Our lives are made up of the decisions we make every day. If you want to change the direction of your life or improve it in some way, that change happens through a shift in your small, daily choices. When you continue to make the same choices, you develop a habit. That habit can be aligned with what you want or perpetuate what you don’t want.
If there’s a new habit you want to incorporate into your life to support a goal or lifestyle change, it can be tempting to declare the resolution and dive in full-force to the commitment. This spirit is great and sometimes, it’s all you need. But most of the time, that’s just not going to be the case. We’re human and our programming doesn’t like sudden change all that much.
Some habits also require us to do things that don’t have an immediate reward and instead, take time for you to reap the benefits. This adds an extra layer to the challenge of sticking to a new habit.
Adopting new habits that have staying power is a lot easier when you’re strategic and patient in your approach. Here are the most effective tips for forming new habits that support the life of your dreams.
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7 Tips for Creating New Habits That Stick
Remove as Much Resistance as Possible
The more resistance and roadblocks between us and carrying out a new habit, the harder it is to stick to it long-term. To integrate something into your lifestyle, you have to make it as painless as possible. Any habit that is already a challenge to take on due to its nature doesn’t need any help making it harder by adding extra resistance around it.
For example, I tried for years to establish a fitness routine. As an introvert, I hated the idea of working out at a gym in front of other people and I knew if I had to take the time to drive there, I’d rarely go. I also wanted something budget-friendly. With that in mind, I knew I needed to find an affordable at-home method. That led me to try several different programs until I figured out what I liked and didn’t like to remove even more resistance. I also began putting my workout clothes on as soon as I got up in the morning so I wouldn’t even have to change my clothes before working out, taking away yet another step (resistance) from the equation.
There are many different factors that can create resistance depending on what it is. Do some digging to narrow down where it’s coming from. Keep asking questions until you find the sweet spot. Often, it’s simple things that are holding us back.
Think about the time of day that will be optimal for your new habit and rearrange your schedule as necessary (if you are always too tired in the evening, get up earlier to work out in the morning), incorporate a new habit into a current routine to make the transition smoother (add a 10-minute meditation to your bedtime ritual), and set yourself up for success ahead of time (such as arranging things the night before) so you can dive right into it when it’s time.
Overwhelm is quick to kill any hope of sticking to a new habit. A key is to take your time wading into it and not bite off more than you can chew. Start small and gradually work your way up to more.
If you want to write a book, trying to write 5,000 words a day is likely to burn you out quickly. Instead, set out to write 500 words a day, three days a week for the first month. If you want to start practicing yoga, instead of committing to an hour-long in-person class 5 days a week, start with a ten-minute session every day at home and one in-person class a week.
When you start small like this, you cut down on the inner resistance to the commitment, avoid discouragement, and gain momentum. You’ll have the excitement of all of your victories and will have laid the foundation for the habit, which makes it easy to gradually increase it over time.
Also, don’t take on too many new habits at once. This can create overwhelm and burnout quickly, too. Start with one or two new (small) changes and introduce new ones once you’ve given yourself a few weeks to get used to the first ones.
Root It in Positive Energy
There are two types of motivation: toward and away. Toward motivation is fueled by a desire to move toward something positive, while away motivation is fueled by the desire to move away from something negative.
Away motivation can be very effective at getting you into motion through negative emotions such as frustration or disgust, but long-term motivation of this nature isn’t sustainable because negative energy is draining. If you have to regularly call on it every time you want to perform the habit, not only will you get worn out from it, but you’ll also create more resistance to the habit because of how awful you have to feel first in order to do it.
That’s why rooting your motivation in something positive is far more powerful for long-term dedication. The away motivation can help out sometimes, but the core motivation needs to be something that makes you feel good to pull you through on a consistent basis. It needs to be rooted in self-love, not self-hate.
Write it down and read it every day to remind yourself why you decided to commit to the new habit to start with. What will happen if you don’t do it? What will you be giving up? What will you be accepting instead?
Learn Your Patterns
Look back at times in the past when you’ve tried to form new habits and weren’t able to stick to them. What patterns do you tend to fall into when you start to fall off the wagon with a habit? Identify them so you can put things into place that will either prevent them from happening or enable you to catch them as soon as they start to kick in before they have a chance to pick up steam.
Also, cut off any negotiating with yourself. Once you start to consider not doing it, ask yourself if you have a genuinely good enough reason not to. If the answer is no, stop negotiating and immediately take action. Don’t let yourself think/talk your way out of it. Cut it off at the pass with action.
It can be really motivating to keep track of your progress so you can see a visual representation of your achievement and get the satisfaction of marking it off each day. This simple act has great psychological benefits, especially in the beginning when you are first forming the habit. It’s a symbol of keeping the commitment to yourself.
It might also help to use a beautiful planner, wall calendar or notepad to keep track. If you respond to beautiful things, this could add an extra layer of enjoyment to the process so you look forward to using it.
Having a support system can be helpful in keeping you accountable and motivated to stick to a new habit or lifestyle. You can find an accountability partner who wants to form the same habit so you can check-in with each other or just someone who will be your cheerleader through the process. Even simply announcing it on social media and tracking your progress publically can be effective if you work well under pressure and don’t want to have to own up to not sticking to it.
Another option is to join a community of people (in-person or online, such as a Facebook Group) who are all working toward the same or similar goals. We are social creatures by nature, so this can be very powerful if you need an extra boost of support and motivation. It can be really inspiring to see other people going through the same process and accomplishing their goals.
Create a Reward System
Research has shown that people have an easier time sticking to goals when they anticipate a reward at the end of a task. However, some habits take a long time to produce a reward, so you can create this positive reinforcement with other rewards in the meantime. Even if it’s something as simple as a small piece of chocolate, the promise of that reward helps pull you through the task and create a long-term habit because it creates a positive association with it. What’s a reward that you can incorporate into your new habit that will get you excited?
A Final Note
I hope these tips help you form new, long-term habits that will support the life of your dreams. Throughout the process, remember to be kind and patient with yourself. If you experience setbacks, don’t beat yourself up. Give yourself the grace to learn from the experience and then recommit to the process as many times as you need to. Treat yourself the way you would treat a dear friend. You’ll go a lot farther with a loving but firm hand over a judgmental, stern one.