How To Form A New Habit

Habits are incredibly important.

Your habits shape your life, more than anything else.

According to Wendy Wood, “people who we thought had high self-control to achieve great life outcomes instead are really good at forming the right habits.”

Because it’s a new year and I’m sure you’re setting big, Extraordinary Goals, I want to share how forming new habits can help set you up for success.

And by “habit” I’m referring to “actions that are triggered automatically in response to contextual cues that have been associated with their performance.” (This is the definition from the British Journal of General Practice.)

And we can get even more specific here with the elements of a habit.

What I love about Habit Expert (and Ohio native!), James Clear, is that he breaks down habit elements into four steps:

  1. Cue (the environment trigger that you encounter that motivates you to engage in the activity)
  2. Craving (the feeling or desire you have right before you engage in the activity)
  3. Response (the act of doing the habit—either an action or inaction)
  4. Reward System (what satisfies you after you engage in the activity

The cycle repeats and you’re in what’s called a “habit loop.”

Or said differently by Wendy Wood in Behavioral Scientist, “Habits are a learning mechanism. All we have to do is repeat something and get rewarded for it, and we’re learning a habit.”

Think about how when you get into a car you don’t have to think about how to drive, you just drive—this is because it’s a habit.

How To Form A New Habit

There are many theories and philosophies for how to build a habit and how long it takes to do it.

You may have heard it takes 21 days to form a new habit, or you may have even heard it takes on average 66 days to form a new habit (claimed by this 2009 study).

The truth: the time it takes to form a habit depends on the person and the actual habit.

For example, you may pick up flossing in a matter of two weeks without thinking twice about it, but not be able to get your workout routine to become a habit after three months of trying.

The reason it varies based on the person and habit is because our brains all have different neuropathways based on our past experiences.

What you can do to make your habit easier to stick is follow the steps outlined below.

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Step 1: Make It Simple

Step one is to make your habit simple.

Meaning, don’t overcomplicate it. Your brain doesn’t like complicated, so it will resist and avoid doing something it thinks is confusing.

Knowing this, what you can do is come up with simple steps for your new habit.

For example, maybe you want to start getting into shape. Instead of making up a really complex workout routine, make it simple: run two miles and stretch every day. This isn’t complicated. There’s no mystery or confusion. It’s very clear.

The simpler your habits, the better.

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Step 2: Make It Easy To Do

Step two is to make your habit easy to do.

This doesn’t mean it’s already a habit, but it does mean you “meet yourself where you are” as I like to say.

Going with the example of working out above, if you haven’t run in several years and running two miles doesn’t seem easy to you, meet yourself where you are and change the habit to running one mile and walking the second mile.

You can build on your habits once you’re in the habit of doing them. What you don’t want to do is set your habits too high and not do the action at all because it’s too big of a jump for your brain. This is what I’m often coaching on in Grow You as people mistakenly make it too big of a jump for their brains and find themselves unsure of why they’re failing when they really just need to break down the action more so it will stick.

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Step 3: Do It Every Day

Step three is to do your new habit every day.

The only way your brain will become really efficient at this new thing and turn it into a habit is by you doing it over and over repeatedly.

That is to say: stay consistent with your new habit.

The more you do the activity, the quicker it will become a subconscious habit.

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Step 4: Set Up Your Environment For Success

Step four is to set up your environment for success.

In the beginning of starting a new habit, you’ll likely find that it’s harder for you to do. This is because it’s not quite a habit yet. So, instead, you have to use willpower and your prefrontal cortex, which is slower and less efficient than where habits live.

Knowing this, you can help out your brain by setting up your environment for success.

For example, spend 15 minutes the night before going for your run to get all your workout clothes ready, your water bottle filled, and anything else you need to make sure you’ve set up your environment so it’s really easy for your brain to take action in the morning.

Step 5: Create Accountability

Step five is to create accountability.

You want to just be careful not to use an accountability partner who is a friend. Instead, you want to either use Self Accountability (and create a system of accountability with yourself) or create accountability with a coach, in a way where they help you hold yourself accountable to you. This way when the coach is gone, you’re able to follow through.

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Step 6: Stay Consistent

The last step is to stay consistent.

I heard someone say, “miss one, never two.” I think this strategy is brilliant. It’s okay to miss one, but not two. Expect imperfections (sometimes you’re going to miss—it’s part of the journey), but the key is not to miss multiple times in a row.

And when you miss one, ask yourself what happened and what you were thinking and feeling when it happened.

Don’t beat yourself up. Just be curious.

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A Final Note!

The steps above show you exactly how to form a new habit.

This is the process I recommend you use when you want to add good habits into your life.

Here are my other personal development blogs/podcasts that you’re going to love about habits:

Aside from the content above, I also recommend these habit books: