What is a habit and how to start a new habit?
This article will guide you through the 5 steps that it takes to build good and healthy habits that last.
Habits are our brain’s powerful way of increasing its efficiency. Turning daily actions and behaviors into habits frees up our brainpower for more important challenges. They are our autopilot system to manage life easier.
The wonderful thing about habits is that we don’t have to consciously decide whether we are performing it or not. Once built and established, we no longer forget about our habits and routines; they become part of our everyday life. We don’t even need to find the motivation and discipline every time, because the actions take place automatically and are triggered subconsciously.
The habit or routine ideally becomes part of a subconscious process that we have consciously integrated into our lives.
How long does it take to build a habit?
The short answer: It depends.
The European Journal of Social Psychology published a study that states, it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit.
The study also concluded that, on average, it takes 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.
The question „How long does it take to build a habit“ contains so many variables that it’s impossible to establish a one-size-fits-all answer. For example, certain habits take longer to build. As demonstrated in the study, many participants found it easier to adopt the habit of drinking a glass of water at breakfast than do 50 situps after morning coffee.
The goal is always that the new habit becomes part of your life and that you don’t need to find the motivation to perform it. The stronger your „Why“ (Why do I want to build this habit) the higher your motivation and the easier it will become to build it.
The Habit Loop (Infographic – Example)
Create a new habit: Step 1 – How to pick the right habit
We are not trying to build new habits for the sake of accumulating countless habits in our lives. There’s usually some goal or desired outcome behind every habit. So the habit itself is just a vehicle that’s helping us accomplish our desired outcome.
To sustainably integrate a new habit into our everyday life, we should therefore think carefully beforehand about why we want to build it. Because this “why” is the key motivation to integrate the routine permanently into our life. Try to become aware of your personal “Why”.
We are exercising regularly not for the sake of the exercise but to feel better and to get in shape. We are trying to eat healthier not for the sake of eating healthy but to lose weight and to become healthier. To build a habit that lasts we need to know why we want to build this habit, what we want to accomplish with it, and if it suits our personality and desired lifestyle.
Picking the right habit is the first one of the most important steps on our road to self-improvement. The right habit means it suits our personality and skills. Choosing to build a certain habit because everyone tells you to build it or simply because everyone does it increases the chances that you won’t stick with it.
Pick the right habit (that matches your personality and skills) and progress will be easy. You are more likely to be successful and stick with the habit. Pick the wrong habit and life will be a struggle and you’ll probably quit soon.
Ideally, you’ll choose a habit that best suits you and your goals. Maybe you already have a certain routine in mind (e.g. making running a habit to lose weight), but you realize that you never liked running. Step back in this case and try to come up with another habit that will also serve your goal (losing weight) but in a more fun way. Instead of running you could ride a bike or go for a swim.
The motivation to apply whatever you want has to come from within and not from external influences. The more you enjoy your new habit the easier it will come to you and the bigger your chance to succeed.
Try to focus on just one habit at a time. Where the focus goes, the energy flows. Once you mastered one habit you can concentrate on the next and taking the next step to master a skill.
The exercise in this Habit-Building Toolkit will help you to pick the perfect habit to accomplish your goals.
How To Build Healthy Habits – Step 2 – The Implementation Plan
Taking action and performing our new habits is what delivers the actual outcome. That’s why we should aim to put everything in place to gain momentum and make performing our habit as easy as possible.
By creating an implementation plan we increase the chances that our habit sticks. Think about the best time, location, and trigger that will help you along the way to create lasting habits.
Many people plan to implement changes in their lives without planning when and how exactly they plan to do that. They tell themselves „I’m going to exercise more“, „I’m going to meditate regularly “, or „I’m going to eat healthier in the future“, but they leave it up to chance when these habits will happen.
Instead of creating an implementation plan they just hope to feel inspired and motivated at the right time or to remember about it while going through their day.
Various studies have shown that writing down and planning our intentions are effective for sticking to our goals. Create a specific plan when, where, and how you will perform your new habit.
Once you’ve created your implementation plan you don’t have to wait for motivation to strike. You don’t have to decide whether or when to perform your habit. You simply follow your plan. The exercise included here will guide you on how to build the perfect plan for your personal situation.
Tip: Strong Resilience will help you to deal with setbacks and roadblocks. This article contains 13 tips and exercises that will help you build and train the resilience you’ll need.
Building Healthy Habits – Step 3 – Make it Easy and Satisfying
Our behavior and actions usually follow the law of least effort. We will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work. This means we should try to make our new habit as easy as possible to perform. Try to reduce all possible friction points that could get in your way.
Another fact is that we are more likely to repeat a behavior when our experience is rewarding and satisfying. So you should also try to make our new habit as satisfying as possible. Think of small rewards for yourself whenever you performed your new habit.
Also, try to prepare and design the environment where your habit takes place. Various triggers in your environment increase the chances that you perform your habit.
All these small details combined are a great way to make our new habit the path of least resistance. This tool will help you identify how to make your new habit as easy and satisfying as possible. You will reduce all possible friction points in this exercise.
How to Build Good Habits – Step 4 – Use a Habit Tracker
What gets measured gets done!
A habit tracker is the easiest way to measure whether you did a habit or not. The most basic format of a habit tracker is a paper where you write down the habit you want to build (or break). Add 30 columns (for one month) and cross off each day you stick with your new habit.
You could also use software tools like CleverMemo to record your progress in a more detailed way. This allows you to track what’s working and what doesn’t and to adjust your plans.
A beautifully designed habit tracker in PDF form is included in the “Break Bad Habits and Build Good Ones Toolkit“.
How to Start a New Habit – Step 5 – Regular Review – The Key For Change That Lasts
When we first define our new habits, we’re all excited about them. We imagine ourselves doing them regularly and achieving the success we want. We initially planned everything to make our new habits stick.
We decided where we want to perform our habits, for how long, how often, and even defined some triggers that will help us remember to take action.
Unfortunately building new habits is not a one-time set it and forget it task. We have to make it a habit itself to constantly review and reevaluate our plans and actions.
This constant review has several benefits:
- You know and see your progress (What gets measured gets done)
- You ensure you’re moving in the right direction
- You reengage with your goals (Do I still want this or do I have to make adjustments?)
- You constantly improve your strategy and action plan
- You stay motivated and keep your momentum
The “Habit Building Toolkit” contains a Review Form that will help you evaluate your actions, progress, thoughts, and feelings about your new habit. Review your new habit every two weeks and find out if you should make adjustments and if the habit is still in line with your bigger goal.
Wrap up: How to build habits – Building healthy habits in 5 steps
We hope these 5 steps will help you along the way to build new and healthy habits. Ensure you have a strong “Why“ (purpose or goal) to have the lasting motivation that is necessary to build habits that stick. This Toolkit will be an additional help on your way to success: