How To Make Good Habits Stick

7 Things You Can Do to Lock in Habits Over the Long Term

How we operate daily is a reflection of the habits we have. The more good habits we have, the better our lives will be.

As we all desire to improve and have better lives, sometimes we struggle to follow through and stick to doing the things we know will be beneficial to us.

While having an intention to make a positive change, such as exercising a few times per week, drinking plenty of water daily or getting enough sleep each night, is a good starting point, sticking to the new habits is challenging.

One of the reasons why people abandon their New Year’s resolutions is because they are not able to lock in their new habits over the long term.

The Costs of Not Sticking to Our Habits

  • It generates feelings of disappointment, regret and resignation.
  • We lose trust in ourselves as we’re unable to keep our commitments.
  • It lowers our self-confidence.
  • We’re reluctant to try something that requires a long-term commitment.
  • We don’t progress as quickly as we’d like to.

It’s one thing to identify a new or good habit we want to have, but it’s much more challenging to actually stick with it.

Making good habits stick

A few years ago, I wanted to start a daily practice or habit of journaling at the end of each day. I had read many successful people had a regular journaling practice so I wanted to give it a go.

My initial goal was to try it for 30 days and if I liked the process or found it to be beneficial, I would continue on after that initial period. The first couple of days were relatively easy as it was new and exciting.

One thing I had done was to set a recurring daily reminder on my phone, which was a big help as I would have otherwise forgotten to do it on many occasions. There were many afternoons or early evenings when I would have preferred not to force myself to sit down and write, but I kept to my commitment.

At the end of 30 days, I found the practice to be a powerful way to reflect back on each day, assess what I had done well and not so well, and then identify what I could do to improve either the next day or the next time I had a similar experience.

At the time of writing this, I have been journaling daily for over five years and it has become a habit that is now locked in.

7 Things You Can Do to Make Good Habits Stick

  1. Assess why you were unable to make a previous habit stick. Unless we become aware of some of our patterns and identify what can cause us to stop doing what we want to, we’re likely to repeat those patterns and behaviours. We have to find out what the real reasons were for not sticking to our habits. Asking ourselves “why” multiple times can help us identify the real reasons.
  2. Determine your purpose for creating a new habit. When we identify a new habit we want to form, we naturally believe we’ll gain something positive otherwise we wouldn’t do it. Being clear on what benefit we will gain is what will motivate us to keep going when start to struggle to maintain the habit. Imagining what our life will be like with the new habit in place is a powerful way to stay motivated.
  3. Make a plan. The better prepared we are, the better our chances of success. As part of our plan, we need to identify potential challenges so that we can put things in place to overcome them. Without an effective or flexible plan, we will reduce our chances of sticking to the new habit.
  4. Set up reminders. This can be done digitally like using our computers or phones, or it can be done by using post-it-notes and placing them in places where we’ll see them. Reminders act as triggers for us to do the thing we want to. Other people around us can also support us by giving us friendly reminders to do what we said we would.
  5. Create a routine. A routine can be a sequence of tasks or activities we’ll carry out. We can use “if/then” routines, which implies that if we do one thing, then it should also be a reminder for us to do something else. For a new habit, we can identify what is something else we can do prior to the actual habit so that the task before becomes the trigger to remember to do the new habit.
  6. Track your progress. Without regular evaluation, it will be easy to lose track of how we’re actually doing. Keeping score is a simple but very effective way to ensure we remain on track. By monitoring our progress, we will be able to quickly make adjustments if we need to.
  7. Give yourself progressive rewards. As making a new habit can be challenging, we can make it a more enjoyable process by rewarding ourselves along the way. When we do something nice for ourselves, it can motivate us to do even better and continue to stay on track.

As our habits shape who we become and the quality of life we live, we need to be intentional about what we do and how we do them.

If we consistently develop new, empowering habits, they will stack up over time and make a huge difference in our lives. If we don’t develop good habits, we won’t challenge ourselves to be the best we can be.

Action Step: Pick one new habit you know will be beneficial to you and start applying these ideas so that you can make that habit stick over the long term. As you form one new habit, start working on another habit.

Question: What other strategies or tactics can we use to make good habits stick?

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