How to create a new habit that actually sticks

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Forming a new habit doesn’t have to be so hard by following this process

We’ve all been there before. 

You want to change and decide today is the day you’ll completely change your life and become a new woman.

& maybe you did feel like a changed woman for a few weeks, even a month… 

But then life got in the way and before you knew it, you were back at square one. Sometimes this process even repeats itself in a never-ending loop which can be really discouraging. 

As humans, we want to evolve and grow so it’s only natural that we try to create new habits that we believe will better us in some way— but building a habit is far from easy.

It takes consistency, time, and effort before it becomes a habit.

What is a habit?

It’s an action that we perform automatically. You know those moments when you’re on autopilot and before you know it, you’re brushing your teeth?

That’s a habit because you do it without really thinking about it. The point of a habit is for your brain to be more efficient and use less energy. 

According to researchers at Duke University, about 40% of the things we do on a daily basis are habits, which makes sense. 

Habits are all around us. A habit could be grabbing your phone when you feel awkward or going for a walk after dinner. Habits come in all shapes and sizes but a habit takes the decision-making process out of the equation because you’re just going to do it without a question. 

Think about how much effort it takes to do things when you have to think about them.  

It’s exhausting because it takes up a lot of your mental energy.

So why do we even bother with trying to create new habits? Can’t we just go with the flow and everything will work out?

Not really. We have to take action to create change.

The purpose of creating a new habit is to solve a problem you’re facing in your life. Otherwise, you wouldn’t want to make the change to begin with and you could continue with the habits you currently have.

How long does it take to form a habit?

Well, it depends but the average amount of days is 66, which is double the 30 days you typically see in mainstream media and in advertisements. 

A study done by Phillippa Lally found that it took anywhere between 18- 254 days for participants to form a habit.

Which is a pretty big range. 

But don’t worry, there are steps you can take to form a new habit with more ease but first let’s talk about the habit loop. 

What is the habit loop?

Your brain is constantly running neurological feedback loops. There is never a moment when you aren’t in a feedback loop because it’s your brain’s way of telling you to keep doing or to stop a task. 

At a primal level, it’s to keep us alive because the brain is either going to tell you it’s okay to keep going through the loop or that you need to jump to another loop before you hurt yourself. 

Either way, your brain is providing you with some kind of feedback.

One that is used often by your brain is the habit loop which consists of four stages:

  • Cue: what triggered the behavior?
  • Craving: the reason behind doing it, what are you getting from doing the behavior?
  • Response: Actually performing the behavior or habit
  • Reward: the end goal, what do you hope to walk away with?

If the behavior is insufficient at any stage of this process, a habit won’t be formed. You need all four stages in order to repeat the loop enough times for it to become a habit. 

Knowing this habit loop can be helpful when you’re building new habits because then you can work with your brain’s natural process. 

So keep this in mind as we go through the process of creating a new habit. 

7 steps to forming a new habit

So now that you know how habits are formed from a neurological standpoint, it’s time to actually put in the work to create a habit. Work through each of these steps and you’ll be able to create new habits in no time. 

1. Look at creating a habit as a goal

It’s a goal to form a habit. Simple as that so it should be treated like any other goal. 

I like to use a system I created called the MAP process where I break goals down into actionable milestones. Some of the below steps are also outlined in the free MAP worksheet you can grab but for now, think of the habit you want to create.

Make sure it’s specific. Saying something like ‘I want to be more motivated’ or ‘I’m going to wake up earlier to work on my side hustle’ isn’t really that helpful. 

What is the actual behavior you’re going to do? A habit is an action so you should be able to clearly state what you’re going to be physically doing. 

Let’s look at waking up early as a habit you want to create. The first question is what does early mean to you?

Because I may consider 5 AM early while you consider 8 AM early, see how early isn’t measurable? 

Instead, I would say, ‘I’m going to wake up at 6 AM Monday through Friday’.

Next, what are you going to do when you wake up early? Because there’s no point in forcing yourself up if you’re just going to sit there, then you might as well get the extra zzzz’s. 

So let’s say you’re building a side hustle, I would say ‘I’m going to wake up at 6 AM Monday through Friday to work on a specific task in my business’ (and then map out what task you’re going to do on each day).

This way it’s easy to tell if you’re actually setting the habit that you’re intending to. 

2. How is this habit going to help me become the person I want to be?

Next, the good old why. 

As James Clear said in his book Atomic Habits, every action is a vote for the person you want to become. 

I know you aren’t creating habits just to create habits so take a moment to ask yourself why?

Why do you want to work on a side hustle? Why do you want to get up early? Ask yourself why until you get down to the root, the real reason why you’re craving this change. This is part of the habit loop so it’s important to nail it down so you can make it through the loop again and again.

Forming habits is hard, it takes a lot of discipline and time so having a strong why is going to help you get up on those hard days when your bed seems extra cozy. 

3. Start small

The biggest mistake I see people make is trying to go from 0 to 100. 

