7 Steps To Creating Good Habits That Last

by Chris 'The Kiwi' Ashenden - 2 years ago

What long-lasting habit would you absolutely love to create this year? Maybe it’s drinking more water, or exercising at least four times a week?

Or is it something more mindful, like starting a daily journal or meditating for 20 minutes every day?

Perhaps it’s got to do with your home life, like cleaning your house more frequently, or having a sit-down dinner with your family every night – no mobile phones allowed!

Whatever it is, a good habit can be achieved with the right attitude and mindset. And of course, a little time and a few pointers along the way help enormously.

We’ve broken habit-creation down into a series of seven steps to make it easier.

As you’ll see, you don’t need to start with a life-changing move like giving up smoking (though feel free to start there if you like). Try lowering your sights, cracking the art of forming habits, and then moving onto the actions that really see you make progress in leaps and bounds.

You can start implementing these steps tomorrow. They’ll help you transform a daily act from a chore into something that becomes second nature.

Assess What You Want To Change - And Why?

The starting place for forming a habit is not an action. It is a thought.

To get this part right, it takes some self-reflection on where your life is at, where you’d like to be, and what’s stopping you getting there.

This process is crucial for the ‘stickability’ of habits because you’ll only keep doing something if you see benefits of doing so. You need a payoff from the work involved.

If you are not sure where you’re going, then the benefits may be lost in the ‘haze of life’ – and you’ll simply go back to what you were doing before.

Identify the obstacles to your progress and the purpose of the habit – how’s it going to help change your life for the better in the long run? What’s in it for you?

Then start thinking about the positive actions you need to take to clear the way ahead to achieve the purpose.

Break It Down And Start Small

If you’re overweight and that’s stopping you enjoying time with the kids in sporting activities or being outside in the summer months, how can you change that?

The obvious answers are a better diet and more exercise – but these worthwhile goals are big and overarching. New habits that involve big changes are difficult to persevere with because they’re perceived as too difficult or too time-consuming.

They are also not specific or defined enough.

If problems seem insurmountable at this stage, the secret is to break them down and temporarily lower your sights.

Keep asking the question how and you will arrive at the specific habit you’re looking for to start with:

Lose weight – how?

Better diet – how?

Fewer carbs – how?

Replace pasta with vegetables – new habit!

Rather than instantly joining an expensive gym and a Weight Watchers program all in one go, it may pay to start by introducing a 30-minute brisk walk into your daily routine. Practically anyone can do this if they make it a priority.

This will help you see progress – however small. When you achieve something you set out to do, the brain releases the ‘reward’ chemical dopamine that makes you feel good. This encourages you to keep going with the new habit.

This makes it more likely that the habit will stick and gives you confidence for introducing the bigger changes later.

Think about it like this: you don’t try to parallel park a car before you learn basic driving skills. Break down your habit into manageable bite-sized tasks until it forms and becomes a natural part of your routine.

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Create ‘Sticky Habits’

In creating your initial small habits, bear in mind that the smallest changes may involve not replacing some action with another action – but simply adding to what you already do.

The idea is to create habits that stick – not ones that are ditched a week later. This means that they should be realistic and achievable, not pipe dreams that you have no chance of ever fulfilling.

For example, say you want to start a gratitude journal. You could say, “When I write my to-do list each morning, I will also write three things I’m grateful for that day.”

Similarly, if you want to start losing weight, add an extra helping of vegetables to your plate every day and reduce the amount of carbs or protein.

Seeing as you already practice a part of your new habit, it’s much easier to implement the rest. It also provides you with a very specific and simple task to follow that, in a sense, you’re already partly doing.

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Be Self-Determined

You’re not going to achieve anything if you’re not committed and determined.

If you’re expecting to rely on encouragement from outside for creating long-lasting habits, you may be sorely disappointed. That’s why it’s so important to go through the first two steps in the process before attempting to form new habits.

You must be able to motivate yourself and be driven from the inside rather than relying on external factors.

If in doubt, just consider the story of writer Nathan Barry, who committed to writing 1000 words every day, no matter what. This resulted in three self-published book titles.

The moral of this story?

Decide what you want to do, develop it into a small habit and then simply force yourself to do it. You might be surprised at how strong your own internal motivation can be.

And if you want to give yourself an added incentive – put a big X on the calendar each day you accomplish the task that contributes to the habit that you’re trying to form. These little motivations can help you turn chores into habits.

