How to make new habits stick
When feeling stuck in life, setting new goals and making new habits stick seem like the obvious place to start.
Unfortunately, making any habits stick can rapidly become a challenge as motivation decreases day after day.
A staggering 92% of Americans fail to achieve their goals. The most common reason for failure is a lack of consistency. People set goals and habits to support them but fail to keep up with their plans in the long run.
If you want to reach success, it is no secret that you need to find out how to make new good habits stick and how to break bad ones.
This post will give you all the strategies you need to do so and, more importantly, will teach you how to stay consistent in the long run.
Let’s start, shall we?
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How to create good habits
Before discussing how to implement new habits and make them stick, we need to define what a “good” habit is.
If you are trying to implement new habits, chances are that you have set goals and are looking for ways to achieve them.
That’s exactly the power of good habits when they are followed with consistency.
When reading “good” habit in this post, consider it as being any habit effectively supporting your goals.
As you can imagine, the habits you try to implement vary greatly depending on what you want to achieve. The good news is that there are strategies that will help you make any habit stick because they rely on psychology.
To make any good habits stick, we are going to discuss the 4 laws from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear:
- Make it obvious
- Make it attractive
- Make it easy
- Make it satisfying
Rule 1: Make it obvious
Create your Habit Scorecard
The very first step to implementing new habits is to raise awareness of your current habits, the good and bad ones.
To do so, you can use a tool named the Habit Scorecard. This tool aims to help you Point-and-Call your habits, so you are well aware of them and can decide which ones you want/need to change.
Pointing-and-Calling is a safety system aiming to reduce mistakes.
It is regularly used by transportation companies around the world in order to limit errors and decrease the risks of accidents.
In our everyday lives, this technique can also be super helpful in order to avoid forgetting about things.
Have you ever said at loud what items you were putting in your luggage when packing? Just to make sure you do not forget anything?
This is actually something I’ve always done when leaving my house.
While I was in college, I was also working a full-time job and used to leave home at 6 am and come back from college around 10 pm.
I could not afford to forget about something and go back home to get it, so I used to repeat at loud everything I needed to take with me while I checked my bag before leaving home.
A lot of people do this without even realizing it.
This habit is really effective because it forces you to use several of your senses simultaneously.
You check in your bag that everything you need is inside, you touch things and enumerate them at loud; I got my keys, my phone, my wallet, etc
This is our own version of Pointing-and-Calling.
This technique is great because it forces us to stop to think and raises awareness of what we are doing.
And this is exactly what we need to start changing our lives.
Writing down your current habits (good and bad ones) will help you acknowledge them, which is the first step to take in order to be able to change them.
Before implementing your new routines, write down what you do during the day. Analyzing your habits will help you understand where you can improve yourself and how to optimize your time and efforts.
Another way to make habits stick is to plan them and actually schedule some time for them in your planner.
Planning your habits will help you define when and where you will do them. Not knowing when and where you will follow your new habit will give you too many opportunities to find excuses.
The following sentence will help you set your intentions:
” I will [New Habit] at [Time] in [Location].”
In my case, when I wanted to start working out regularly, I set the following intention:
“I will run 5 km every day at 5 pm on my treadmill.”
Using intentions and writing them down makes sticking to habits easier because it leaves you with fewer decisions to make.
Use habit stacking
Habit stacking is basically adding a new habit to an existing routine. Doing so will help you make your new habits fit into your schedule more easily.
To define how to stack your new habit, fill in the following sentence:
” After [current habit], I will [new habit].”
In my case, my habit stacking looked like this:
“After logging off from my work laptop at 5 pm, I will put on my gym clothes and running shoes, turn on my treadmill and run 5 km.“
Habit stacking creates routines that are perfect to support your goals and can be followed on autopilot.
Implementing routines will help you work on your goals daily without even thinking about them. How awesome is that?!
Tweak your environment to support your new habits
Making changes to your environment is a simple but effective way to make new habits stick.
The idea is to make the cues of good habits obvious and visible.
You can, for instance, buy a treadmill if you want to run more but keep finding excuses not to go outside or prepare your workout clothes every morning.
If you want to eat healthier, having fresh fruits on your kitchen table and healthy foods in your fridge will help you stick to the habit.
Making small changes to your environment is great for forming new habits because our behaviors are greatly impacted by our environment.
An inappropriate environment can be filled with obstacles to forming positive habits. Making positive changes to it will always have positive effects on your habits.
Rule 2: Make it attractive
Use temptation binding
Pairing your habit with an action you want to do can be a great way to make your new habit stick until you actually enjoy it.
This is exactly what I did when I started running on my treadmill.
I started a Netflix series I had wanted to watch for a long time, and only allowed me to watch it while running on the treadmill.
“If you want to know you killed your favorite character, you gotta keep running! ” I would tell myself.
By the time I finished the show, running became a habit, and I no longer needed this incentive to run.
Temptation binding is great for making habits stick because it feels like a reward.
Watching a show I loved during a workout I hated really helped me stick to it. The pill suddenly became easier to swallow.
And that will be true for any habit you try to implement.
Find a community
Another strategy you can implement to make your habits stick is to find a community to support you in your progress.
The key is to find a community where your desired behavior, what you try to accomplish, is the norm.
If you want to start running, find a runners’ community on an online forum, a Vibely community, or a Facebook group.
Being virtually surrounded by people who have already achieved what you are trying to or with people having the same struggles as you can be truly motivating.
Staying motivated to accomplish something when you do not feel supported is really challenging. This is why finding the right support is key to staying consistent and achieving goals.
Create a motivational ritual
Another way to make it easier to stick to new habits is to create a motivation ritual around them.
Instead of doing something your like while doing your habit, you can do it right after and create a special ritual to reward yourself for the hard work.
It can be, for instance, implementing a relaxing night ritual, including taking a hot bath, drinking a cup of green tea and reading a good book, or watching a series after you have just finished an intense workout.
Planning these rituals will give you another reason to look forward to sticking with your habit.
As long as your ritual does not compromise your success (please don’t go to McDonald’s after working out because you “deserve it”), then it will help you stay consistent and achieve your goals faster.
Doing something you love immediately after following a habit you struggle to implement is a great way to reward your feeling brain for going through the struggle of doing something he doesn’t enjoy.
Rule 3: Make it easy
The third rule to making an activity automatic is to make it as easy as possible to stick with it despite a hectic schedule or lack of motivation.
Decreasing the number of steps between you and your good habit will help you make it easier to stick with it even when you don’t feel like it.
Remember that what will matter the most in your success are not the days you have been all hyped and got things done but the days you didn’t feel like it but still showed up.
How you act when you feel down is decisive in staying consistent and achieving your goals.
Consistency is the most important step of habit formation. No matter what behavior change you want to implement, no matter the habits you want to develop, your ability to stay focused despite having a bad day will make all the difference.
It takes a lot of effort and willpower to get things done when feeling down but doing so will give you a huge confidence boost that can help you move mountains.
Prime your environment
As already mentioned a bit earlier, our environment has a huge impact on our actions and behaviors.
Taking the time to adapt your environment to your goals will help you make future choices easier. Remember, the fewer decisions you have to make, the more likely you will be to stick to your plans.
Creating habits that stick isn’t that hard when you know exactly what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.
What makes it complicated is not having a clear plan and not prepping your environment to support that plan.
If you want to get serious about writing your book, ensure you have a clean and tidy desk where you can focus and write.
If you want to work out more, buy some fitness equipment and make room to exercise at home.
You need to make your environment work for you and not against you.
This is why, if you want to turn your life around, you should start by decluttering your space to take a fresh start.
Never underestimate the power of your environment. When you feel stuck in life, changing your environment will often help you turn things around.
Automate your habits
Another way to make any habit stick is to invest in tools and technology that will help you secure your future behaviors.
These one-time purchases will often make it easier for you to stick to your goals, helping you reduce the amount of effort needed to achieve them.
The treadmill I bought to stop finding excuses when I wanted to start running is a good example of this principle.
Before buying it, I would skip 50% of my runs because of either one of these excuses:
- It will go dark soon
- Look, there are clouds. It’s probably going to rain!
- I don’t feel safe running in the neighborhood
- I don’t feel well enough to run
- I just watched a Netflix series about a serial killer, and shit, these things happen in real life. I’m safer at home!
Sometimes investing in tech and equipment is necessary in order to help you stick to your habits.
As long as you are going to use what you purchase, it is probably worth it!
Law 4: Make it satisfying
As discussed a bit earlier, giving yourself an immediate reward when you complete a habit is a great way to make it stick.
Your thinking brain already knows you need to get it done. You have set your goals for a reason and decided to implement these habits to support them and reach success.
There is no need to convince your thinking brain. He already knows why you need to implement these habits.
Unfortunately, it can be really hard to make them stick if your feeling brain does not cooperate.
