How To Build Habits that Stick: 15+ Experts Share Incredibly Powerful Tips + Strategies To Create Habits that Last
“If you pick the right small behavior and sequence it right, then you won’t have to motivate yourself to have it grow. It will just happen naturally, like a good seed planted in a good spot.”
― B.J. Fogg
A sincere thanks to all the awesome experts who shared their best tips, insights and strategies on how to build habits that stick.
Let’s start easy, with the good news, since building new habits seems hard and positive emotions are required for victory here.
One thing we know well is our current track or habits. The good news is each was successfully created by YOU! When you created them, your objectives were your own, from deep within, and they were emotionally charged.
Take a minute to look at the long view.
Where will your repeated thoughts, emotions, and behaviors lead you if continued for the next 5 years? Will you be stronger spiritually, healthier, more informed and effective, have closer relationships, be happier? Or are you headed for trouble?
What makes your habits so easy to fall into? What is the cue, or trigger, for each one? What is the physical, mental, or emotional routine that follows? What is the reward or benefit that makes us want to go back to the routine in the future?
Any habit is created within and adheres to this trigger, behavior, reward cycle.
If you look, you will see cues in the form of time, location, people you are with, certain emotions, or something you’ve just done, like wake up in the morning or get out of work, that lead to routine. (There are charts and graphs readily available online to record these findings and prepare for new habit formation once you are committed.)
Your mind, emotions, and body ALWAYS want to move toward pleasure and away from pain, so any changes must be more attractive than your current reality.
Come up with a reward that will bring immediate gratification until you feel the reward from the new behavior alone, if necessary. When I _(cue)__, I will __(behavior)__ and reward myself by____.
You have created neural pathways in your brain much like a riverbed.
More good news is that we can create new pathways. Change your mind, change your life, and change your brain!
If you live in an area with snow, like I do, you might visualize this as a toboggan course, where the toboggan slips easily into the track and stays there, requiring no effort but to go along for the ride.
When you are on virgin snow your first trip will likely be slow, awkward, and you may even get stuck. When you go back to the top and start over, you’ll pick up momentum to go a little further next time. Make sure your toboggan is headed for a steep smooth run and not a tree.
There is incredible power in our ability to act and feel as though change has already happened.
When we combine a clear objective with heightened emotions, we create the pleasure sensation necessary for the reward part of the cycle.
How successful would you feel if you had already been following your new, desired habits for 5 years? How much fun would that be?
Are you ready to start practicing?
What does your new personality look like? What behaviors have put you successfully where you wanted to be spiritually, physically, intellectually, relationally, emotionally, financially? Can you feel the reward?
Repeated thoughts, emotions, and behaviors of success will lead to that future even if you can’t quite reach it yet.
Laurie Curtis, CPPC, CiPP – www.curtisease.com
As we go into a new year, goals and resolutions are usually made.
It’s great to seek a fresh start, a do-over. But how does one make it stick? Let’s face it, change is hard. Trying to start a new habit can sound great at first and may be easy in the beginning.
But how does one stay motivated to persevere through the hard part—the inevitable period where one starts to get off track?
For me, the most important part is to accept that change isn’t easy for anyone, and set backs are an expected part of the process. Once you have radically accepted this process, the next step is to figure out what motivates you.
Using one’s personal values are a great way to stay motivated. Personal values have great meaning and already have built in consistency. Here is a step by step example:
New Year’s resolution or goal: Add More Self Care
Personal Value/Motivation: Taking care of myself allows me to have more energy to care for those I love, and research shows it is good for my physical and mental health.
What are 3 behaviors that I feel are valuable and do-able to help me toward my goal? (This can be something you are already doing or want to do.)
1. I will intentionally plan a fun and/or exciting activity for myself every week.
2. I will intentionally look for exercise activities that sound fun, where I feel good mentally and physically when I am done.
3. I will continue to set boundaries and say no to friends and family when necessary.
Change is hard, even if it is for good.
Don’t give up, and if you hit a set-back, that doesn’t mean that you are starting over.
What you have done up until that moment still counts. Write in a journal keeping track of your successes so you can go back and look at them to remind yourself what you have done. Every day is a new opportunity to get back to it.
“I love big fresh starts, the clean slates like birthdays and new years, but I also really like the idea that we can get up every morning and start over.” - Kristin Armstrong
Jacqueline V. Cohen, LPC – www.therapymama.com
“I need to lose weight.”
How many times have you had this thought?
When most of us consider changing our eating habits, this is the first place our minds go. Yet, repeated evidence shows diets fail 95% of the time. And while dieters may initially lose weight during their first months of dieting, during the first year or so after dieting most of them gain it back plus 20%.
So, in the long run, diets actually make people fatter.
Yet, diet mentality is so engrained in our culture it’s difficult to even consider another way to approach changing the way we eat. What can you do instead?
Have you ever heard of Newton’s third law of thermodynamics: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction?
Diets begin with a mentality of giving something up and create a sense of deprivation. This sets the stage for a diet rebound, when forbidden foods or banished ways of eating reenter our lives, sometimes in an uncontrolled or extreme way.
Instead of depriving yourself, what if you focused on something you would like to eat more of?
Rather than skipping dessert, how about making a goal of adding three vegetables to every meal? The natural sugar from the vegetables may begin to calm down your sweet tooth and help you fill up on nutrient-rich foods before you reach for something less healthy. While you may not see immediate weight loss, this kind of eating habit is much more likely to be one that sticks.
What about providing yourself with healthy snacks (like hummus and pita or Greek yogurt and fresh fruit) that you actually like the taste of? Is it possible that if you eat something satisfying but good for you in mid-afternoon, it will reduce or eliminate your need for buying something from the vending machine?
Another major offense is skipping breakfast. Many hard-working overeaters minimize breakfast or eliminate it entirely in the interests of getting to work as early as possible. But, in the long run, this habit can come back to bite them later in the day when they get over-hungry and eat whatever is available.
A well-rounded breakfast includes at least one serving of protein, some form of whole grain, and a fruit or vegetable. Making the space for a complete meal early in the day can give you the sustained energy you need to keep going throughout the day.
So, instead of listing all the things you will give up, what if you commit to adding a food or eating time (e.g. breakfast, snack) to your day?
Don’t bother to throw out those packages of tempting treats, just go to the store and take the time to find as many healthier choices as you can. On your day off leisurely prepare and taste-test combinations until you find several that you truly enjoy.
If possible, prepare and package your new food choices (e.g. cut vegetables and put them in plastic bags) so it will take minimum time to throw them together before each day. Buy whatever containers will make these foods easiest and most tempting for you to eat. You may even want to dedicate a particular section of your refrigerator to your new foods, and make it a habit to reach for them, first.
Making a commitment to someone, out loud, also increases your chances of success.
Take a few minutes at the beginning and the end of each day to reflect on how well you did. If you were successful in your goal, give yourself a pat on the back, tell a loved one, or consider giving yourself a non-food reward (a few minutes of quiet time, an enjoyable activity you’ve put off, or connecting with someone you haven’t in a long time are all great rewards that don’t add calories.)
After a day when you reached your goal, notice how your life has improved as a result. Did you feel more clear-headed or productive? Did you digest your food better? Was your energy level more balanced throughout the day?
If you didn’t achieve your goal that day, don’t waste your time beating yourself up.
Instead, honestly consider what got in your way and how you might navigate your day differently tomorrow. Talking this over with a friend or loved one can also help you problem solve in order to increase your chances of success over time.
One thing that helps me is having a small calendar handy where I can check every day I achieved my goal. As the checkmarks add up from days to weeks to months, I find it motivating to look back and notice how long I’ve stuck with my new pattern of eating.
Focusing on what you are adding to your eating rather than what you are taking away can help build food habits that stick in the near future and for a long time to come.
Tory Butterworth, PhD, LPC – www.torybutterworth.com
With the New Year upon us, many of us find ourselves in a time of self-reflection and intention setting for the upcoming year.
While some find it cliché, I love using the New Year as a distinct starting point for a self-improvement project or two –especially since there a several factors that contribute to it being an ideal time for me to regroup and refocus in on some personal goals.
I come from a traditional southern family. Holidays are big events for us that involve lots of family time, heavy meals, and activities out the kazoo for three months on end.
By January, I am always completely out of my schedule and yearning for routine, stability (and meals that don’t involve heavy cream)! I’ve enjoyed the time to play, but I am motivated by the idea of a fresh slate for and ready to create the systems that are going to be most helpful to me this year.
As I look at my goals for the upcoming year I like to use this time to reflect and refine.
Many of my goals stay the same from year to year – make healthy choices for my body and mind, live a life that is in line with my personal values, continue to develop my business in a way that feels authentic and sustainable for me.
It is important to spend time assessing what did and didn’t work in the previous year, so that I can adapt my approach for even more success in the upcoming year. For me this means spending time in my journal logging my “Wins” for the year as well as my “Oops!”
After I’ve got a clear picture of the previous year, I am ready to develop my plan for the upcoming year. When thinking about goals for myself and my clients, I like to borrow Amir Levy’s conceptualization of change used in industrial organizational psychology.
When you modify an organization, change can occur in two distinctly different ways - 1st and 2nd order change.
I think these concepts also translate to individuals- just think of yourself as your own mini-system.
First order change involves modification to a current system.
Making small changes step by step, to create cumulative differences over time. Think switching a soda for a water, or going for a walk on your lunch break instead of FB scrolling. We know that for many things this type of small swap can be a helpful approach to take.
For example, dieters who begin by making small changes are much more likely to stay committed and return to their programs after missteps than those who make crash dietary changes across the board.
Much of the mental health model and the process of therapy is linked to 1st order change.
Therapists and clients work together to make behavioral / cognitive /emotional changes (while processing for insight) in the goal of seeing life improvements over a period of time. Major growth can be achieved this way; however, it can be slow.
There is also another downfall to this way of adapting.
Because we are making small changes to the system at a time, the original foundation is still in place. If we let our guard down, it can be fairly easy to slip back into old patterns and habits we are trying to avoid. Specifically in times of high stress we tend to default to that which we know best (or longest!)
Second order change is more radical – a complete transformation of the system.
Like the reality TV show where an expert steps in and helps a business completely restructure over the course of a week. It involves eliminating systems that are ineffective and creating new systems that are specifically tailored to that organization’s needs. It is change that is multidimensional & multicomponent. When fully committed to, 2nd order change can result in a new worldview and experiencing a new state of being.
Many, many people are looking for big changes in their life.
They want a life that is different, more fulfilling, and they can be proud of. AND they want to be able to move forward in such a way that there is no possibility of going back. Most even know the steps they would need to take to get to this dream self. But fear holds them back from fully committing and investing in the changes that would make this possible. If this feels like you, I would encourage you to think about the approach you have been taking.
Have you found yourself staring at the same list of goals year after year and not making much progress? Or maybe you start the year of great but always fizzle somewhere in the middle? This could be because your first order approach always leaves you vulnerable to old habits and ways of thinking.
Are you willing to do something more dramatic to get the changes you have always wanted?