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When You Start To Falter, Figure Out Why

You promised yourself you’d lose weight. You started a no carb diet but ten days later the desire for bread and pasta is too much. You can already feel yourself starting to give up.

What do you do?

Well, if your habit is proving too difficult to follow after 10 days, maybe you bit off more than you could chew! Or maybe you haven’t yet found the right foods to replace carbs – filling and nutritious foods like nuts, dried fruits, eggs etc.

Or, are there other ways you can lose weight in addition to changing your diet, so that you can allow yourself a little pasta or rice?

Similarly, if you keep canceling on your after-work gym classes because you’re too tired, consider getting up an hour earlier and going before work, allowing yourself time to relax afterwards.

When you start faltering, it’s important to look at your habit big picture and determine the problem before it’s too late.

Revisit your motivations for starting the habit in the first place and this should reinforce your determination and resolve.

Also, learn to recognise the warning signs or ‘triggers’ for your old habits. What clues does your body provide that you are about to lapse into old habits that you want to replace?

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Gather Your Support Group Together

We generally gather the people around us who reflect our own lives.

Okay, so we’ve already said that it takes personal determination to create habits and we shouldn’t expect too much encouragement from others. But, like it or not, other people affect our mood and our behaviour – we are social beings!

Studies show that if we have a friend who is prone to unhealthy habits, we are very prone to similarly forgetting ourselves.

That’s why it’s important to surround yourself with people that reflect the values that you aspire to. If they don’t, ask yourself if they are having a good influence on your life. If not, well, you know what to do!

Everybody needs some help when things get tough. It’s then you’ll most appreciate the people you have around you. It’s obviously helpful if these people are at least understanding of your goals, optimistic, and supportive.

Create The Environment To Make New Habits Work

For new habits to work, it might take a change of environment.

Changing a habit on a vacation is proven to be one of the most successful ways to accomplish it.

This is backed up by studies that show that when people perform a regular action (like parking a car or putting shoes on), they normally do it in the same way each day (unthinkingly and without being aware of it) when the environment remains the same.

However, when the environment changes (like on a vacation), they will often perform the action differently. When performed over an extended period of time in that way, it may become an adjusted habit.

New environments break up the patterns and the ‘cues’ for habits in our brains. This makes it easier to create new ways of doing things and to convert them into habits with enough repetition over time.

A Leopard Can Change Its Spots

Habits are often seen as fixed, ingrained, unchangeable realities; in actual fact, they are merely a reflection of one’s current thought processes and priorities.

Changing a habit starts with a thought – and anyone can do it with the right level of commitment, motivation, and know-how.

What goes on in the brain when you form a new habit?

Well, new behaviors create new neural pathways in the brain. Or at least they adapt and reorganize existing pathways. With the repetition of a behavior, these new pathways strengthen.

There’s a saying that “neurons that fire together, wire together”.

This reflects the fact that changing behaviors ‘rewire’ the brain until these new behaviors become natural. And the beauty of it is that you are never too old to be able to do this. New habits can be formed at any age.

When you first walk through an overgrown field, the way may be rough and full of bumps and potholes. But the more you walk the path, the smoother it becomes.

The brain works a little like this too – the more you perform an action the less resistance is created to it and the brain goes into unthinking mode; it starts to feel more natural and ‘habitual’, requiring less effort to complete the action.

To go back to the example of driving a car, you can drive, park, and overtake other cars without even thinking about it. It’s a skill that you’ve learnt and that has become a natural part of your life – like a habit.

But how difficult did driving seem when you started? Once you had the thought to take lessons, the brain took over and turned it into a learned habit.

You usually need some willpower to keep going, of course. But if it requires too much willpower, you’ll probably grow weary of the effort, give up, and revert to old habits. No good at all.

The trick is to break it down into bite-size pieces that don’t exhaust you or your willpower before you start forming those strong, new neural pathways in the brain!

It might take a little longer than the 21 days you’ve been promised in other blog articles but by following the above steps, you’ll get there in the end.

And if you need a little help envisioning exactly where you want your new habits to take you, why not try a manifestation journal? Check out our article on it, and download our free template below to get started.

What’s your best tip for creating a long-lasting habit? We’d love to hear it! Comment below to encourage others, or share it with the #GreensTeam Facebook community!