How to Begin a Habit that Actually Sticks

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The ancient philosopher Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” When you need to start a new habit, it can be difficult to hold to it. If you want to make your new habit really stick, follow these tips:

1. Use a trigger.
If you take something you already do and attach your desired habit to that, it makes it much more likely that you will stick with it. An activity you already do can be used to remind you to do your habit. Something along the lines of “before I eat breakfast, I will meditate for 5 minutes.” By doing this, it becomes easier to remember and keep up with the habit.

2. Start habits very small.
Just as compound interest adds up to much more than the sum of its parts, real change is the result of small things you do every day. Don’t try to change your whole life at once. Once you decide what you want your habit to be, figure out what the smallest way you can do it is. You want an action that is so simple you have no excuse to not do it every day.

A perfect example is exercise. If you want to exercise regularly, promise yourself you will do some form of exercise every day. Any form of exercise. It can be as simple as a single pushup or as big as a 6-mile run. The important thing is that you do it every day. The big changes will happen as long as you keep doing the little ones.

3. Keep a larger goal in mind.
Keep your immediate goals small, but remember to dream big for the future. Decide on your ultimate larger goal, and then develop a plan with smaller steps to get there. Make bigger goals a reality by doing a minimal amount of work each day to achieve them.

By establishing your larger goal, you’ll have something set in mind while working every day on small steps. For example, if your dream goal is to lose 50 pounds, start by jogging 10 minutes every day, followed by 30 minutes then followed by an hour every day.

4. Reward yourself.
Giving yourself a reward after doing your new habit is a great way to help yourself celebrate your victories. Making getting a reward a part of the routine makes the routine more enjoyable, and more likely to solidify into a true habit.

Reward yourself each time you practice your habit. This can be something as simple as telling yourself “Good job!”, “Victory!” or “That was a hard workout, and I did awesome.” A great way to make getting a reward mean even more is if you randomize it. Make a spinner with a list of rewards you can give yourself after completing your daily habit. The novelty of not knowing which reward you get can make the reinforcement much more effective.

5. Get back on track quickly.
It’s hard to be 100% when you’re building a habit. It’s alright to make mistakes, it’s how we learn about ourselves. Don’t think that keeping your new habit is an all-or-nothing endeavor. If you miss a day, get back on the horse quickly. This is also why making the habit easy, as in tip #3, is important.

On average, a new habit takes 30 days to develop, so don’t be discouraged if you struggle at first. Stay positive and focused on the goal, and your new habit will get easier and stickier.

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