We are all capable of radical transformation.
Any change we want to make, we can commit to fully and make in a way that it is 2nd order. Due diligence should be spent on research and preparation + finding the right support network to assist in your major transformation. Then it just requires facing fears and trusting that when we make the right decisions for ourselves, the universe will support us and have our backs.
What would that revolutionary change look like for you? Would it be leaving a job you hate? Maybe ending a relationship that you know is unhealthy? Taking a risk you’ve always dreamed of? What would it feel like next New Year, to be a year into building the life of your dreams? Make 2019 the year of no return!!
Jamie Schmidt, M.Ed., LPC - www.jamieschmidtlpc.com
We make good habits stick by making a commitment to self.
In all that we do in life, we are either honoring our sacred self or we are not. In order to achieve all that lies in Universal escrow for us, we must first deem ourselves worthy of more, of better.
So often in life we are putting most, if not all, of our efforts and time into others. We make others a priority over ourselves and we leave ourselves for last. The problem with this is, by the time we have “pleased” the rest of the world, there is hardly time to take care of who is most important, you.
Forging good habits takes conscious thinking and planning.
It means setting aside time to decide what you would like for yourself whether it is better fitness, more spiritual study, education, closer relationships or perhaps eating healthier. Once we decide what it is we would deeply desire, we must give ourselves permission to go after it.
Oftentimes, we fall into the trap of deciding what we’d desire, but we put it off for the future when “the time is right”. The time is always right! There is a saying, “Now is how!” Make the commitment to yourself and go!
5 Steps to Achieving Good Habits
1. Deem yourself worthy
We will not ever manifest what we want out of life if we don’t believe we are worthy of it. Our level of worthiness is in direct proportion to what we can achieve. Understanding that you are as deserving as anyone else on this planet to achieve your goals is vital to fully stepping into the process.
2. Make your well-being a priority
This does not mean we ignore our responsibilities. Perhaps it’s about allowing others to care more for themselves rather than believing you have to do it all. There is a fine line between enabling others and true responsibility. One wouldn’t expect a 3 year old to make his own lunch, but a 10 year old is fully capable. You get the idea!
3. Research your area of interest
There is SO much information out there and with the gift of Google, we can find virtually any information that we want. By researching your goal, you have already begun to form your new habit. You are on your way! Acquiring relevant, solid information and knowledge regarding your goal will educate you in your area of interest and start changing your perceptions.
4. Be gentle with yourself
As with any major life changes, there are times we will fall backward into old patterns or lose track of our goals until they have become a habit. It takes anywhere from 30-45 days to form a new habit.
Give yourself grace while you work toward your goal. It’s okay to miss a day, forget or fall off track. If we beat ourselves up, we are more likely to stay in the old pattern. Acceptance and grace of your humanness will go a long way!
5. Pat yourself on the back for a job well-done
Become your own cheerleader and motivational speaker. You know exactly what you need in order to continue on. Don’t expect to receive adulation from the outside world because somehow others will seemingly fall short in what we need to hear, because they are coming from their own projections of what they would need.
Our lives are our own. There is no one who knows better what would nurture our souls and improve our life than ourselves! Go for your dreams. You matter!
Kristen Brown, Author & Certified Empowerment Coach – www.sweetempowerment.com
I own a personal training studio, and the most common issue I hear from clients is, “I know what to do, I just don’t do it.”
Haven’t we all marveled at our ability to know exactly what we need to do, and then inexplicably choose the opposite?
When I was in the grip of my compulsions, I would catch myself doing things like filling up the grocery cart with healthy food, then stopping for fast food on the way home. Or sitting on the sofa eating out of the ice cream container, while telling myself to stop. It’s an awful, powerless feeling.
I held on tight to the belief that I just needed more self-discipline and willpower.
Then, I encountered a powerful verse in the Bible, written by the Apostle Paul, who must have been in the grip of his own compulsions.
He wrote, “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise…I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable.” [Romans 7:15-21 Message]
I was stunned. I thought it was just me, but here is this man who lived in the first century, writing laments about his frustrations with himself and his inability to follow through. Maybe, I thought, this is a struggle common to all humanity.
With that truth as my foundation, I set out to understand what sabotages us.
Take dieting. I would try, but before long I was in the drive thru, saying screw it. Then, one day, I stopped long enough to listen to the part of me that was taking over and making the choices. She basically said, “I am miserable and broken in here. I am trapped, and I need a hit of comfort and pleasure. I don’t care about the consequences.”
It was me. I’d been trying to get my attention for a very long time.
Instead of trying to willpower my way to choosing better, I decided to pay attention to the wounded part of me that was constantly acting up. Did she really need ice cream, or was it a grief support group that would help her heal? Did she love fast food, or would healing her self-worth help her understand that she does matter, therefore what she chooses also matters?
Honestly, it was a miracle. As my self-worth healed, the compulsions started falling away.
Turns out they were symptoms, not the root. It wasn’t about food. It was a craving for wholeness and healing, that only came when I stopped long enough to pay attention and find out what the authentic craving was underneath it all. And it, of course, was love.
Sue Markovitch, Author and Life Coach in Westerville, Ohio – www.clearrockfitness.com
The purpose of habits is to free up energy and attention for more essential tasks.
As an early human, you would survive only if you had developed functional habits that kept you alive and thriving. Toward this end, our mind/bodies automatically lay down new neural tracks for anything we do repeatedly.
Who would feed his family better, the hunter who stowed his bow and arrow in the same place every night or the one who arose each morning and had to search the cave looking for them? Who would help her child thrive, the mother who regularly checked to see if her infant was breathing or the one who did it erratically? Ok, you get the picture.
Here are five tips for creating helpful habits:
Tip #1: Intentionally create habits when you’re relaxed.
Practice specific ways of doing something when you’re not stressed because, “Under stress, people tend to fall back on routines—whether healthy or unhealthy.
In a recent experiment, University of Southern California psychologist Wendy Wood, Ph.D., one of the world’s top experts in habit formation, found that students around exam time slipped into autopilot. (“Going the distance,” Parade Magazine, 12/29/13, p. 11).
If you get in the groove when you’re relaxed, you’re more likely to stay in the groove when you’re stressed.
Tip #2: Identify the reasons you don’t want to develop a new habit.
People have mixed feelings about developing new habits, so be sure you recognize what’s holding you back: time, effort, desire, lack of instant reward, money, etc. You aren’t bad for having mental barriers to change. You’re simply human.
Tip #3: Practice frustration tolerance and delaying gratification.
Studies tell us that people who can delay gratification (instant pleasure) for future happiness are better able to tolerate frustration than those who grab at short-term fixes. Put off doing something that’s not healthy for you for one minute or 10 minutes or an hour or until tomorrow.
Use incremental thinking. And soothe your frustration with kind and encouraging words: I can do this, I’ll be fine without my quick fix, I’m going to love how I feel making a healthy choice.
Tip #4: Heap praise on yourself and be proud at each small step you take toward creating a new habit.
Shaming yourself into better practices doesn’t work. It only makes you feel badly and less likely to want to do good things for yourself. When you make a positive choice, reward yourself with lavish congratulations and make sure to feel proud.
If you don’t make a positive choice, you can still feel proud that you’re trying to change. Remember, feeling proud works better than self-shaming.
Tip #5: Make sure you want a new habit for yourself, not to please others.
Many people try to change to make others happy or to avoid being shamed by them. Be certain you’re changing for you and know why the change will be beneficial to you.
Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed. – www.karenrkoenig.com
Have you ever taken a look at a car manual?
Its purpose is to show you how to properly operate your car. It outlines every feature of your car, from how much air to put in your tires to how to operate the stereo. At the end of the manual is your maintenance schedule. That tells you when and how to maintain your car.
Which do you think is more expensive—to regularly maintain a car, or repair it after components have broken down?
I bet you would rather pay the price of an oil change or a fan belt replacement than the price of parts and labor for an engine rebuild, simply because you didn’t maintain your car.
Just like cars, our minds and bodies need to be taken care of on a regular basis to perform at optimum level. Instead of a car manual, we can develop a set of habits and routines that allow YOU to operate at your optimum level.
Taking Care of Yourself
One of the best ways to take care of yourself is to develop a daily routine that keeps up your self-care.
Our daily self-care activities can be as simple as waking up at a certain time each day, getting out of bed and taking a shower, or more complex such as exercising, working, going on vacation, or setting limits with others.
Self-care is maximized when there is a good balance between what you need to do, (such as working or taking care of the family) and what you want to do, such as pursuing hobbies or learning a new skill.
The key is to find and then follow a balanced routine that works for you and is easy to maintain.
Think about your current daily routine.
How do you spend your day? What are your daily habits? What time do you wake up in the morning? What is the first thing you do? What are you thinking about? Are you ruminating on problems or anticipating stress?
Be honest with yourself. See if you can identify any interesting trends or patterns in your day. Remember you are here to learn, not to be judged. Write down as much as possible.
Here 3 highly effective strategies for making habits stick:
1. Find a “keystone habit”.
A key stone habit is one that is so powerful that it affects other areas of your life, and gets those other habits aligned with your intention.
For example, exercise is a key stone habit. People who exercise, tend to eat and sleep better. They tend to have less stress. What keystone habit can you put in your life?
2. Commit to the habit for 30 days.
In order to make a habit stick, you need to be CONSISTENT. That means that you do the habit regardless of how you feel that day. You don’t skip it or come up with excuses. You allow life to “get in the way.” Consistency produces results! Once you develop the habit through consistency, it will be easy to make it stick, and keep it going with little effort.
For example, in late 20’s I started to put money in my retirement account every single month. I set it up automatically. The money has compounded and grown through the power of consistency. Make your habits work for you!
3. Get an accountability partner.
One of the best ways to make habits stick is to get yourself an accountability partner. It’s easy to blow off plans. Enroll someone into your intention, and ask them to check in with you on a regular basis. Where do you want to see progress? Where do you need someone to hold you accountable so you are “walking your talk?.”
I remember when I wanted to control my eating habits.
I told my husband that I wanted to stop eating by 7:00 pm each night. I started to make dinner earlier, and asked him to point out when I eat late or snacked after 7:00 pm.
After three weeks, my body got used to the new routine and I didn’t need him to remind me anymore. I wasn’t hungry after 7:00 pm. It was easy for me to say “no” to food or desserts that was offered to me.
Imagine how confident you will feel when you are hitting your goals. Imagine how strong you will feel when you can beat temptation, and handle any challenge that comes your way. That’s the power of making habits stick!
Dr. Shannon Tran – www.shannontranphd.com
Many of us are very concerned about how we might manage our lives better by developing and keeping better habits.
The problem with our thinking on this, however, is that we think that we can permanently manage our lives based in a kind of discipline that uses for its foundational motivating principle the word should.
Every New Year we watch people apply this principle to their lives only to watch them, shortly thereafter, stop doing whatever it was that they agreed that they should do. Diets die, exercise programs quit, lovers return to their same old tired arguments, and on and on.
Why doesn’t it work?
