10 Scientifically-Proven Ways to Make New Habits Stick
Whether we’re trying to get healthier, discovering a new side of ourselves, or simply trying to kick an old way of being, making and living by new habits is a difficult process. Forming new habits take a lot of work, especially the big life-altering ones.
There are competing sources that say exactly how long it takes to make a habit stick, but the consensus is that it’s at least a month of consistent work (but can easily take several). However, this doesn’t mean that forming every new habit in your life needs to be a completely grueling experience. In fact, once you make a game plan for yourself, forming new positive, healthy habits in your life can actually be fun.
These 10 science-backed steps will help you make new habits stick and help you understand why they didn’t in the past!
1. Understand Your “Why”
First of all, you must do a little soul-searching and understand why you want to form a new habit. As you probably already know, forming a new habit generally isn’t as simple as “I want to start running every day”, or “I want to start waking up at 5 am every single morning.”
Instead of trying to hit the ground running without any backstory, figure out your Motus Operandi for forming a new habit. If you want to run every single day, ask yourself why. Is it something you want to do for the good of your body? Is it so you can keep up with your kids? Or is it so you can finally crush a marathon?
Once you’ve figured out your “why”, write it down and stick it on your fridge or mirror. Seeing it every single day will be a huge leg-up in keeping your eye on the prize.
2. Get to Know Why Your Habit Didn’t Stick Before
Anyone who has been in the habit-making game for a while knows that there are a whole plethora of mental and physical challenges that can get in the way of forming a habit that sticks. If this is the case with your specific habit, ask yourself (or get an opinion of someone else) why you weren’t able to maintain the habit before.
Sticking with the example of running every single day, did you try this before and find that you got tired by the end of the week? Did you set goals that were too lofty for your ability? Was the mental hurdle too much to take? Or could you simply not find the time to accomplish this every day?
Hone in on why your habit didn’t previously come to fruition, and keep in mind your personality, triggers, and limiting beliefs while you do so. Then, either modify your habit or find a new way to fulfill your goals.
3. Start Simple
As mentioned briefly above, it’s important that you don’t try to completely give your life an overhaul in one day. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day! If you take on too much at once, it’s easy to start feeling unmotivated, swamped, and all-around pessimistic about meeting your goals.
For starters, just commit to a simple 5-minute run every day, or even three times a week. Then, once you form that habit over a month or so, add on some more time.
Always be kind to yourself when just starting out, and remember to take it nice and slow.
4. Identify Related Habits
According to research from Oxford University, one of the best ways to keep up a new habit is to layer that habit and understand how that habit can be linked to other habits. And further, try to change your life in a way that clumps together more than one habit.
For example, if you want to start running every day, then identify what exactly will keep you from reaching that goal. Then, lump another habit around the habit of running every day that could help circumvent the reasons you might not succeed.
Another habit could be that as soon as you get home from work, change into running clothes. Or, instead of taking your dog for a walk (something you have to do anyway), take him for a run.
5. Reduce Your Activation Energy
According to Shawn Achor, the author of The Happiness Advantage, a phenomenon called “Activation Energy” is key in making or breaking a new habit. Activation energy is essentially the time and effort it takes to start a task. According to Shawn, if you reduce the time it takes to start a new task (or form a new habit) the higher chance you have of actually achieving your goal and starting that activity.
With the running example, this can be accomplished by putting your workout clothes on just as you’re leaving work, or keeping your running shoes by the front door or treadmill instead of stashed away in a closet.
Do anything you can to decrease the time it takes to start your new habit.
6. Track Your Habits
Once you start progressing with your new habit, keep a log of how long you do it for, how that activity makes you feel, and anything else pertinent to the activity. This will help you see results, understand what you can change or switch up, and keep you motivated to keep going.
However, it’s important to note that depending on what habit you want to maintain, tracking too closely can actually be detrimental. For example, researchers warn that tracking calories can easily translate into a feeling of “scarcity” and have adverse effects. Keep in mind your personality and history regarding the new habit, and keep your feelings front of mind while doing so.
7. Have a Support System
Going at things alone can make the best of us feel a little shaky when forming a new habit. In order to stay motivated and inspired, try getting a buddy who is just as committed to the activity as you are.
You can do the activity together, learn more about it from one another, and even lean on each other for support if you feel like you might slip up or fall off the wagon.
8. Develop a Routine
When forming a new habit, what you’re really doing is adding something new to your routine, and to help you succeed, science suggests that you should form a routine around your, um, new routine.
For example, if your goal is to wake up every single morning at 5 am, then try forming a routine the night before. Make sure you do enough activities during the day to feel tired at night, and then go to bed early enough so that you get a full night’s rest. Make this part of your day and incorporate little rituals that will signal to your brain it’s time for bed.
Speaking of which, if you’re keen on getting a better night’s sleep, then check out our 10 Easy & Effective Ways to Get a Better Night’s Sleep!
9. Understand and Meet Your Needs
So often when we try and form new habits, we (whether we realize it or not) lose a comfort that was feeding a need. For example, when people stress eat or emotionally eat, they’re usually trying to fulfill a need within themselves. Then, when they take away their comfort food and replace it with other foods, they’re left feeling emotionally raw and stressed out.
In order to succeed at forming a new habit, you need to understand what needs your past actions were helping to sustain. Then, create an action plan for how you’re willing to replace these lost needs. When trying to eat healthily, meeting with a nutritionist, counselor, or finding the root cause of your emotions or stress are all great ways to deal with the loss of comfort food.
10. Be Aware of Your Focus
As with most things, if you want to succeed, then you need to keep your thoughts in check. When forming a new habit, keep your focus on the right things, cut out the negative self-talk, and try to understand any limiting beliefs you have around yourself or your activity.
If your goal is to run every day, then instead of thinking about how hard it’ll be to get out there, think about how good your body will feel after you’re done running. Think about all the good things that’ll come from doing the activity, instead of all the reasons why you think you’ll fail.
That’s it for our ten ways to help you stick to a new habit! Whether you want to get healthier or learn a new skill, this information will keep you on track with your goals. Let us know your thoughts and questions in the comments!