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Habits: How to Build New Habits That Stick

  • Do you find it difficult to achieve your health or weight loss goals?
  • Do you have bad habits that you can’t seem to get rid of?
  • Are you looking for new ways to get better habits to stick?
  • Do you want to make changes in your life but have no idea where to start?

Have you tried countless times to change your habits with no success? I used to be in the same situation until I found the solution. Most programs try to change your habits without getting to the root cause of why you developed the bad habit in the first place. This is like putting a bandaid on a deep cut that needs stitches. It won’t work. The following program will help you build new habits that stick!

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How to Improve your Habits

This guide will provide tips and tricks on how to build new habits and use them to achieve your goals. There is also a free online platform that you can join at no cost. It will keep you motivated and accountable.

There are certain things we do on autopilot, such as brushing our teeth in the morning. This is a habit and we do it without even thinking about it. Habits are created by repeating activities until we do them without even thinking about them. When we start creating a new habit, we have to work hard to force ourselves to do it. However, when we do it often enough, our brain will strengthen the connection to the new habit and the old habit will become weaker and weaker. Eventually, you will do your new habit without thinking about it and it won’t be a struggle anymore.

There are many ways to make new habits stick, but not each method works for each person. We will help you find the best habit changing method for your specific needs to help you finally make those new habits stick for good.

Motivation

Before you start this journey to change your habits, it is important to know why you want to make these changes. This will keep you motivated. The journey will not always be easy, but when you know how much and why you want something, it will make it easier to put in the effort.

Either write your motivation in your journal or create a vision board (a visual representation of your goals).

Actionable Advice
Take out your journal, a blank page or print a journal template and write why you want to make this change or create a vision board. We have a free vision board maker with which you can create a printable vision board in minutes.

Where are you headed?

If you keep doing what you are doing, you will keep getting the results you are getting

Your life is the result of the choices and decisions you made in the past. Every choice you make carries a consequence.

Actionable Advice
Take out your journal, a blank page or print a journal template and answer the following two questions:
  1. If you carry on with the same habits you have today, where will you be in 20 years?
  2. Is that where you want to be?

Rewrite your story

Have you seen the movie Sliding Doors where Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) is fired from her job and rushes out to catch a train? Two scenarios take place. In one, she gets on the train and comes home to find her boyfriend in bed with another woman. In the second, she misses the train and arrives after the woman has left. The movie carries on in parallel and we see how the story unfolds both ways.

As we mentioned, your life is the result of the decisions you made. However, you have the power to make your decisions. You can carry on with your current habits that will lead you to the story above. On the other hand, if you make better choices and decisions, your life will change as a result.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same things over and over, expecting a different result”.

Think about where your life is heading if you carry on with your current habits. Then, consider a new story, where you change your habits. Where will these new habits take you? How will your life change? Where will you be in 20 years?

Actionable Advice
  1. Take the story you wrote before and rewrite it. Where will these new habits take you? How will your life change? Where will you be in 20 years?
  2. Describe what you do to achieve the ending you want for yourself.
  3. List three things you can do in the coming week to rewrite your story.

Choose your habits carefully

Create a list of habits you would like to develop. Go over this list and ask yourself why you want to develop each of these habits. Write down your motivation for each habit.

Prioritize your habits so that you know which one you will start working on. If you work on changing all your habits, then the chances are you will become overwhelmed and will quit. Start slowly, one habit at a time. If you choose very small habits, then you can start with two or three.

The best way to successfully build new habits is to start small. Choose small habits that you can easily adopt instead of bigger habits that overwhelm you and cause you to quit. Keep your habits small and achievable.

You don’t need to make big changes to your life to see a big difference. Instead, make tiny changes to your behavior, which, when repeated over and over, will become habits that may lead to big results. If you improve 1% every day for one year, then at the end of the year you will be 37% better. Small changes make a big difference over time. (see “Atomic Habits“).

Here are some examples of habits you could introduce:

  • Replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk
  • Eat more vegetables
  • Drink more water
  • Exercise 3 times a week
  • Spend less time on your phone
  • Reduce your screen time
  • Sleep more
  • Meditate daily
  • Cut your sugar intake
Actionable Advice
Choose one habit you are going to start working on during the coming week. Don’t worry if you want to change more than one habit. We will keep adding a new habit each week.

