5 Tips for Making a New Habit Stick

Self on 06.05.12
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Photo: Riley Kaminer/Creative Commons

The beauty of a good habit is that they occur almost automatically. They are easy and require very little willpower to continue. For example, people with an exercise habit workout every day because they have to, not because you've talked yourself into it again. Of course, getting to habit status from "come on, you can do this" is the tricky part.

1. Get clear on why you want this habit in your life.

why
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Before a behavior becomes a habit, it can be a bit of a chore. Motivation will get you through the early days, but only if you know exactly what your reason is for pushing through. Why do you want to exercise every day? How will getting up earlier each morning improve your life? Why should you bother drinking more water?

Spend some time digging into the real drive behind your new habit, and not just what you think you should want. Perhaps you're more interested in looking cute in a swimsuit than you are in being healthier; skip the judgment and get real about what will make you push yourself.

2. Don't worry about forever and ever.

forever
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Set an initial goal to stick with your new habit for one day, then one week, then one month. Focusing on small chunks of time will make your behavioral changes more manageable, whereas thinking about forever can cause you to get overwhelmed and quit.

This trick is especially important if you're working on breaking a bad habit, like quitting smoking. Don't think about never smoking again; focus on conquering the immediate craving. You'll tackle the next urge when the time comes.

3. Stick with one new habit at a time.

one at a time
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This is a hard one for people who are constantly looking to improve their lives. We want to "fix" everything, and we want to do it all right now! But taking on too many changes leads to inevitable failure and feelings of guilt over not having enough willpower.

Needing to make one change at a time isn't a character flaw; it's human nature. Focus on one small change and remember that you're creating a solid foundation upon which you can build new habits in the future.

4. Track your progress.

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You can download an app to your smart phone, put pennies in a jar, or just put write a smiley face on your calendar for every day that you succeed with your new habit. No matter what system you use, being able to see your small commitments accumulate will help motivate you to keep going.

Taking the time to record your successes will also help you remain mindful about your behavior, which is important when you're still working on creating a habit. Focus, focus, focus, until you no longer need to think about it.

5. Write down your goal.

write down your goal
Photo: Vince Alongi/Creative Commons

This seems to be the trick people are most likely to skip, and it's the one that makes the biggest difference. Writing goals has been proven to dramatically increase your chances of success. It helps you visualize and verbalize what you want and gives you something to refer back to.

Write down what habit you want to cultivate and why you want it - the real reason. Consider writing down the consequences of not creating this change and a detailed plan for success that includes when and how you'll perform the habit. This is also a good time to think about possible obstacles and how you'll overcome them.

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