Did you know that habits account for about 40% of our behaviors every day? Yep it’s true.
Activities like brushing your teeth before bed and washing your hands after you use the bathroom are habits, whether you think them to be or not.
These habits were taught to you, most likely, when you were young. Your parents would remind you every night before bed to brush your teeth and eventually you did it without the reminder because it became a habit attached to going to bed.
Understanding how to build a new habit (and how your current ones work) is essential for making progress in your health, your happiness, and can help you on your personal development journey.
I have created this guide to help you learn how to build a new habit in any area of your life.
So let’s get started forming new habits so you can use them to reach your goals.
Want a PDF download of this post for $1, click here!
What Are Habits?
Before we go any further, let’s define what a habit actually is.
Habits are the small decisions you make and actions you perform every day.
Your life today is basically the sum of your habits. How healthy you are, how happy or unhappy you are, how in shape or out of shape you are, and how successful or unsuccessful you are. All of these are a result of your habits.
When you repeatedly do something it forms who you are, what you believe, and the personalities you develop. Anything you want to improve in your life, or any goals you want to achieve, start with building better habits.
“When you learn to transform your habits, you can transform your life.” – James Clear (Author of “Atomic Habits“)
The 8 Steps to Build New Habits
1. Focus on just ONE New Habit
When you’re trying to make a change in your life, like starting a new habit, it can be overwhelming to your brain. Your brain hates change.
So the best way to go about making a change in your life is to implement one habit at a time so it’s not too overwhelming.
Work on building your self-discipline in just this one habit.
Most people who try to add to many new things to their life at once, won’t succeed at any of them because their brain becomes too overwhelmed.
Just take it easy.
2. Commit to the New Habit for at least 30 Days
Some people will say it takes 21 days to build a habit. Others will say it can take up to 66 days.
Well sorry to break it to you, but the length of time it takes to build a habit will vary from person to person and habit to habit.
You will find that some habits may be easy to build why others require a lot more effort.
Knowing this, I would suggest you start with committing to a specific habit for 30 days (one month).
During these 30 days, your entire life should be structured around finding time every day to accomplish this habit.
3. Attach Your New Habit to an Already Established Habit
One of the best ways to start building a new habit is to attach it to a current habit you already do every day. This concept is known as Habit Stacking and was created by BJ Fogg, author of Tiny Habits.
The habit stacking formula goes like this “After I (current habit), I will (new habit).”
- After I pour my cup of coffee, I will meditate on the couch for 1 minute.
- After I finish eating dinner, I will clean up the kitchen.
- After I climb into bed, I will think of 5 things I am grateful for today.
You get the idea. Just find something you already do every day and anchor it with the new habit.
4. Start Small (The Two-Minute Rule)
When you get excited about making a change in your life, it can be easy to start too big. The most effective way to combat this tendency is to use the Two-Minute Rule.
The Two-Minute Rule in basic terms says, “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”
Here’s some examples:
- “Reading before bed” → “read one page”
- “Do a 30-minute workout” → “change into workout clothes”
- “Study for class” → “open my notes”
- “Run 3 miles” → “Tie my running shoes”
Basically, you want to make the new habit as easy as possible to start. The idea is that once you start doing the right thing, it is much easier to continue doing it.
If you put on your workout clothes, you might as well get a work out in while your at it.
Focus on the small wins while you build new habits.
5. Make a Plan for Obstacles
Every new habit will have obstacles that will get in your way. If you know in advance what your obstacles are, you can take action to make sure you are ready to overcome them when needed.
Some examples of common obstacles:
Prepare and anticipate that these obstacles will pop up.
One of the best ways to do this is by doing “If-Then Planning”. So if an obstacle comes up, you know what to do instead.
- “If it’s raining, then I will workout inside instead.”
- “If I run out of time for my project at the end of the day, then I will start waking up 30 minutes earlier to work on it.”
- “If I’m tired and don’t feel like working out, then I will just go on a short walk around the block.”
6. Create Accountability
According to the Hawthorne Effect, you’re more likely to follow through with a goal or new habit if you are being observed by others. Because of this, it’s a good idea to create some sort of accountability.
Often the most effective way is to get an accountability partner. Tell someone that you are working on a new commitment and ask them to check-in. An accountability partner can be a co-worker, friend, significant other, parent, etc. Just make sure that whoever you pick will actually keep you accountable or it won’t actually help you.
Another way you can create accountability is by using a habit tracker. Print out this habit tracker I created below and tape it up somewhere you’ll see it every day as a reminder to stick to your habits. The simple act of checking something off can create great motivation to stick to it.
7. Use Reinforcements and Reward Yourself
Your new habit doesn’t have to be boring, in fact, we are more likely to repeat the new behavior if we enjoy it. That’s why rewarding yourself is an important part of habit building.
James Clear in his book “Atomic Habits” calls this using reinforcements. It “refers to the process of using an immediate reward to increase the rate of the behavior.”
Find a reward that you can link to your new habit, that way you’ll actually look forward to completing the habit.
A reinforcement, or reward, that I use is coffee. If I don’t hit the snooze button and get up right away I’m allowed to make a delicious cup of coffee using my french press. So immediately after I shut my alarm off and get up without hitting snooze (the habit) I go to the kitchen and start boiling water for my coffee.
This small reward reinforces my want to complete the habit every day.
8. Never Miss Twice
My last tip for you to help you build new habits, is to never miss twice. Life will get in the way sometimes. You might feel sick one day or have a full day of travel another day, and forget to complete your habit. But don’t let that get you down, get back on track as fast as you can.
The most successful people make mistakes and get off track just like everyone else. But the difference is that they get back on track towards their goals as quickly as possible.
You don’t need to be perfect to build a habit, just make sure you stay consistent. Never let your habit tracker show two empty days in a row.
Build Your New Identity
You can only get so far when repeating a daily habit. You can do a lot by starting small and committing to the habit for 30 days while slowly increasing the effort over time.
But at some point, it has to go from doing it every day to being apart of your core identity. Only then will you be able to stick to the habit without needing reinforcements or accountability.
The best way to build a lasting habit is by making it reflect who you are on the inside. Basically, you need to believe that the habit you are forming is a part of what makes you a unique person.
This is a big topic in James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits“, he calls this Identity-Based Habits. And he emphasizes the fact that most goals and habits are centered on a specific outcome.
Because of this, it’s better to decide that the habit is already a part of your identity and that each “small win” is a demonstration of who you really are.
This all starts with a shift in your mindset.
James uses the example that you shouldn’t say “I’m trying to quit smoking” or “I’m not a morning person” but instead say something like “I’m not a smoker” or “I am the type of person that gets up early every morning”.
Saying these things to yourself reinforce the new behavior that you are trying to build.
Try saying these types of reinforcements every day and then follow it by doing that habit and eventually, your identity will match your daily routine.
Final Thoughts on How to Build New Habits
So really, after all that, forming a new habit doesn’t have to be that hard. The secret is to relate the new habit to an important goal and reinforce it with your new identity. Make a commitment to work on your new identity every day with a daily habit and you’ll be on your way to a live full of success.
Not sure what new habits you want to start building? Check out this blog post for 29 New Habits to Start this Year.
What new habit are you working on this year? And what challenges have you faced? Let me know in the comments!
And before you go, don’t forget to grab your free habit tracker.
Pin it so more people can enjoy ?
Want a PDF download of this post for $1, click here!