10 Ways to Make Your New Habits Stick for Good

Senior Man Stretching After Run Sun

Have you ever struggled to change a habit? Do you realize there are many things that we do in our work and personal lives that are habits? These habits have both positive and negative impacts on our lives. I always wondered why we do what we do. In athletics habits are what made Micheal Phelps a multi-gold medal Olympic Champion even when his goggles fogged up. In business our habits are part of consumer and employee experiences. Habits play a very important role in establishing consistent experiences, especially in multi-location companies such as Starbucks.

There are several books lining my shelves about how to stay organized, but only one, "Getting Things Done" by David allen really discussed the psychology of the organization. "The Power of Habit: Why We do What We Do and How to Change" it by by Charles Duhigg is the first book I have read that discusses the neurophysiology and psychology of our habits.

Research has discovered that the basal ganglia is “central to recalling patterns and acting on them.” When we are establishing new habits our brains are working over-time, however as these patterns develop that portion of brain works less and less.

Author Charles Duhigg describes habits as a "Habit Loop". Each habit loop begins with a cue, followed by a routine that ends with a reward. Three steps to a habit, pretty simple? Yes and no, forming new habits or changing our habits has always seemed difficult to do because there actually a few more steps that are outside of the habit loop, but are still important.

New habits fall apart when life throws as a curve ball or when we hit an unanticipated situation. Thinking back to when I was competing in Biathlon, the hours of practice was establishing habits so that I would be quicker than my competition. I remember one race falling apart because one a part of my rifle fell off and I didn’t have a routine for this. The next race I had a plan because I knew this could happen again, so I was prepared.

1. Define the Routine You Want to Establish or Change

Completely new habits are very difficult to establish and it is going to take a lot of effort initially. Try changing an old one first. For example “Go for a 20 min walk every day instead of watching TV after work.” This is very clear. This is the middle portion of the habit loop.

2. Replace or Establish a Cue

What is your cue to go watch TV? Your body also needs a cue to remind you to go for a walk. What cue do you use now to go watch TV? Perhaps changing out of your work clothes into walking clothes and shoes could be your cue. Figuring out what your cue is very important.

3. Define the Reward

Figuring out the reward is sometimes difficult and not always obvious take a few days or a week to write down the reward at the end of this routine. What reward do you get fro watching TV? Maybe the reward is relaxation or a time to yourself. You can still get this by going outside for 20 min and walking around your neighbourhood.

4. Replace the routine

Now that you have a cue replace watching TV with going for a 20 minute walk. That is now your new routine.

Making the Habit Loop Stick

Now that we have a new habit loop, how can make this more established?

5. Planning for Interruptions and Stress

Interruptions and stress will occur; it is during these times that our habits falter. Try to figure out EVERYTHING that could prevent you from carrying out this habit then plan strategies and actions steps that will keep you on track. Play the “If … then ..what ” game because there will be times when other commitments might get in the way or the weather might not be pleasant. So, going for your walk on those days might seem difficult. However, having a strategy to get around these interruptions will help you. For instance if there is an after work commitment that you are aware of plan t go at lunch or before work during these days. Watch the weather channel for the five day forecast so that you can plan what you are going to wear. Having the right clothing will make your walks more pleasant.

6. Get Social Support

Find people who really support the change you are making. This could even be once a week walking group. Get involved in a community of people who encourage you. This is one reason that Alcoholics Anonymous works and why each participant has their own sponsor. You even become accountable to each other.

7. Believe in Yourself and the Routine

Simply put you need to believe that you can establish the habit and believe in yourself. The habit also has to have a very deep intrinsic value to you. Ask yourself what this new habit means to you.

8. Find the Keystone

A keystone habit is one that unlocks a number of other positive habit; however finding that one can be difficult. Studies have shown that physical activity is one of those keystone habits to better health. When we start moving more we make better food choices and we get more sleep. Writing a food journal has helped many people become aware of their own poor eating habits, cues and rewards which in turn prompted them to make healthier choices.

9. Start to crave the Reward

It isn’t just the reward that is going to help you make the habit more permanent. Learning to anticipate the reward is going to help you even more. As you lace up your shoes for your walk, think how great you are going to feel during the walk and how relaxed you will be afterwards.

10. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Establishing a new habit is initially mentally taxing. However, the more often we do it the more the pattern becomes established. The cue and reward anchor our routines. Our basal ganglia gradually become less active as the habit becomes more automatic. I don’t think it is a matter of 21 days to establish a new habit, it is a matter how often it is repeated and how well we have planned for interruptions so this habit is resilient.

For a couple of days go through your day and jot down some of your cues, routines and rewards. If there any habits that no longer serve you, figure out the cue and the reward then change the routine in that habit loop. I encourage everyone to read the

For a couple of days go through your day and jot down some of your cues, routines and rewards. If there any habits that no longer serve you, figure out the cue and the reward then change the routine in that habit loop. I encourage everyone to read The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do and How To Change It by Charles Duhigg.

Please share what habit loop you are going to change. What is your cue, routine and reward?

Alfred Ball

CEO | Practicing Kinesiologist | Certified Fascial Stretch Therapist. He founded Lifemoves in 2007. He has been a Practicing Kinesiologist and Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach with the NSCA for over 15 years. When he isn't helping people regain their strength and confidence to move with ease he is hanging out with his wife and young son, writing, or training for his next endurance running race. His big audacious goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

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