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How to Create Good Habits

Photo by Eduardo Izquierdo
Men's natures are alike; it is their habits that separate them. ~Confucius

Recently, a friend in my 30 Day Challenge group brought up a really interesting point. “Have you noticed” he asked, “that it’s far easier to remove something or limit something from your life than it is to add to it?”

It gave me pause. Every challenge I seemed to excel at had something to do with deprivation. I’d quit caffeine. I’d stopped eating gluten. My media fast was pretty successful as well, but what I’d had trouble with was reading something every day for myself.

I took it as a challenge. I have all sorts of good habits that I cultivated in my adult life: daily journaling, exercise, cooking. How did I add these to my life? And what lessons can I apply to creating a new good habit?

1. Decide that it’s important to you

This is a critical and important first step to creating a new habit in your life. You can’t just sort-of want to learn to play the guitar and expect to be strumming new songs a week later. You have to be committed.

When I first started journaling every morning, there were times I didn’t think I could do it. I woke up late, had other work to do or just really didn’t feel like putting pen to paper. I’d remind myself that I’d made a commitment to myself, that somewhere along the line I thought it was that important.

A good way to do this, especially if you’re a visual person, is to create a list of all the reasons you think it’s important to have this new habit in your life. Decorate it. Make it pretty. Now put it in a place where you’ll see it every day: your bathroom mirror, your car dashboard, on your refrigerator.

This will serve to remind you of your commitment regardless of the time, whether you’re challenged or not. After a while, you’ll internalize it and you won’t need to remind yourself.

After the first few months, it’s not even a question of whether I’m going to journal or if I have enough time. Those pages are written every morning.

2. Tell People

It might seem a little weird at first, or awkward. How do you bring up your decision to take up interpretive dance with your friends? Sometimes it’s easy and will come up naturally in a conversation. Perhaps you’re walking by the studio. Other times it’s not so smooth, but just come out and say it.

And keep telling people. The more you identify with your new habit, the more it becomes a part of you. Also, when you tell other people about your commitments, they become more difficult to wiggle out of. It keeps you accountable.

When I first started exercising, I was one of those people who talked about my workout every day. I was never the active type, so it felt weird, but after a little while it became part of who I was. Plus, my coworkers asked me every morning, “How was the gym?” so I felt like I had to go.

A bonus to all this talking about your new undertaking? You might inspire people to try something new as well. Or to join you in your endeavor.

3. Enlist Help

When you’re starting something new, it’s always good to have someone around you can ask for advice. I learned to knit from a knitwear designer; she could always answer questions I had about patterns I was working on.

Getting help doesn’t need to be from an actual face-to-face. Check out your library for books on your new habit. Maybe there are some instructional DVDs. And the Internet has blessed us with so many tools. Tools like forums for your subject matter and online videos. YouTube tutorials have saved me when I had knitting questions at ungodly hours of the night.

When it comes to learning or trying something new, we’re all going to struggle a bit at first, whether it’s with motivation or just developing the skillset. Don’t hold all those questions in. Ask someone. Find an answer.

One of the coolest parts about asking for help when it comes to learning something new is that it’s sort of burned into your brain afterward. It’s like the best way to get better at something is to run into a problem you have to solve.

4. Make it a Routine

As a person who is a big fan of spontaneity, take it from me, routine isn’t my favorite thing, but it’s not all bad either. It’s how habits are formed. Choose to do your new activity every day at the same time if possible.

For me, morning seems to be my best friend. I’ve heard it’s also when we humans have the most willpower, so it may work out for you as well. But some of us are night-owls and do our best in the wee hours.

Just find the time that works for you and stick with it. If you’ve carved out a time slot for something, you’re much more likely to do it than if you just aim to do it at some point in the day.

5. Stick with It

You can’t create a habit unless you keep doing it repeatedly over time. It’s the definition of a habit, right? Commit to doing your new activity for a certain length of time.

I’ve heard research shows it takes 21 days to make a habit. I don’t know if I think it’s completely accurate or not, but regardless, it’s something to shoot for. Personally, I’m a fan of the 30-day challenge.

Remember, you don’t have to do something every day. You could have a weekly hiking club you meet up with. But if that’s the case, make sure you allow yourself more time to develop the habit.

6. Be Kind to Yourself

Don’t get bummed out if something didn’t stick or your daily workout turned into a weekly thing. At least you tried, which is more than many people can say.

If it’s really important to you, keep trying. Although you’re giving yourself a time limit, it’s really your personal guideline that you can move as you desire.

I thought I was surely going to be a stand-up paddleboard guru after my first lesson. Turns out, the cons outweighed the pros for me. That’s OK; someone else will happily take my spot on the water.

We’re all fragile when we’re learning something new, even the best of us who seem to crave constructive criticism. Don’t be too hard on yourself and remember: There are loads of new things you can learn and try on this planet. You’ll probably never run out of chances.

It’s the end of the month, and I’ve used these lessons to spend at least ten minutes in stillness every day. I think next month I might start taking guitar lessons. Developing a new good habit isn’t such a tough thing after all.

* What habits would you like to integrate into your life? Share your thoughts with us in the comment below.

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About the author

Rebecca is a fierce optimist who believes in the power of making life happen. Magic and creativity are her latest pursuits, along with exploring her new home, Germany. Read her blog, follow her on Facebook and Twitter for her latest enthusiastic (and sometimes witty) remarks. Check out her new book, Change is Easy & Other Novel Concepts: Short Essays on Changing Your Life, One Step at a Time.

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12 thoughts on How to Create Good Habits

  1. I think the best part about the second point is that it forces you to save face. Most people care about what their friends think so having people not think you’re a quitter really gets you going. It’s a great motivator. :)

  2. I would LOVE to be able to keep my house tidier by committing to 30 minutes a day of cleaning. I know it is as simple as setting the timer for 30 minutes, but it’s hard to not do something else with those 30 minutes, like relax, spend time with my spouse, or work on my business.

  3. Hey rebecca,
    I regularly read your posts. And I like them.

    Most of people know about the points you discussed in this post. Yet it is difficult for most of us to make a good habit.

  4. Great post. Another great way to get into a habit, is to ease into it by starting very small, taking ridiculously small steps. Such as, instead of work out for 20 minutes a day, just start with 1 push up a day. Instead of trying to meditate 30 minutes a day, just start with counting your breath three times a day….

  5. Cecilia, I totally hear you about cleaning every day. I think Harry has a good idea with starting small. I just got into the groove of cleaning 20 minutes every weekday, but it started with more like 5 minutes :)

  6. ecka

    I liked your comment it is easier to subtract then add habits.
    Good tips – Good practical article.
    Thanks Rebecca

  7. Going to the gym on a regular basis was the hardest for me…but here’s how I did it! I changed my alarm on my phone to a brand new ring tone. Then for about half an hour I made it go off as many times as possible. Before it would go off, I would lay on my bed and relax, waiting for it. When I heard the sound I would jump out of bed and get excited to go to the gym and have a great day! I did this over and over again until the new alarm sound became an anchor for me. So now every time I hear the alarm in the morning I’ve reprogrammed myself to jump out of bed and get excited to go to the gym! And now I actually LOVE the gym, because it’s a habit!

  8. Thanks to ecka and Liton for your kind words about my article! Glad you liked them.

    Yes Vincent, it is so true that it’s about saving face! It’s funny what motivates us sometimes, but I say, take whatever gets you going and run with it!

  9. Habits are the foudation of life and changing the habits of a lifetime is not easy to accomplish. You offer some very sound advice. My favourite point, and the one I employ most often, is to tell people. I tell a trusted friend and they will not that they are welcome to challenge me, encourage and give me a stern reminder of my committment; whichever is necessary at any given time.

  10. Thanks for the kind words Carthage! Good support can really help you through most anything. Tamera, I read somewhere to do something like that to help get you up early, but you are really specific and walked me right through it. Thanks for that! I may have to employ that strategy to get me up and moving in the morning!

  11. One of my favorite quotes on habits is from Jim Rohn:

    “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”

    This was a great post! Being able to consciously decide that you want to create and form good habits is first and foremost. This will give you the motivation that will help you stay committed. Being able to set a routine and be committed is the beginning of establishing good habits. Personally, I also enjoy the mornings and I have a routine where I walk with my husband bright in early before we start the day. This is a great way to spend with your spouse or if you’re single, time for yourself.

  12. I’d like to learn the piano or take up knitting… but I’m not sure I’d be committed to the piano (haha).

    I seriously need to get busy on the eating healthier and exercising though oh and being your own boss is a bit hard too. Like this morning I was suppose to work, but I decided to give myself the day off… hmmm.

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