How to Form a New Habit (in 8 Easy Steps)
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Tired of setting goals and not achieving them?
The trick is to chip away at your goal in small, incremental steps.
In other words, when you know how to form a new habit (related to your goal), then you can turn success into a series of daily actions.
Today’s post can help you get there.
We’ve taken the process of building habits and turned it into a simple eight-step process that you can immediately implement.
Let’s get to it…
(Side note: One great habit to build is to read and learn something new every day. A great tool to do this is to join over 1 million others and start your day with the latest news from Wall St. to Silicon Valley. This newsletter is a 5-minute read that's informative, witty and FREE!)
What You Will Learn
- Step 1: Focus on One New Habit
- Step 2: Form a new habit? Commit for a MINIMUM of 30 days.
- Step 3: Anchor Your New Habit to an Established Habit
- Step 4: Take Baby Steps
- Step 5: Make a Plan for Obstacles
- Step 6: Create Accountability for Your Habit
- Step 7: Reward Important Milestones
- Step 8: Build a New Identity
Step 1: Focus on One New Habit
If you want to know how to form a new habit the biggest topic you need to understand is ego depletion and how it holds you back.
Ego depletion is “a person’s diminished capacity to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and actions.”
It impacts our ability to form new habits because our supply of willpower is spread out among all the areas of our lives.
Because of this, it’s important to work on only one habit at a time. That way, your store of willpower can be channeled into completing that one habit, increasing the odds of success.
So the question is:
“What one new habit do you want to form?”
Identify it now and learn everything you can about how to do it right. Become an expert in this activity and do a deep dive on every content related to getting started.
For instance, one of my main habits is writing. This is something that I do every day, and I’m always working hard to get better at it on a daily basis.
The important point thing here is to identify a habit you can do all the time, something that will fit into your life and can be completed on a daily basis, even when you don’t feel like it.
Because of ego depletion, it’s important to work on only one habit at a time. That way, your store of willpower can be channeled into completing that one habit, increasing the odds of success.
Step 2: Form a new habit? Commit for a MINIMUM of 30 days.
Some people say it takes 21 days to build a habit, while others claim it takes up to 66 days. The truth is that the length of time really varies from person to person and habit to habit. You’ll find that some habits are easy to build while others require more effort. My advice is to commit to a specific habit for the next 30 days (or a month to keep it simple).
During this time, your entire life should be structured around carving out time every day to consistently do it.
Step 3: Anchor Your New Habit to an Established Habit
A habit shouldn’t be based upon motivation, fads, or temporary desire. Rather, it should be instilled in your life to the point it becomes habitual. This often means you do not need a sophisticated series of steps—just something you can commit to day in and day out… FOREVER.
A great example of this comes from B.J. Fogg and his “Tiny Habits” concept. What you want to do is to commit to a very small habit change and take baby steps as you build on it. An important aspect of his teaching is to “anchor” the new habit to something you already do on a daily basis.
- “After I get to my car from work, I will change into my workout clothes and walk for 10 minutes.”
- “After brushing my teeth at night, I will write down everything that I ate for the day.”
- “After I drop off the kids at the babysitter, I will stop by the gym for my yoga class.”
You get the idea. Simply find a habit you already consistently do and then anchor it with new behavior.
Step 4: Take Baby Steps
The danger of relying on motivation alone to form a new habit is that you don’t have a backup plan for when you’re not in the mood. Really, the only way to make a habit stick is to turn it into automatic behavior. You can do this by taking baby steps and creating a low level of commitment.
The idea here is to create a micro-commitment where it’s impossible to fail. It’s more important to stay consistent and not miss a day than it is to hit a specific milestone. What you’ll find is that when you have a low level of commitment, you’ll be more likely to get started.
Examples of zeroing in on a micro-commitment include:
- Walking for just 5 minutes a day.
- Writing one paragraph of your book.
- Eating one serving of vegetables each day.
- Making one sales call to a prospective customer.
- Waking up each morning 10 minutes earlier.
The key to habit developing is to make micro-commitments and focus on small wins. Create a micro-commitment where it’s impossible to fail.
Odds are, these activities seem overly simplistic.
And that’s why they are so powerful!
You want to commit to something so easy that it’s impossible to miss a day. Then, when you get started, you’ll often do more than you intended.
Step 5: Make a Plan for Obstacles
Every new habit will have obstacles. A large portion of the DGH site is dedicated to working your way through the stumbling blocks that get in the way of your success. When you know in advance what your obstacles are, you can take preventative action to overcome them.
Examples of common obstacles:
Prepare and anticipate that these obstacles will come. Then, you won’t be blindsided by them. This goes back to the “If-Then Planning” we discussed. Some examples of these powerful “If-Then” statements include:
- “If I check the weather and it’s raining, then I will work out at the gym instead.”
- “If I don’t have time for my project at the end of the day, I will start to wake up 30 minutes and work on it before anything else.”
- “If I have a really bad day at work and don’t feel like working out, I will still walk briskly for at least 15 minutes.”
Step 6: Create Accountability for Your Habit
Track your efforts and make public declarations about your new habit. According to the lessons learned from the Hawthorne effect, you’re more likely to follow through with a commitment when you’re being observed by others. To stick with this new routine, you should let others know about your efforts and goals.
Post updates on social media accounts, use apps like Chains and Coach.me to track your progress, work with an accountability partner, or post regular updates to an online community related to the habit. Do whatever it takes to get reinforcement from others in support of your new routine.
Never underestimate the power of social approval. Simply knowing you will be held accountable for your habit keeps you focused and consistent.
Step 7: Reward Important Milestones
A new habit doesn’t have to be boring. Focus on building a reward system into the process so you can take time to celebrate the successful completion of your goals. The reward you pick is up to you, but it’s important to celebrate those big moments along the way.
Keep in mind, a reward doesn’t have to break the bank. You could check out a new movie, enjoy a night out with your significant other, or simply do something you love.
We tend to underestimate the importance of having “fun” while building habits. Often, though, having a clear reward for regularly completing an action will help you to stick to the new routine.
Focus on building a reward system into the process so you can take time to celebrate the successful completion of your goals.
Step 8: Build a New Identity
Repeating a habit on a daily basis will only get you so far. You can do a lot by committing to a small action, doing it every day, increasing the effort over time and overcoming obstacles.
But at some point, you need to go from simply doing it every day to making it a part of your core identity. Only then will you stick to it without the constant need for reinforcement.
James Clear often talks about something he calls Identity-Based Habits. The idea here is that you can build a lasting habit by making it a reflection of who you are on the inside. Simply put, you need to believe the habit is part of what makes YOU a unique person.
He emphasizes the fact that most goals (and habits) are centered on a specific outcome (like generating a specific level of income or winning industry-specific accolades).
It’s better to decide that the habit is simply part of your identity and then use each “small win” as a way to demonstrate that it’s who you are on the inside.
Really, it starts with a shift of mindset.
With a new habit, reinforce this behavior by saying things like: “I’m the type of person who regularly enjoys the ___ type of exercise.”
Then, follow through by doing it on a daily basis.
Eventually, your internal identity will match this daily routine.
As you can see, it’s not that hard to form a new habit. The secret is to relate to an important goal, make a commitment to work at it on a daily basis and use a series of micro-commitments to increase the likelihood of success.
Now it’s your turn. What has been your experience with building habits in the past? Did you encounter any specific challenges or obstacles?
Comment in the below box and let me know what you think!
Finally, one great habit to build is to read and learn something new every day. A great tool to do this is to join over 1 million others and start your day with the latest news from Wall St. to Silicon Valley. This newsletter is a 5-minute read that's informative, witty and FREE.