Think about why this habit didn’t stick in the past

The chances are you have tried to change this habit before. It is important to find the reason you didn’t succeed in the past and address that. One of the ways to do this is to use Root Cause Analysis or the Five Whys. We offer a free 5 whys template to help you with this analysis. The idea is to ask yourself why the habit didn’t stick and to keep asking “why” until you get to the root cause. Here is an example:

  • Why did I keep eating junk food even though I tried to diet? Because I really wanted to eat it.
  • Why did I want to eat it? Because it made me feel good.
  • Why did it make me feel good? Because it made me feel alert and focused.
  • Why did I need to feel alert? Because I was very tired.
  • Why was I tired? Because I didn’t sleep enough.

Now that I got to the root cause, I realize I must ensure I sleep enough or find other ways to feel more alert without using food. Had I tried to stop eating junk food without trying to sleep more or find other ways to feel alert, then the habit would not have stuck for long.

Actionable Advice
  1. Print a 5 whys template or download a typeable PDF and use it for the self-questioning process to understand what the reason you didn’t succeed in the past was. You can also ask yourself why you have the bad habit. What purpose does it serve? Keep asking “why” until you get to the real cause. When you get there, it will be easier to resolve the issue.
  2. Once you understand what the root cause was, list possible solutions to the problem.

What are you going to do?

Write exactly what you are going to do to change this habit. Your tasks should be actionable and clear. Make sure you address the real cause you never succeeded in the past (see above) or the reason you have developed this habit.

Actionable Advice

Make a list of the changes you are going to make. Write down exactly what you are going to do in the coming week to change this habit. Include specific details such as what you will do, when you will do it, how long and how often.

Add these action items to a weekly planner. You can use any weekly planner for this, but I think the 7 habits planner is the best option.

Monitor your progress

Keep a habit tracker to monitor your progress. When you track your habits, you will be more likely to do them. Don’t forget to check your habit tracker daily to stay accountable. Reward yourself when you keep a habit up to stay motivated.

Actionable Advice
Prepare your habit tracker so you are ready to start tracking your habit/s. Add your habit to the tracker. Add all the actions you decided on in the previous step.

Habit stacking

Habit stacking is a great strategy to adopt new habits (see the Atomic Habits cheat sheet). With this technique, you can take advantage of habits you have already developed in order to develop new habits. The idea is to identify a habit you already do every day and then stack your new behavior on top.

After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED]. Read more about habit stacking here.

See how you can use habit stacking

Actionable Advice
How can you use habit stacking with this new habit? What will you do?

Temptation bundling

Temptation bundling is a another great strategy to adopt new habits (see Atomic Habits). The idea is to pair a pleasurable activity with one you don’t enjoy as much but need to do.

With this technique, you can stop procrastinating and boost your willpower. See how to create your temptation bundle

After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT].

You can combine temptation bundling with the habit stacking strategy above.

The habit stacking & temptation bundling formula is:

  1. After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED].
  2. After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT].

For example, if you want to watch TV or drink coffee, but you need to exercise:
1. After I get my morning coffee, I will exercise (need).
2. After I exercise, I will watch TV (want).

Actionable Advice
Can you combine temptation bundling with your new habit?

Reward yourself

Reward yourself when you reach milestones such as completing a habit tracker or marking it 80% of the time. Sometimes the reward will keep you motivated and on track.

“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate” Oprah Winfrey

Actionable Advice
Set a reward you will get if you do this new habit every day for one week. The reward doesn’t have to be big, but it should be something you want.

Build a new identity

The best way to make a habit stick is to turn it into a part of your identity. James Clear refers to this as identity based habits. The most effective way to change your habits is to focus on who you wish to become and not on what you want to achieve. Make the habit part of your new identity.

Your habits shape your identity and vice versa. There are three layers of behavior change:

  • a change in your outcomes (i.e. what you get or what you achieve)
  • a change in your processes (i.e. what you do)
  • or a change in your identity (i.e. what you believe)

Your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity. The way you behave is a mirror image of the type of person you believe that you are (either consciously or subconsciously). If you want to change your behavior you need to first change your identity (i.e. change the things you believe about yourself).