Change is hard and exhausting so trying to change more than one thing at a time is a surefire way to get tired and end up back at square one. 

So first of all, focus on one habit at a time. I know that it can be easy to say you’re going to wake up early and work on your side hustle, and you’re going to pick back up your workout routine, and you’re going to get your steps in, and you’re going to focus on eating healthier … 

But it’s going to be really hard to stick to all these things at once if they aren’t already established. 

Forming a habit takes intention and since almost half our day is made up of habits, it’s going to be too exhausting to stay intentional all day. Remember, the brain is wayyy more efficient during habits so it’s saving a lot of energy in those autopilot moments to be able to make the effort to form the one new habit. 

Your brain needs both. As with anything, balance is key. 

So pick one habit and be realistic on what you can do right now. If you want to wake up at 6 AM but you’re currently waking up at 8 AM, you may want to start at 7:30 AM and slowly set your alarm earlier and earlier so your body can get used to the earlier wake-up time. 

You know your body and what works for you so set yourself up for success. 

The goal should be to get 1% better but first, you have to lay the foundation. 

4. Schedule it

Remember, a cue is an important part of the habit loop because that’s how you’re going to tell your brain it’s time to do the habit. 

So it helps to schedule this trigger. 

In the example I’ve been using, I’m scheduling the trigger at 6 AM after my alarm goes off. I’m going to get out of bed and work on my business and do x task.

I would also consider the time around the habit I’m forming as well. I’m not someone who can function on less than 7 hours of sleep so that means I need to be asleep by 11 PM so I need to plan accordingly. 

I may also want to get my lunch and 9-5 stuff organized and ready to go so I have more time in the morning to finish my side hustle tasks. 

It goes back to setting yourself up for success. Our day is made up of a routine so you want your routine to support your habit. The easier you make it for yourself, the more likely you are to do it.  

Here are some other things that you could do regarding fitting your habits into your busy schedule:

Set Reminders

If the new habit isn’t the first thing I do in the morning, I set a reminder that’ll give me a notification at a specific time on my phone telling me to do the task. 

Once I see that reminder, I try to do it as soon as possible since that is the cue in my habit loop. I won’t complete the reminder until I’ve actually done the task so it helps keep me accountable as well.

Habit Stacking

Another popular technique is an idea that James Clear made famous known as habit stacking which is tacking on a new habit with an already established habit. 

It’s important that you’re stacking the new habit to a habit that’s super ingrained into your routine since the old habit is going to be your cue in your loop.

One that a lot of people use is brushing their teeth.

Temptation bundling

That last one is from Katherin Milkman known as temptation bundling which is pairing the new habit with something you want to do.

Let’s say you’re obsessed with reality TV like me. Temptation bundling could look like walking on the treadmill to hit 10,000 steps and you can only watch The Bachelor if you’re walking on the treadmill. 

You want to watch the Bachelor so that’s going to be the cue to start the habit. 

You have to do what works for you but being intentional about the cue portion of the feedback is essential since otherwise, you’re never going to do it. 

5. Ditch perfectionism

You’re going to slip up. It’s just part of being human so you have to ditch the all-or-nothing mentality. Let’s say you want to wake up at 6 AM to build your side business but you hit the snooze button today.

That doesn’t mean to give up! It just means to adjust your plan and try again tomorrow. Remember, it’s all about getting 1% better. Don’t throw away your progress after one slip-up. 

In fact, there have been studies that show slipping up one day won’t destroy your momentum. You can still build the habit and skip a day so don’t stress it.

I would just take the time to reflect on how you can make it easier to do the habit and continually go back to your why so it’s super ingrained into your mind. 

Do you need to put your alarm across the room so you physically have to get out of bed to get up?

6. Check your environment

Our environment is super important to our success. It can literally make or break it so ask yourself how can you set yourself up for success.

  • Can you organize your desk to limit the amount of distractions?
  • Do you need to put your phone in another room?
  • Do you need some noise-canceling headphones to really get dialed in?
  • Do you need to lay out your gym clothes the night before?

You want to make it as easy as possible for you to do the habit so think of ways that you can give yourself a little nudge.

Or recruit family members or friends to keep you motivated or away from the things you’re trying to avoid. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, people like helping others! It makes them feel good. 

Or they may want to join you in building a healthier habit. 

7. Don’t forget to celebrate

And last but certainly not least, make sure you reward yourself. It’s the last piece of the feedback loop so you have to get some benefit from doing the habit for it to form.

But it’s also important to have something to look forward to and to celebrate yourself for all the hard work you’ve been putting in along the way! It’s way more motivating when you take the time to celebrate throughout the journey because it could take the majority of the year to form this habit.

So if you hit your goal of waking up at 6 AM the majority of the week, make sure to give yourself a pat on the back and celebrate how awesome you are. 

It’s going to help keep you motivated and committed to forming the habit! 

Having a daily plan is going to be crucial to setting yourself up for success so make sure you have a daily planner. If you don’t have one that works for you, check out this one

Until next time,


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