5 Steps to Starting and Sticking to New Habits

In the pursuit of self-development, starting new habits is a challenging course. Without a plan, creating a new habit can have success rates as low as 8%.

As the saying goes, without a plan we’re planning to fail. 

Failing to stick to new habits isn’t necessarily a reflection on you personally as much as it is about just not having the right plan in place.

Let’s look at this simple 5 step plan to help you build and stick and start a new habit!

Step 1: Start With a Why

Each of us start a new habit for different reasons, whether it’s a new year’s resolution or just to try something new, it is important to look at what sparked the motivation and the underlying driver to make a change. 

This is frequently referred to as the ‘power of why’.The concept aims to scratch below the surface of the act to why you feel it is valuable. 

Your “Why” helps you to push through barriers to arrive at your goal. 

Your Why can be anything, such as: 

  • Improving your physical health so you can play with your kids into your old age    
  • Making a positive change for your mental health – Improve happiness        
  • Address a behavior/circumstance/mindset you have been tolerating     
  • Inject enthusiasm and discovery by trying something new
  • Breaking a ‘bad’ habit to live healthier 
  • Challenging yourself 

Take a moment to think about what your “Why” might be for wanting to work on this habit. (We have an article on finding your why here)

Step 2: Make an Actionable Plan with an Intention

What does success look like?
Now that we know our Why, the next step is to map out a simple plan and make it actionable.

In our plan we want to write out what success actually looks like, we want to “start with the end in mind.” What does your world look like when you’ve arrived at achieving and maintaining this habit? 

An example would be, “I’m a meditator, I wake up each weekday morning, feeling rested and before work, I take 20 minutes to sit and meditate in silence”

So think about it, what is your process going to be, what are the daily or weekly actions that you need to take to achieve what you want?  

The achievable first step?
Now that we know why we are doing what we are doing and where we want to end up. We can work backwards and break down our larger habit or goal into smaller steps.

It is fine to have big dreams but they must be attainable one step at a time.

Start by creating a Day 1 goal that you cannot fail at. If you are planning to run consistently,, make your goal to put on your shoes and go out for a 1km jog.

Giving yourself easily attainable goals has 4 major benefits:

  1. You don’t get intimidated.
  2. You can find the time.
  3. You can’t say no.
  4. It is an easy goal to beat next time.

Set and Implementation Intention!
We also want to write out a short but specific and detailed implementation intention down on paper. 

The British Journal of Health Psychology found that 91% of those who physically write down their exact implementation intention are successful in beginning and keeping up their new habits. The specificity of their findings developed the exact sentence that helped unlock the success:

“During the next week I will do (ACTION) on (WHAT DAY?) at (THIS TIME) in (THIS PLACE).” 

Filling out this sentence encouraged participants to take ownership of the intention removing background noises of distraction, disruption and excuses.

Step 3: Schedule It

The key is not to prioritize your schedule but to schedule your priorities.
Stephen Covey – The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People

Where to find the time? 
Everyone’s schedule is crammed and barely anyone believes they have the time to do something new. For the most part, this isn’t true (turn off the Netflix).

We have to schedule the important things in our lives. Use a free Google Calendar and mark on it when you plan to do your habits. As Stephen Covey says, schedule your priorities!

An effective way to get in some extra habits is to use our daily “bookends.” While we may not have control over the middle part of our day, most of us control what happens at the start and very end of our days. Make a morning or evening ritual for the things that are important to you. 

Research maintains that we feel most refreshed and willing to start something new at the beginning of the week, month or year. If those don’t work, pick a time of high energy where you have motivation to do it.

Step 4: Reward Yourself

Pulitzer Prize winner and author, Charles Duhigg, says that most people fail in habits due to a misunderstanding of their structure. Apart from the motivation and initiative, a reward system is a fundamental component reinforcing your behavior.

Attaching a reward to your habit is an essential piece and is often overlooked. A reward can be as simple as having a piece of chocolate after a run, having a cheat day during your healthy eating stretch or giving yourself a small monthly online purchase if your habit is saving money. 

Try to keep the reward positive or neutral to the overall success. What we mean is after completing an exercise goal, don’t immediately decimate an entire cake.

Discipline and appropriate rewards balance the structure of habit. It trains your brain that completing the habitual behavior is a positive experience because you get something desirable from it. It seems rather basic and similar to Pavol’s dog theory but it works!

Step 5: Avoid the Pitfalls

Creating habits is not about pitching a perfect game; it is about building on success and rebounding from setbacks. You will encounter challenges along the way.

Don’t Miss Twice
While it is vital to have made the space to consistently pursue your habit, you might miss a day here or there. That’s totally acceptable.

If you miss out on one day, do what you can to make it the next time. Unfortunately good habits are easier to break than start and you don’t want to undo the momentum you have earned. Missing once is okay but do whatever you can to never miss two days in a row.

Don’t Make Unrealistic Goals
Goals can become obstacles all too quickly. Break down any larger feats into bite-sized chunks. It is just the same as a problem. Break pieces off that you can do bit by bit and eventually you will have arrived at your bigger objective.

Say ‘No’ to Things
We tend to have a hard time saying no to things whether it is out of politeness, people-pleasing, FOMO, or whatever reason you justify to yourself. Part of creating a new habit is letting go of whatever used to occupy that time.

If morning meditation is your aim, not hitting the snooze button is the way forward. If post-work exercise is your plan, leave after work drinks to the side. If you hope to establish a book reading habit, leave the phone in a different room. The list could go on but you undoubtedly get the picture. Remove cues that easily derail progress.

Keep Your Habit Sustainable
The excitement and enthusiasm for a new endeavor can be consuming. If you have ever been climbing, biking, or done jiu-jitsu, you will certainly know what we mean. They are fantastic hobbies to get into and often we wish we could devote all our time to them but it is not realistic.

Prioritize your new habit into your schedule without causing harm to your responsibilities. It is all well and good wanting to exercise after work but you’re not going to leave the kids at school to do so. Well hopefully not anyway. Make a habit you can justifiably maintain and sustain within the bigger picture.

Conclusion: Process Over End Game 

Starting anything new is always a challenge, especially as an adult. 

It all begins with your motivations. If you truly want to make a change for your self development and to see results, it is doable. Take stock of your ‘why’. What is inspiring you to start a new habit? 

When you know what is driving you, give yourself steps to success. It is much easier to get to where you want to be with a plan and a starting point. If it’s important enough, you will make the time. Distractions will always be there; do what you can to not pay attention to them because you deserve to be successful. Along the way, please don’t forget to enjoy yourself. It might be challenging at the start so give yourself a treat – something small to reinforce the behaviour. 

Remember to be patient. Just because you don’t see marks of success, doesn’t mean you are not succeeding.

Fall in love with the process and the outcome will take care of itself. Success isn’t a finish line, it’s a positive, happier you which should be lasting! 

Ok just to re cap one last time! 

Step 1 – Start with a Why 

Step 2 – Make an Actionable Plan with an Specific Intention

Step 3 – Schedule It 

Step 4 – Reward Yourself

Step 5 – Avoid the Pitfalls

Photo by Brady Stuart