The most effective way to change your habits is to focus on who you wish to become, not on what you want to achieve. Make the habit part of your new identity.

See Atomic Habits for more details.

Actionable Advice
  1. Decide the type of person you want to be. Prove it to yourself with small wins.
  2. Ask yourself, who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want? What would they do? How would they behave? Then be that person.

Never miss a day

When you miss one day and make excuses it becomes too easy to keep doing it. Try to never miss a day and you will find yourself much more successful. On the other hand, be careful not to adopt an all or nothing mindset. You don’t want to stop altogether if you miss one day.

Accountability partner

An accountability partner is someone who will support you to keep your commitment to change this habit. They could be a friend, partner or family member. They should ask you about your progress and you should confide in them if you are struggling.

Actionable Advice

Find an accountability partner to help you. Work together and report to each other. Be there for each other when things get tough.

Commitment devices

Use commitment devices to help develop habits. There are many different commitment devices. For example, a cash commitment device. You nominate a friend to whom you will be accountable. You track your goals and share your progress with this accountability buddy. If your accountability buddy sees that you are not making progress, she will fine you. You should agree on the milestones and the fine beforehand.

Actionable Advice
Set a fine if you do not do this habit every day for a week. Decide how much you will pay and who the fine will go to.

Habit Contract

James Clear, author of the Atomic Habits, suggests you use a habit contract to keep your habits on track since it imposes negative consequences if you fail to do so.

Actionable Advice
Create a habit contract, commit to doing something and identify specific habits that will help you reach that goal. Then set up penalties for not doing those things. Once you have completed it, sign it and get two people you respect to sign it as well. Choose people who you will not want to disappoint or lose face in front of if you don’t do what you commit to doing.

Public pledges

A public pledge is where you make your goals public. You can let your friends and family know or post them on social media. The idea is that after you have publicly announced that you are going to do something, you will be too embarrassed not to do it. I like to tell my kids about my goals as I don’t want to set a bad example so it increases the chances I do something once I have shared it with them.

Actionable Advice
Tell at least one person who you don’t want to disappoint about your plans or post them on social media.

Choose your social influences

Choose the people you spend time with well because they will influence you. Surround yourself with the people who live the way you want to live.

Actionable Advice
If you have a friend whose success you would like to emulate, then spend time with her. Talk to her about her strategies.

Practice visualization

Visualization is a popular practice that can be used to make changes in your life and achieve your goals. Athletes use this technique to help them reach their goals. They visualize themselves performing and winning before an important race. Use this technique to reach your goal.

Actionable Advice
Sit somewhere quiet and try to relax. Take 5 deep breaths. Visualize yourself after you have already accomplished your goals. Think about how you will feel, how you will act, and how others will treat you. Try to repeat this exercise daily.

Substitute your old bad habit with a new healthy habit

When trying to stop doing something, it often helps to substitute your old bad habit with a new healthy habit. For example, if you want to stop eating dessert after a meal, start eating fruit after each meal. If you want to stop eating anything sweet after a meal, you can start a new unrelated habit like brushing your teeth or rinsing your mouth after a meal. I personally recently stopped eating fruit after lunch, which had become a habit, and I started putting hand cream on my hands after lunch. It is unrelated, but my hands feel soft, and it helped me substitute a bad habit with a new habit. It made my hands softer and eventually stopped me from automatically thinking about fruit or something sweet after a meal.

Actionable Advice
What can you substitude your old habit with? Add a reminder to do this in your weekly planner.

Make it obvious

This is the 1st law of Atomic Habits. Make your cues as obvious as possible, and you’ll be more likely to respond to them.

We all have cues that trigger certain habits. Since certain stimuli can prompt habitual behavior, you can use this to change your habits. For example, you can change your environment to encourage better habits. If you want to eat healthy food then have healthy food available and ready. If you want to exercise then put your clothes out and ready.

Actionable Advice
Do whatever you can do to prepare for your new habit.

Make it easy

This is the 3rd law of Atomic Habits. If you want to build a new habit, make that habit as easy to adopt as possible.

