How to build new habits

by Ali on February 19, 2008

“Motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going.” – Jim Rohn

There’s four stages in establishing a new habit:

  • The set up – where you make sure you’re putting everything into it
  • The early days – which are often deceptively easy
  • The long haul – where things get tough
  • The review – when you decide if you want to carry on

The set-up

Write down the habit which you want to establish, as clearly as you can, and put this as a statement of fact rather than “I want to” or “I will”. For example:

  • I go to the gym three times a week
  • I have five portions of fruit and vegetables each day
  • I always eat breakfast
  • I stop eating when I’m satisfied, not when I’m stuffed

Also write down when you’re going to review this habit. Sticking to it for a month is a good initial time period.

Make it as easy as possible to get this habit going. For example, if you’re going to have five portions of fruit and vegetables each day, fill the salad drawer at home and keep some fruit at work. Think about your evening meals and make sure you’re including at least two portions of vegetables. Swap one of your usual snacks for a piece of fruit or two.

The early days

You may well find that it’s easy to stick with your new habit in the first few days, or the first week or two. You make a real effort, and feel a glow of achievement in being so self-disciplined.

To help yourself out here, keep a record in your diary or on a calendar. It might seem a bit silly, but buy a pack of gold star stickers and put one on the calendar for each day you successfully stick to your new habit. Having a visual reminder of your success so far is a real motivation.

The long haul

There will be times when you don’t stick to your new habit. Perhaps you have a day out with friends, and all the fruit and veg you eat is the tomato and lettuce on a burger. Or perhaps you skip a gym session because work is unusually hectic, or you’ve come down with a cold.

The crucial thing to remember here is that a habit is long-term and relates to an overall trend. It doesn’t matter if you have an occasional day when things aren’t perfect – this is a habit, not a resolution that can be broken. Just make sure you’re back into your good habits as soon as possible after a slip-up.

The review

After a month (or whatever time period you chose), look at how you’re getting on. Can you now say that this is truly a habitual part of your life? Would it feel odd not to do it? If so, it’s worth sticking with!

If things haven’t gone so well – perhaps you’ve just about managed to keep going, but it’s been hard work and still feels like a struggle – consider whether this habit is the right one for you. Perhaps aiming to “exercise for an hour every day” just isn’t compatible with your lifestyle.

If your attempts have brought more guilt than satisfaction, revise the habit you were trying to establish: exercise for half an hour, three times a week, or get your five-a-day on weekdays. A less rigid habit you can maintain is better than a strict one that takes up a lot of your time and energy.

Get started

If you’re not sure where to begin, have a look at the article on What’re you taking up for Lent? and Just change one thing for some ideas.

Drop me an email (ali@theofficediet.com) to let me know what habit you’re starting, and when you’re going to review it – and I’ll email you in a few weeks to find out how you’re getting on. Good luck!

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