Chances are, this has happened to you: You make a resolution with the best of intentions to break a bad habit or start a good one–maybe for the new year or your birthday or some other special occasion. And within days or weeks, you’re right back where you started, old ways still firmly in place and the resolution gone to the wayside.
So what’s the secret to making, or breaking, a habit and making it stick? It’s not enough to say you want to do it–you have to know how to form new habits effectively.
Whether you want to eat better or get up earlier or limit your time online, here’s a proven strategy for forming a new habit in five simple (if not always easy) steps:
1. Strategy is a fancy word for action plan.
Every new habit needs a strategy. A strategy is simply a plan that helps you reach your goals, a way to give yourself the structure that will help you succeed. Set up a timeline and a system of accountability. Decide how you’ll reward yourself at key milestones and how you’ll deal with slips. Bring together an appropriate support network, whether it’s an individual or a group.
2. Behavior is a choice.
Think of it as behavior replacement. If you’re ending a behavior, especially one that was woven into your day, find something specific to do in its place. For example, if you want to curtail the time you spend looking at your phone, have a book close at hand for the moments you used to turn to your screen.
3. Good habits result from resisting temptations.
The best way to form a new habit is to remove anything that will tempt you into your old ways, to restructure your environment so it won’t tempt you. As much as possible, remove anything that keeps you tied to your old ways. If you want to stop smoking, don’t keep cigarettes around.
4. Accountability breeds responsibility.
To be successful, you have to be deeply committed and willing to hold yourself accountable. Even when no one else is looking, you need to be able to count on yourself. It takes at least 60 consecutive days to really establish a habit, and the more consistent you are, the better it will stick. If you want to start leaving work at a decent time, make sure you leave every evening at the same time. Make it happen. Commit and follow through.
5. Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.
Discipline is the key to making your new habit work, and a great way to create discipline is through ritual–something you do daily and repeatedly. If you want to stop checking your emails, start putting your phone in a less accessible area every morning. Ritual can help you fight temptation, too. Some people find it’s helpful to create an associated action like snapping their fingers every time they have the urge to go back to their old ways. Others keep a list of their reasons for wanting to change close at hand and read through it, or spend a moment in prayer or meditation.
No matter how motivated you are, nothing will make creating new habits easy. But it will always be worthwhile–and with the right plan, it may be easier than you think.