How to Form a New Habit
Good habits can make our lives easier, while not so good ones can sabotage our best efforts. Exercise, eating healthy and even the time we spend on social media are often the result of habits that can be formed, with practice.
On the other hand, if you currently have habits that you would rather see broken, there are strategies that can help you replace them with better ones. The following steps can help.
Write Down Goals
The first step to developing new habits is to write down your goals. Goals will help you clarify and decide on the steps and habits that will help you reach them.
Begin with goals you would like to reach in 30 days, and build from there. For example, if your goal is to run a marathon, create a plan for the next 30 days defining new habits that will make training part of your daily schedule. Some habits for this might include going to bed earlier, getting up earlier and going for a morning run.
Once you decide on your new habits, take it a step further to create a daily plan for a week, and post it where you can see it. Using a 30-day timeline sets a specific end date, which can make it easier to remain consistent.
At the same time, when you stay consistent and repeat an action for 30 days, it has a greater chance of becoming a habit. As with anything, preparation sets you up for success and defining your goals is the prep for your new and healthy habits.
Reminders are triggers or cues to help you remember to implement your new habit. Reminders work differently for each person. Some people can simply set a reminder on their phone while others must take it a little further with a technique called anchoring.
Anchoring is a technique in which you attach your new habit to a current habit. For example, imagine you decide to include a morning stretch as a new habit. To anchor it, perform a 10-minute stretch routine after getting out of bed and before you walk out of your bedroom.
Since getting out of your bed and walking out of your bedroom are probably actions you do each day, anchoring a stretch routine in between is a painless way to make this daily movement a habit. The theory is that just as you don’t have to gather willpower to leave your bedroom, your stretch will become part of your morning routine with less effort.
Implement Small Habits First
Overhauling your entire life can feel overwhelming, but small changes are easier and can add up to success quicker than you’d think. This strategy works with any area that has room for improvement, including study habits and exercise rituals.
For example, the mind can easily give up 10 minutes each day to exercise. As your body responds to exercise with increased energy, you will begin to feel better both mentally and physically, making it easier to turn 10 minutes into 15, and so on.
Making small changes can help you transition to a healthier diet, too. Small changes might be as simple as drinking a glass of fresh water as soon as you wake up or committing to eating one piece of fruit each day.
When used consistently, small practices become habits, which you can build on to create bigger and healthier habits. Consider any areas of your life where you’d like to form better habits, such as how you spend free time or what time you get up in the morning. Write down the changes you’d like to see for yourself and formulate a plan to implement new, but small habits that will help you get there.
Replace Bad Habits with Good
Stopping bad habits is easier when you use a replacement strategy. For example, if you eat a bag of chips each day but would prefer not to, replace the chips with a crunchy apple or other healthier option. If your new, desired habit is to exercise each day, then find a daily (or near-daily) activity you want to replace, like watching television or staring at social media.
Replacement strategies work and can be used to either implement new habits or break old habits that no longer serve you. Patience is key and writing down your goals is always a helpful tool to help you remember to practice your new habit each day.
Alter Your Environment
Make new habits easier to follow with easy access. For example, to begin daily exercise, place your gym clothes next to your bed for the morning or pack them into a gym bag and put it in your car. Another strategy is to move a treadmill into your bedroom, so you can take a walk just before bed or wake up with a morning jog. The idea is to make the habit easy to implement.
If you want to change your eating habits, remove all junk food from your kitchen and fill it with healthy foods. When you get hungry, your food choices will be limited to what is in your kitchen, while you have to put more of an effort into unhealthy eating. This strategy can help anyone make better choices while leaving less room for temptation.
Habits are much easier to implement when they are done consistently. Try to practice your desired habit every day, and at the same time, if possible. Once you get through the first 30 days, your new habit will feel more natural. You may even begin to enjoy it as you reap the benefits and see your hard work paying off with more energy, weight loss or an overall healthier outlook on life.
Changes are much like growing pangs because they may be uncomfortable at first. But consider your goal and remember why you have chosen to form new habits. Mainly, be kind to yourself, allow room for mistakes and your new habits will help you live the healthy lifestyle you desire.
1 Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C.H.M., Potts, H.W.W. and Wardle, J. (2010), How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 40: 998-1009. doi:10.1002/ejsp.674