This is why making your habits satisfying and irresistible is important. You want to convince your feeling brain that despite what you’re trying to achieve being hard and making you feel uncomfortable, it is the right thing to do.
And the best way to do so is to help him cope with these uncomfortable feelings with little rewards.
Use a habit tracker
Have you ever noticed how satisfying it is to tell yourself:
“Hey, I’ve been keeping up with this habit for 15 days in a row!”?
Keeping track of habits is important for several reasons.
First of all, using a habit tracker will help you ensure you stay committed to your habit and do not forget about it.
However, it will also help you identify potential timing issues. If you are not able to stick to your habits several times a week, you might need to reschedule it for a more suitable time.
Keeping track of your habits helps you be aware of your progress and will motivate you to keep going.
“Don’t break the chain” will quickly become another motivating factor to stick to your habits until they become automatic.
To track your habits, you can either use an app, a calendar, or an old-school paper planner. Find what works best for you and stick with it to ensure you develop and stick to your new habits.
Another golden rule for sticking to habits is to never miss twice. When you forget or do not have time to do a habit, make sure you get back on track immediately and never miss it twice in a row.
How to break a bad habit
Rule 1: Make it invisible
To make your bad habits invisible, you first need to reduce exposure to their cues.
This is again the result of you adapting your environment to support your goals.
If you want to stop smoking, remove all ashtrays from your house and force you to actually go outside to smoke.
If you want to stop spending so much time playing video games, set a timer, and once the time is up, unplug your PlayStation and store it in a cabinet.
And if you want to stop impulse buying, remove your credit cards from your wallet, keep them in a drawer at home and unsubscribe from your favorite stores’ newsletters.
Adapting your environment will not only help you make good habits easier to stick to, but it will also help you make bad habits harder to follow.
Related post: 10 Habits to break to be successful
Rule 2: Make it unattractive
Highlighting the benefits of avoiding your bad habits will make it easier to stop following them.
To do so you can create vision boards. They will help you visualize the positive impacts of healthy eating and exercise on your figure.
You can also make a list of all the negative consequences your bad habits have and how avoiding them will make you a better person.
Making your bad habits unattractive will help you stay motivated to avoid them at all costs, and reminding yourself daily how breaking bad habits will improve your life will impact your motivation.
Awareness is key to success. Being aware and mindful of your bad habits will significantly increase your chances of breaking them.
Rule 3: Make it difficult
Increasing friction and the number of steps between you and your bad habits will help you break them as well.
Adding a lot of tiny steps between you and your bad habits will increase the disadvantages of following them.
If you consistently have to go outside to smoke a cigarette, you will quickly decrease your consumption.
Indeed, depending on the time of the day/night, going out might imply several additional steps.
You will probably need to :
- Get dressed if you are already in your pajamas
- Put some shoes on
- Put a coat on and take an umbrella if it rains
- Grab your phone
- Take your cigarettes and lighter
- Find your keys
- Lock the door
- Go outside and probably get cold
- Curse yourself
- Get back inside
- Remove your coat and shoes
- Put back your pajamas
- Curse yourself
Additional steps act like obstacles when it comes to habits, no matter if it is a good habit you want to commit to or a bad habit you want to break.
When trying to create new routines, a golden rule is:
Decrease the number of steps between you and good habits and increase the number of steps between you and your bad habits.
Rule 4: Make it unsatisfying
Creating a habit contract is a great way to make any bad habit unsatisfying. The aim of the habit contract is to make the cost of your habit obvious and painful.
Let’s say you want to eat healthily and avoid junk food.
You can define in your habit contract that every time you eat two unhealthy meals in a row, you will have to work out for an additional hour in the week.
The cost of your Big Mac will be very real, and eating at McDonald’s will quickly become unsatisfying since you will associate it with suffering an additional hour at the gym.
Giving a cost to our bad habits helps us stay accountable for our success and committed to our goals.
It’s again a great way to align your thinking and feeling brains.
Your thinking brain already knows fast food is bad. You don’t need to convince him.
Unfortunately, eating junk food feels satisfying and brings us a weird form of comfort.
The only way to make your feeling brain understand the negative impacts of bad habits is to associate them with something he hates to make bad habits less attractive.
Implementing new habits and breaking bad ones can seem hard at first.
However, these little techniques will help you make any habit stick and stay consistent to achieve your goals faster.
When it comes to creating new routines, implementing small changes one day at a time is the best way to get started.
Define your goals, set habits to support them, and implement these strategies to transform any activity into a life-long habit.
The secret to success is to make your environment and feeling/thinking brains work with you and not against you,