Actionable Advice
Make sure your new habit is as easy to adopt as possible. For example, make sure that the supplies are available or that your new habit takes two minutes or less. For example, if you are going for a run, commit to a 2 minute run. The chances are you will run for longer once you are out.

Try the Atomic Habits Worksheets.

5 Second Rule

Use the Mel Robbins 5 Second Rule when you feel yourself hesitating before doing your new habit. Count 5-4-3-2-1-GO and move towards action. There is a window that exists between the moment you have the instinct to do something and your mind killing it. It’s a 5-second window and it exists for everyone. If you do not take action then you will not change your habits. However, this simple 5 Second Rule can prevent your mind from working against you. You can start the momentum before your mind starts thinking of excuses.

For example, if you have decided to exercise in the morning, start counting backward to yourself: 5-4-3-2-1. The counting will focus you on the goal or commitment to exercise and distract you from the excuses in your mind. As soon as you reach “1” – push yourself to move. Get dressed and head off for the gym. This is how you push yourself to change your habits when you don’t really feel like doing it. It only takes 5 seconds.

Set reminders

Set reminders until your habit is established. For example, if you are trying to drink more water, then set an automatic alarm every day at the times you would like to drink water.

Actionable Advice
Set reminders for the next week.

Create a Plan B

When you start your journey to adopt your new habit, you are very motivated in the beginning. It seems like it is going to last forever. This is so easy, you think. Nothing will stop you from doing this every day. But then life happens and obstacles arise. Suddenly, you can’t wake up in the morning or your friend offers you your favorite cake.

Before this happens, think about potential obstacles and what you will do to overcome them. Be prepared for them when they happen because they eventually will. However, when you are prepared for them, you will have a much greater chance of overcoming them. For example, keep a healthy snack in your bag for when you are hungry or tempted.

Actionable Advice
Create a Plan B for the times you find it hard to stick to your new habit. What might go wrong? How can you prevent it? How can you be prepared?

Understand your behavior chain

You don’t just develop bad habits out of the blue. Bad habits are developed via a process called the behavior chain. This is a subconscious process that controls your actions even if you are not aware of the process. The first step you will need to take to form a new habit is to understand the process. All processes start with a trigger. The trigger can be related to a feeling, a smell, an action, an event, etc. The trigger produces thoughts such as “I need ice cream” and these thoughts lead to actions (eating ice cream). If you are finding it hard to change a habit, spend some time trying to understand your specific behavior chain.

Actionable Advice
On the days when you don’t do the habit, you planned to do, keep a record of the trigger, thought, and action that lead to you skipping the new habit or doing something you didn’t want to do.

Repeat your habit as often as possible

When trying to form a habit to do something, the best way to succeed is by doing that as many times as required until it becomes automatic — for example, if you want to start drinking ten glasses of water each day, do this every day for 66 days. Eventually, you will find yourself drinking the water without thinking about it or counting glasses. In the beginning you might have to force yourself to do this, but keep going. How long does it take to form a new habit? You might have heard that you only have to do something 21 times to form a habit. Unfortunately, the 21 day claim was taken out of context. It takes about 66 days to form a new habit.

Your goal is to stick with this new habit for 66 days.

Actionable Advice
Try to get 66 marks on your habit tracker.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” has some good advice on developing strong habits based on the guiding principles in the book. You can read our 7 Habits of Highly Effective People summary or take our free course to take you through each of the 7 habits.

The following principles will help you with your current challenge to adopt your new habit.

  1. Be proactive about taking responsibility for your life (habit 1). Your life doesn’t just “happen”. You choose what happens. You choose if you are going to adopt this new habit or go back to your old habit. You choose if you are going to be successful or not. Don’t blame other people, conditions, or things. Take responsibility and make things happen.
  2. Begin every task with a desired outcome (habit 2). Visualize where you want to be in the future once you have changed this habit. This new habit should lead you somewhere you want to get to.
  3. Prioritize by putting first things first (habit 3). Now that you have decided to adopt this new habit it must become a priority. That might mean that it will come before other things. Prioritize this new habit. Add it to your weekly planner and make sure you get it done.
  4. Make sure you take time for yourself (habit 7). You are the only tool you have in life so invest in yourself so that you can deal with life and have the strength to contribute and to reach your goals.
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