Having a goal without a plan is useless. And often the reason for failure.
As you’re here reading this post, I’m assuming you have certain goals for yourself that you like to achieve.
Even though setting goals is a quite common practice, most people fail to achieve them.
You can reach your goal or achievement with time, consistency and effort. You need a process or a system to guide you.
This is where habits come in. “A habit is a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly, often subconsciously.”
You can create habits for yourself that will make you put in the time, consistency and effort to reach your goals.
In this post, I will explain 5 tips for creating new habits but first, let’s have a look at how habits are formed.
How habits are formed
There is a pretty simple formula that explains how a habit pattern works. According to research, a habit has three parts:
- The trigger or cue – the time, location, feeling or another stimulus that triggers your habit
- The routine – the habit itself, the action
- The reward – the benefit or satisfaction you get from this habit
There’s a trigger or cue that brings up a craving > This motivates the action or the routine > provides a reward that satisfies your craving.
After a few times, the reward gets associated with the trigger, which creates a loop.
This habit pattern works the same for both good and bad habits. Every time you repeat this pattern, it becomes more ingrained in your brain. Eventually, this is how to create habits.
Usually, bad habits are easier to form because the reward is immediately satisfying. But the satisfaction is often only temporary.
Good or useful habits are hard to create because of the opposite. You might not see an immediate satisfaction but you will in the long run.
Not receiving a reward right away makes it challenging to stick to and create good habits. See tip 5 below on how to deal with this.
5 tips for creating new habits
1. Have identity-based habits
This is a favorite of mine and I first heard it in a podcast with James Clear, before I read his book.
People often set a habit or goal with a focus on what to achieve. While this is not necessarily bad, it leads to outcome-based habits.
For example: I want to lose 20 pounds by eating fewer snacks.
A more effective way of achieving results is to focus on what kind of person you want to become – identity-based habits.
By changing your mindset, beliefs and assumptions you can change yourself from the inside out. If you start believing new things about yourself, you’ll make it easier to change your behavior for good.
I’ve explained this in another post about self-love affirmations too. If you tell your brain something over and over again, it will start believing and acting as if it’s true. This is because your brain doesn’t always see the difference between reality and imagination.
For the previous example, an identity-based habit would be: “I’m the type of person who doesn’t eat snacks.”
Another example: If you want to become a better pianist, you could think of yourself as: “I’m the type of person who plays the piano for an hour each day.”
Then you come up with small actions to start working towards becoming that person. For example, play 10 minutes on the piano each day this week.
Starting small brings me to the next tip.
2. Improve 1% every day
Small actions can lead to enormous results – if you do them consistently.
Creating a 100% good habit right away can be difficult. It’s also not really motivating when you can’t stick to your habit.
That’s why I suggest starting small and improve yourself by 1% every day. Your start action should be so simple that you will definitely able to commit to it. Then add on to that every day.
If you want to get in the habit of journaling, perhaps you start with writing 3 sentences each day. When you have created a habit of that, try adding a sentence each day.
Do a little bit each day. And then add a little bit each day.
Improving yourself 1% each day for a year – 1 x 1.01365 = 37.8 – means you can get almost 38 times better than your starting position!
An important note on the 1%-rule is that it also works the other way around: 1 x 0.99365 = 0.03. If you do 1% less each day you can eliminate bad habits – or be unable to build up a new, good habit.
James Clear explains in Atomic Habits that “breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change.”
3. Habit stacking
You are more likely to follow through on a new habit if you have a specific plan for performing it.
Going back to the habit formula, there are triggers to start your routine or habit. Time and location are two of the most common triggers. So set a time and location for your new habit.
For example, set which days you want to work out, at what time and where.
Most of us have some habits or routines in place already, for example, a morning routine. With habit stacking, you pair a new habit with an existing habit.
Let’s say you do 10 minutes of yoga every morning and want to start meditating too. You could set that “after my morning yoga, I will meditate for 5 minutes.”
Habit stacking forms a connection with an existing habit, making it easier to remember to do it and follow through.
You can use this technique also for small habits and link it to daily actions. My own example is that when I want a cup of tea, while I wait for the water cooker, I clear out the dish rack. As a result, the kitchen is more organized and it’s easier to do a new load of dishes later on.
4. Make it easy
I’ve used this as advice for doing chores, see my post on quick ways to keeping your house clean. Make things as easy as possible for yourself, to prevent procrastination or not doing it at all.
Start a new habit by taking baby steps and make it easy to take action. The first 2 minutes of a new habit should be easy, so there is no big obstacle to overcome before you start.
“A new habit should not feel like a challenge. The actions that follow can be challenging, but the first 2 minutes should be easy. What you want is a gateway habit that naturally leads you down a more productive path.” (Quote from Atomic Habits by James Clear).
Similarly, for bad habits you should make it as hard as possible for yourself to get started. Want to eat less cookies? Don’t buy cookies anymore, so you can’t just grab them when you get the craving.
5. Track your habits
Like mentioned before, bad habits are often easier to form because the reward is immediately satisfying. With good habits, you might not see results right away. This makes it harder to create a good habit.
A tip to receive immediate satisfaction anyway is to visibly track your progress.
An easy but effective way is to mark off on a calendar each time you stuck to your habit. That way you’re seeing progress and that you’re moving forward. It will motivate you to continue your path.
One of my favorite quotes from Atomic Habits is: “Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit. This is a distinguishing feature between winners and losers. Anyone can have a bad performance, a bad workout, or a bad day at work. But when successful people fail, they rebound quickly.”
Never miss 2 days in a row, because that is the start of a new (negative) habit.
Let's get started with creating new habits
Creating the right habits will help you reach your goals.
After you have set your goals, think of the steps or actions you need to take to achieve that goal.
Turn these steps into habits for yourself. How to create habits? The 5 tips in this post will help you effectively form those habits:
- Have identity-based habits
- Improve 1% every day
- Stack your habits
- Make it easy
- Track your habits