How to Effectively Create a New Habit

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We’re approaching the end of February quickly and I’m happy to say this year is shaping up far better than last year. I owe most of this to learning how to create new habits to achieve goals.

We’ve all tried the “muscle-through” approach; you know, where you use self-control to make yourself do something every day. And we can also all attest to how spectacularly that approach fails. Instead of just “trying really hard” this year, I decided to take the lazy approach: create habits that will do the work for me.

Here’s what I’ve learned from creating new habits for 2015.

Connect Hard Habits to Easy Ones

Possibly the best advice I can give is to connect hard habits to easy ones. I came across this by accident actually. I was trying to create a string of afternoon habits and decided I’d start with reading. Reading for me is an easy habit. I love doing it, I just never “find the time”. Since one of my goals this year was reading a certain number of books in different fields (business, theology, philosophy, web development), I started out my afternoon “string” of habits with this one.

But I hate working out. I think Jennifer Lawrence said it best:


So what to do? Getting in shape was one of my goals (like pretty much everyone), so I tacked on working out right after reading.

And it worked. Much to my daily amazement, working out takes almost no will-power now (roughly 3 months into the habit – I started in November). I simply read and then I work out. It’s a habit. I do one and then the other. And since I love reading, starting the habit string is never hard.

Bottom Line: Create a “string” of habits, starting with one you like the most, followed immediately by the one you dislike the most.

Failures are for Learning not Stopping

So not all of my habits have worked out great; some I’ve had to revise. For example, I started this year with a habit to do an hour’s worth of work first thing in the morning on my own projects before I start anything else. This was a bad idea. Not only do I wake up stressed trying to get this habit out of the way, but the first thing I want to do is check in on my emails and make sure everything’s on track.

failure is part of success

Of course I still need this habit of working on my projects, so what to do? Revise; revise; and revise some more. I tried a few different options in the morning and have decided that it just won’t work there. Instead, I’m switching this habit to the evening.

Bottom Line: Just because your first go at a goal doesn’t work, doesn’t mean you give up on the goal. It means you change the habit till you find something that works for you. (Just don’t forget to actually give the habit time to work. )

Be Honest with Yourself

Creating a habit isn’t something that will always fall right into place. It will take effort. In my experience, creating a habit takes about 1-2 weeks of self-control and will power. From then on, the will-power it takes will decrease until it becomes a solid habit at roughly 2-3 months.

And while it’s great if you have someone who can call you out, at the end of the day, the most important thing is being honest with yourself. If something isn’t working, be honest. If the problem is that you’re not working, be honest.honesty

This not only applies to the habit, but it applies to the goals that the habit is helping you achieve. Admit what you actually want when you set your goals; Don’t say your goal is getting in shape if your real goal is to lose weight. In the long run, this just sets you up for failure.

Bottom Line: Be honest if something isn’t working. Also, be honest if you’re the one not working. Finally, be honest about what you’re working towards.

Don’t Expect Immediate Results

Habits by definition are slow processes. Any major achievement accomplished is simply the firework at the end of a long determined string of habits. When we look around we see the end results everywhere – from the Sistine Chapel to Benedict Cumberbatch’s “sudden” acclaim. But what we’re not seeing is the grueling hours of work put in over years to achieve the result. To us, it seems “out of the blue” but to them it was simply the culmination of all their effort.

dont give up

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see some results. But before you go expecting them, take a look at when those results will usually happen. It can take up to 4 months for people to start noticing your body looking healthier (in shape). Don’t expect it in 2 weeks. Enjoy the small changes you’re seeing along the way.

Bottom Line: “Small daily improvements are the key to staggeringly long-term results” – with the key being long-term, not immediate.

Habits aren’t Always Perfect

Your habits will go through an evolution. Sometimes that means a longer more intense habit, but sometimes it means finding out that what you’re doing isn’t working. That’s ok! Don’t panic! You’ve already done the hard part of starting and cementing a habit, so don’t give it up now! Instead, begin tweaking your habit.

For example, let’s say you just aren’t seeing the results you want from your workout. It’s been a sufficient amount of time (see above “Don’t expect immediate results”) and it’s just not getting you where you want to go. Start by tweaking what you’re doing. Spending all your time on cardio? Add in weight lifting. Do you keep hurting yourself (ahem… me) get a professional to teach you how to do things correctly.

By the way, when you start creating habits, keep in mind that you don’t have to start with the end result. If you want to spend 3 hours writing every day, maybe start with 30 minutes and build up once your habit is firmly established.

Bottom Line: Habits aren’t about simply sticking with that one thing till the end of time. Build/Tweak it till it works!

motivation and habits

What habits are you doing this year? Share your tips in the comments below!


  • John says:

    This was a great post, and a great roundup of what works habit-wise. I really appreciate the tips you got from your own experience, too.

    (Sidenote: great formatting. Sorry. I just notice stuff like that).