Two reasons: 1) we don’t like being told what to do; and 2) we are trying to apply the band aid of should to an old identity. The identity is the mask and costume we have worn since infancy and toddlerhood that we introjected from our parent’s projections.
We became something we are not in order to stay attached to people to whom we longed to belong. But that identity is not who we really are. And at some point in our lives we begin to feel the distinctions between the authentic Self and the identity—though we may not have the clarity to see that this is what it is.
We feel one way, but we do something else.
We find that our thinking is conflicted between what we really want and what we think we have to do. A crisis makes us realize that we’ve been living into a life that isn’t true to who we are. These are signs that we are beginning to wake up to who we really are.
And in order to form patterns of behavior that satisfy us (in other words, good habits) we have to start living from the more authentic, the more genuine within us.
The authentic Self has its own urgings, desires and patterns of living and they are all about wholeness.
The work of finding the authentic Self is in beginning to hear and then live into its messages. We do that by tuning into to our emotions and our desires, and our original thoughts. Instead of doing what we have always done, we begin to utilize courage to do what genuine desire has always wanted to do.
We begin to fulfill our dreams. We begin to speak up for ourselves. We begin to build boundaries where we have always wanted them. We begin to walk through guilt to the other side guilt-free, instead of caving to its demands.
And finally, as an outcome of all of this hard work to release the Self to live in our own bodies, we also begin to eat better, exercise more, argue less, etc. We have begun to live in the habit of the Self.
Andrea Mathews, LPC, PhD – www.andreamathews.com
There are several ways to help build healthy habits and become consistent with them.
One of the first ways in order to become consistent is to be aware of what gets in the way of starting healthy behaviors.
One of the main interfering factors is called rationalization.
Rationalization can sound reasonable, understandable and intelligent. Rationalization is really an interference to identify unhealthy behaviors. For example, I decide that I would like to increase my exercise routine from twice per week to three times per week.
On the day I decide I am going to the gym, I tell myself, “I went two days ago, I can go tomorrow”. Or, I can tell myself that “I really don’t need to increase my days at the gym because I exercise plenty already”. Rationalization is the voice that says something is okay for us, when it really is not.
Self-acceptance is something that would be effective for us to learn in order accept ourselves for where we are instead of giving ourselves a hard time for not being where we want to be.
How do we figure out if something is okay or not for us?
All of us have an internal voice that is our truth. We need to know who we are, what we feel, what feels right for us and what does not. This is not a simple process. The process to get to know ourselves is important in order to change the behavior that is getting in the way for us to do what is healthy for ourselves.
Self-judgement can be a struggle for many and it gets in the way of being able to do what we would like to do to better ourselves.
“Other practical tips can include being accountable to someone else to help build healthy habits. If we choose someone who is more experienced, knowledgeable, and/or successful with the habit we are trying to start; we can be held accountable to what we are trying to change and feel more motivated by receiving encouragement. The best way to get more results include; being honest with the person we choose to be accountable with and being willing to change.” - Coach Aaron
Identify what motivates you!
There are different forms of motivation. Emotional and physical pain can be an example of difficult motivating factors. Joy, relief, excitement can also be motivating factors and can be more easy to accept. The results of doing a healthy habit, such as going to therapy, twelve step meetings, reaching out for help are positive and feel good and can be difficult to begin.
If we can play a situation all the way through, we can recognize the positive results we can get out of changing our behaviors, even though it may be difficult to begin.
Dr. Heather Gaedt – www.drheathergaedt.com
It is not just at the start of the New Year that we find ourselves setting goals and resolving to improve ourselves.
While incorporating new habits into our lives is a positive thing, sometimes it can lead to stress if we approach it in a negative or self-defeating manner.
Most goals that we set revolve around doing better and being better.
While this is a worthy intention, it is important to remember that the changes won’t benefit us if the process of doing so adds stress into our lives. Therefore it is essential to approach it in a way that allows you to achieve a sense of success instead of frustration or disappointment. Here are a few tips to help you do just that!
1. Set Doable Goals
Many people become stressed out and deeply disappointed simply because they have set unrealistic goals for themselves – or ones that are highly difficult to achieve. It is much more effective to create a goal or a new habit that focuses on the process instead of the final outcome.
For example, resolving to eat better and exercise more so that you can gradually drop unwanted pounds over time means that the process of getting healthy and in shape is the ultimate aim – not just the number on the scale.
In other words, the success of your new habits are not based on pounds lost, but measured by how you are feeling — more energized, stronger, or healthier. Not only will you achieve a greater sense of success with this type of approach, but you will also avoid setting yourself up for undue stress or disappointment.
2. Short-Term Goals For Long-Term Changes
When you want to implement new habits, shorter-term goals are the way to go. Year-long goal setting often leads to lack of follow through and disappointment. The best way to avoid having your intentions fall by the wayside is to create 30-day goals instead.
If you hope to implement a new habit, giving yourself a time frame of a month holds you accountable and allows you to see an achievable end in sight – both of which are factors that increase the chances of success and a greater likelihood that the new habits will stick!
3. Don’t Go At It Alone
Having someone else on board with whatever new habit you hope to implement into your life is another key to success. You will normally work harder at achieving your goals if you work toward them with a friend.
A good friend not only serves as a great cheerleader, but he/she also holds you accountable. Plus, your support will help your friend reach his or her goals too! So, find a buddy who shares the same goal as you, partner up and enjoy the power of two!
Dr. Kelly Mothner – www.drkellyhb.com
“Why can’t I just follow through on plans to improve my life? I get all excited and pumped up and ready to step forward to take on the world. I think about how my life will be better once I achieve the ultimate goal and I inform others in order to gain their emotional support.
Then, I set out on my journey and find that within a short period of time, I loose interest because either the gains I was looking for may not be realized soon enough, it may take more effort than I thought it would be, or others may be undermining my efforts.
Whatever the reason may be, I end up quitting. What can I do to stay on track? What can I do to motivate myself?”
I’ve heard these words many times over in my work with clients during the past 25+ years.
Developing good, productive habits starts with having a good work ethic and a positive mindset that helps jump-start a task into fruition.
Having a lifestyle that keeps one moving in a positive direction is a big plus. Focusing on the journey toward your goal rather than on the goal itself can help keep you going when a crossroads moment wants you to give up.
Check with yourself by asking, “Is what I am doing right now keeping me on track to meet my goal?”
If the answer is “yes,” then this provides motivation for the next day of your journey. If your answer is “no,” then you have to step back and re-evaluate what’s going wrong. Are you expecting too much too soon? Are you using a lot of negative self-talk and putting yourself down?
If so, lower your expectations a bit so that you can experience little successes over time and change the negative self-talk to positive.
You have to be your own best cheerleader to stay motivated as well as surrounding yourself with supportive people who can cheer you on rather than sabotage your efforts.
Practicing meditative and relaxation exercises for a little as five minutes a day by focusing on your breath can increase your willpower to accomplish the goals you have set for yourself by calming your brain.
In the book, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It, Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. explains how the neurology of the brain can be trained to increase an individual’s sense of willpower to control powerful emotions and continue in the face of overwhelming and frightening circumstances.
In this exercise, focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale. If your mind wanders and starts thinking of other things, it’s okay because it is part of the training process. Just come back and refocus on your breath coming in and going out.
This is training the brain the responses of I Will and I Won’t and creating a balance in your body’s neurological system, which helps to reduce stress and leads to making healthier and wiser choices for directing your lives.
And don’t forget to find little extra ways to reward and pamper yourself as you progress on the way to meeting your goal. Now this is a good habit that shouldn’t be too hard to keep.
Dr. Joanne Wendt – www.drjoannewendt.com
We are all in process, and striving for personal improvement is what keeps us moving towards the best version of ourselves.
Whether it’s to lose weight, become more organized or improve relationships, progress comes down to new habits. It’s much easier to conceptualize the new habit and make a plan than to follow through for the long term.
Things get in the way, such as sickness, life changes and increased stress and we can easily give up on our new habits if we see ourselves as failing at them. This is why it is important to celebrate our progress, if we only focus on how something got in the way today and forget to remember we were and are capable of success, our motivation will be lost.
When it comes to making changes in our lives it is important to pick one thing to change at a time.
If we decide we’re going to quit smoking, change our diet and begin exercising all at one time, it will feel overwhelming and impossible when you really get into. Picking one thing to focus on allows us to create a plan that we can stick to.
For example, maybe you first focus on quitting smoking, since this change will help you in the next habit you chose to change, which might be to start exercising and once you start exercising you might find increased motivation to feed your body well. Whatever habit you’re looking to begin or change, you must hold yourself accountable in order to stay focused.
For many people writing down their intention and why they want to make this change helps bring the motivation back when it seems to be lacking.
It’s also important to remember that success is not equivalent to perfection, no one is perfect all of the time and having a bump in the road should be expected. By expecting to have bumps in the road, you can then plan for them and how to return to your new habit.
Jennifer Misenti, LPC, NSCA-CPT – www.whole-health-wellness.com
Write this down right now….I am capable of more than I can imagine! When you feel you’ve messed up, write it again. With that in mind, building good habits that stick requires a mindset that nurtures self-love (not selfishness), flexibility, forgiveness, and a connection to your Soul!
Here are 7 tips to keep you moving in a rewarding direction:
1. Set realistic expectations
This doesn’t mean lower your standards, but it does mean start small and work your way up in order to feel successful. An example of this is if you have a long-term goal of doing 100 push-ups without stopping, start out with 1 push-up on day one, 2 push-ups on day two, etc. Start from where you are! Test it out and see what you CAN do now and then add slowly from there.
2. Be aware of your ALL or NOTHING stinking thinking!
When you allow these rigid thoughts to be your guide, this only feeds self-sabotage! When you allow your Heart/Soul to guide you, you make room for forgiveness and push through the barriers that come your way.
3. Eliminate unnecessary choices.
Most of us already feel on information overload due to the many choices thrown upon us like food choices, technology gadgets, remembering pin numbers, etc. According to the variety of research on self-control, being a bit boring can decrease the chaos in your life! Try packing a similar lunch every day to eliminate a stressor. Choose your battles wisely to allow time for more important decisions.
4. Don’t SHOULD on yourself!
Comparing yourself to others or doing things because someone says you should only takes away your personal power. Beware of those statements in your head and allow your heart to guide you. Having role models is a healthier approach to take and can be a constant motivator!
5. EMBRACE the feelings of PLEASURE AND PAIN!
Creating new habits is gonna hurt sometimes! You may have trained your brain to do things one way, so it naturally tries to revert back to what is familiar. Be patient and give your body time to adjust.
The pleasure comes when the many rewards of your new healthy habit(s) start to show. You may behave differently and this makes your Soul light up! Others will notice and may praise or reject you. Regardless, give yourself permission to enjoy the many pleasures of your hard work and dedication!!
6. Create a RITUAL in your day and RECONSTRUCT your environment.
Create your sacred space for your new healthy habit and set aside the best time to do your thing! Every time you see this new space, it sends you a loving reminder of this new addition in your life.
