk the dogs every morning.”
Step 3: Reward Yourself
Positive reinforcement is a great way to make a habit stick. In some cases, like exercise, the positive endorphins associated with your new habit are reward enough. In other cases, you may need to create your own rewards.
To continue our example:
- “If I stretch for five minutes each morning for a whole month, I’ll buy myself a new yoga mat.”
- “If I floss once a day for a month, I will splurge on a fancy electric toothbrush.”
- “If I practice gratitude for 30 days in a row, I will get a gratitude journal to continue my practice on paper.”
You may need to give yourself more frequent rewards to motivate yourself – and that’s OK! If a month seems like an impossible challenge, see if you can stick to your new habit for a week. And if you can? Treat yourself, celebrate your success, and set a new goal to carry that momentum forward.
It Takes Work To Make New Habits Stick
Forming new, healthy habits isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible! With a bit of effort, you can establish new habits and change your life for the better.
Whatever your goals are, habits can help you achieve them. Figure out what habits will help you realize your dreams – and put them into practice!
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