7. You must have a day of REST to rejuvenate your mind/body/soul.
Overdoing only leads to burnout. Sleep in. Laugh. Get out into nature.
This will become your lifestyle if you allow yourself to embrace it. Be sure to celebrate your victories large and small and enjoy the ride!
Cheryl Mlcoch, M.S., LPC – www.woundedhealercounseling.com
Our desire to build good habits is about making improvements, and can touch on any area of our lives.
No matter what area of our life we’re trying to improve, there are some universal challenges in adopting a new habit and in keeping with it.
A new habit, whether it’s stopping something you’re doing now or starting something you’re not doing yet, begins with two conflicting goals.
Part of you wants to do something different, something that’s good for the long term because it’s healthier or better for you. Part of you wants to keep the status quo, even when it seems clear that the status quo isn’t a good thing.
This dynamic of conflicting goals means that implementing a new habit and sticking with it is going to require self-control, willpower, and stick-to-it-tiveness (also known as persistence). Fortunately, knowing that these qualities are what’s required can guide us, and give us lots of information on how to be successful.
I’m going to touch on 4 strategies that can help you with self-control, willpower, and persistence – Effective Self-Talk, Journaling, Meditation, and Understanding and Building Willpower.
Before I go into each of these strategies, let’s first set expectations that will help you be successful.
First, when you are working on a new habit and staying with it, don’t expect perfection.
Because you have two conflicting goals competing within you, there will be back and forth between which impulse is in the lead in each moment. Rather than expecting to always be in control, try setting your measure of success as you’re creating a strong trend in the direction of your new habit.
Second, there is a common belief that it takes 21 days to adopt a new habit. In truth, it may take less or more time than that. There are a lot of things in play for each of us individually as we try to break a long-standing habit or implement a new one.
Rather than expecting to “be done” in 3 weeks, try setting the expectation that within 21 days, if you’ve been consistent, you’ll have your new habit in place most of the time. Habits aren’t absolute and may require on-going conscious choices and effort.
Ok, let’s talk about some tools for success that you can try. Changing our words can change our habits and change our brains so they’re more likely to stick. The first 2 strategies tap into using our words.
As you make your habit changes and strive to stick with them, use positive coaching talk, minimize negative self-talk, and talk to yourself by name.
When learning a new skill or solving a problem, we have better success if we talk ourselves through it. How we talk to ourselves matters. We perform better when we talk to ourselves in a positive, coaching voice. Negative, self-deprecating talk increases our stress levels, anxiety, depression, and shame, all of which is self-defeating.
We also perform better when we talk to ourselves in the third person, in other words when we call ourselves by name. This approach seems to help us access wisdom that we have when talking to a friend but that we don’t have as easily when talking to ourselves.
Use journaling to stay on track, and cement changes. Use your journal to coach yourself, track successes and lessons learned, provide support for obstacles and challenges, and to process self-defeating reactions and feelings.
Journaling to stay positive is very helpful. Write about your habit change successes, appreciations, and gratitudes. This helps you stay connected with the progress you’re making and the positive trend you’re stiving for. Use your journal to coach yourself following the same guidelines as outlined above for self-talk.
You will have ups and downs on this journey. Journaling is very effective in helping you stay positive and keep your eye on the prize. Use your journal to write about any set-backs or things that didn’t go well.
For each set-back or problem write down the lesson(s) learned. Write about challenges and obstacles. For each of these, write down an action plan, something concrete that you can do to support you with whatever the challenge or obstacle is.
Trying to change habits will trigger many defeating reactions and feelings (remember the two conflicting goals?). Expect to have reactions that aren’t aligned with your new habit goal. Expect to feel at times discouraged, angry, overwhelmed, tired, anxious, like you deserve to give-in or deserve a treat, and others.
Giving these reactions and feelings a voice through journaling (remember not to be self-deprecating!) allows them to resolve so you can return to being positive. Write in a way that honors and witnesses rather than negates or judges. If after writing you still struggle with reactions and feelings, journal about steps you can take to support you in staying on track in spite of them.
Meditate to build self-awareness, self-control, and persistence.
Adopting a new habit requires self-awareness to notice when we’re doing something other than what we want to be doing. It requires that we have the self-control needed to choose something other than what we do impulsively. It requires that we be persistent and return to choosing the new habit rather than what we did before.
Meditation is a practice that builds our ability to notice our reactions, exercise self-control, and make a different choice, and so is excellent for helping us with making habit changes. A meditation practice doesn’t have to be difficult or require a large investment in time. It does require consistency just like any other exercise program. Simply spending 5 to 10 minutes most days can help build these abilities.
Try taking 5 minutes most days just noticing your breath. Your mind will wander, and that’s perfect. Each time you notice your mind wandering, bring your awareness back to your breath. This noticing and bringing your awareness back to your focus is exactly the exercise. It allows you to practice noticing, practice staying focused, practice making a different choice from what you do impulsively.
Understanding and Building Willpower
Having willpower is incredibly important in making habit changes. It’s required to get us past our good intentions that will only carry us so far. Willpower enables us to navigate the two conflicting goals, and keep the scales tipped in the direction of our long-term goal.
Kelly McGonigal has written an incredibly helpful book called The Willpower Instinct, that not only outlines the science of willpower, but also provides a workbook approach to building your “willpower muscle.”
Some helpful highlights from her book include that willpower is like a muscle that we can strengthen. It isn’t something we either have or don’t. You can get strong enough to make lasting habit changes!
Willpower encompasses our ability to know and remember what it is we want, notice impulses, control them, and make a different choice. All of this work requires physical energy.
As you pursue your habit change, make sure you have the physical energy it requires.
There are certain states to avoid since they will make it harder for you to make changes, such as being hungry, sleep-deprived, intoxicated, distracted, or overly stressed. As you adopt or change a habit, make sure you eat well to keep your blood sugar balanced, get plenty of sleep, manage distractions, and manage stress.
Stress relieving strategies that really work (that help us have more willpower) include exercising, playing sports, praying, meditating, reading, listening to music, social time with family or friends, massage, walking (especially in nature), yoga, and time on creative work.
Many of the things we do when we’re stressed, such as shopping, internet time, gambling, smoking, and drinking, don’t actually relieve stress. This is because they don’t switch the body out of stress response and into relaxation, even though they do trigger a dopamine response.
In addition to physical challenges to willpower, there are psychological challenges. In her book, McGonigal covers that science behind how progress can undermine our motivation to stay the course, how feeling optimistic or good about our progress can undermine making good choices. Pay attention to your thinking and self-talk when you want to give yourself a treat or a break, and make a choice towards your new habit instead.
The last word goes to Knowing and Remembering What You Want.
We try to change habits because we want something better for ourselves. However, it can be difficult to remember what we want when the scales tip towards maintaining the status quo, instant gratification, and giving up because it takes so much effort to make changes.
Begin your journey with defining your vision and continue on your journey staying connected to your vision. Spend time defining what your habit change will be and what will be different for you and in your life once you’ve made the change. Keep this vision in front of you until it feels like your new habit is in place. Keep your eye on the prize!
Heather Leavesley, MA – www.hlcounseling.com
By definition, habits are patterns of behavior that are acquired through frequent repetition.
In many instances, they are unconscious causing a person not to be fully aware that they are engaging in them. There are good and bad habits; one enhances, while the other can potentially interrupt a person’s life. It can go without saying that people have a deep desire to acquire good habits, so why are they so much harder to maintain than bad habits?
Well, the answer is easy, it is our outlook on the situation; making things appear more arduous than they actually are. If we change our outlook, then we change our habits.
Now, let’s change our frame of mind. Instead of thinking of good habits as something that we MUST do, rather view it as something you WANT to do.
It is as the Olympian, Jim Ryun said, “Motivation is what gets us started. Habit is what keeps us going.”
If something is viewed as a task, the less desirable it is.
Next, what goal do you have in mind? Is it manageable? One problem people run into is making their goals to cumbersome. It is good to be ambitious, but break down the larger goal into smaller, more attainable steps. This way, a routine is easier to be established, and habits formed.
As an automatic effect, once you start moving towards your goal, the bad habits become less present.
For example, you want to incorporate more self care into your busy schedule. One small step towards this goal would be to take five minutes everyday, and indulge in one of your favorite activities, such as listening to music, meditating, or walking. It is a small, yet effective, manageable step towards developing a good habit of self care. In this instance, the bad habit of no personal time was replaced with the good habit.
I can’t say it enough, but, as you start to advance in your steps towards your goal, always remember to keep them manageable.
This also consists of thinking of possible challenges that may arise. Going back to the self care example, you want to increase your self care time to 15 minutes a day, during your lunch break. Well, what if something comes up and you miss your lunch? What will you do?
Thinking of possible obstacles in advance will enable you to think of plausible solutions, and not be thrown off track.
With the self care scenario, one solution would have been to go back to the five minutes for that day, so no personal time would be missed. Whatever goal you set, you can do it!
Robin Ennis, LMSW, CPC – www.prominentpathways.org
Change is not as easy as it sounds.
We all want to change. We really, really want to change, even pray for change, but when we set out to make that change, we often get thrown off our goal.
The problem is that real change requires really changing. So, how do we replace a bad habit or build a good one if we can’t, or don’t know how, to actually change?
The most important thing to remember when we are trying to create a positive change is to set a clear intention.
That means we need to know what we want. Really know. Whether it be to lose five pounds or to make a million dollars, the strategy remains the same.
In order to create an actualized result you have to set a clear intention. The clearer your intention, the quicker is the manifestation. If you doubt your desire, it will surely be dubious in manifestation.
Realize that when you set a goal for yourself that it cannot be instantaneous.
Know that you will get dunked, you will wobble, you will not immediately succeed. If you know this going in, then you are more likely to succeed. If you expect to hear no, then you won’t be surprised when you do.
If you have been eating perfectly and haven’t lost a pound in three days, you’ll know to hang in there. Do not lose sight of your goal. In this way, if you become tempted by ice cream or wine, you can gently, lovingly steer yourself in the direction of what is in your highest and best interest based on what you know you truly want.
Old habits die hard.
Theses habits can be hardwired into us, by genetics, by physiology, by ancestry, or simply by repetitive thought. It takes time to change these patterns, because that’s what they are, patterns. And patterns are inherently a closed system. And, a pattern by definition is something that repeats.
So, in order to make the change we want, we must understand why we want to.
These reasons must be known through and through, from the inside out. We need to know this by heart. Otherwise it just won’t stick. Why do you want to lose weight? Write it down. Memorize it in your body.
Your list might say: I want to feel better. I want to look better in my clothes. I want to be healthy and live a vibrant life. If this intention is unclear you will not succeed.
You will slip gradually back to the old pattern and find yourself back where you started. This is hugely disappointing and worse, can make us lose faith in ourselves and our word.
There is a metaphysical principle that says, “Your word is law,” meaning what you say, is what it is. This is critical to understand for real change. You must take yourself seriously. For your Self surely knows if you do, or do not.
Diana Lang, Counselor and Author of Opening to Meditation – www.dianalang.com