The Power of a Good Habit

If you've ever tried to start a new habit, you know it isn't always easy. But with a little effort and the right plan, it’s possible to develop good habits.

Here are five specific steps you can take today to successfully implement your new habit.

1. Take the Long View

How do you feel when you start a habit? It’s thrilling at first. You tend to feel more vibrant, more aware, and more energetic than usual. But how much more rewarding is it when you stick with that habit and begin to see positive results?

As human beings, we thrive on change, growth, and development. But these things take time. It can seem impossible to make a positive choice that day, let alone to begin a habit that you want to last for a lifetime. Yet when you take the long view and look at what you truly want for your future, the sacrifices you make today seem less painful.

Big changes don’t happen unless small changes happen first.

Ask yourself, “What is my deeper desire?” You may desire to eat three cookies right now, but you have deeper desires to be healthier, to live longer, and not to have a stomach ache later.

Write down how the future you will benefit from keeping your new habit. If the habit is to eat more vegetables, list all the reasons why you decided to do that: to live longer, to have more energy to take care of my kids, to feel better. These are your deeper desires.

Keep your list on the fridge or in a place you can see. When you are frustrated with keeping your habit, remind yourself of your deeper desires.

2. Set Goals

Write out your goals surrounding your new habit and post them in a place you can see. I have mine taped on the inside of my closet door, where I can see them every morning and evening. This keeps them at the forefront of my mind and offers a kind of personal accountability for me—I see my goals and know if I am committed to forming good habits around them.

Setting goals is especially effective when you can work with a specific timeline. For instance, one of my goals is to pay off my student loans early. This means I have to form good habits around money—budgeting, saving, sacrificing certain luxuries.

I set a payoff date I know I can achieve and wrote it down. I also keep a chart of my progress toward that date. It helps to see a visual representation of my progress, and it shows me where I can improve.

I still want to foster good money habits well after that date, but having a specific time-oriented goal makes it easier to commit to practicing good money habits today.

3. Make Small Changes

It's a familiar story: Your friend decides she wants to lose weight. She immediately begins a crash diet, limits portions, denies herself of her usual sweets, cuts her calories, and exercises like a madwoman. Her fervor lasts about a week before she abandons her efforts, exhausted and defeated.

If you try to take on too much at once, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Big changes don’t happen unless small changes happen first. If you want to transform some area of your life, start by doing something small.

You don't fall into good habits; you fall into bad ones. Forming positive habits requires intentionality.

Come up with one small thing you know you can accomplish just for tomorrow, or this week, or this month. If you want to eat healthier, start by cutting just one thing out of your diet—like soda—and replacing it with something healthy—like water. It might be difficult at first, but eventually you will find it easier to reach for the water. Once that sacrifice is so easy you don’t even think about it anymore, try the same tactic with a different food or drink. Replace candy with fruit, or potato chips with granola. Slowly, these small changes will start to add up and make a big difference.

4. Be Intentional

You don't fall into good habits; you fall into bad ones. Forming positive habits requires intentionality.

It’s never convenient to start a new habit. Other things are always begging for your attention, for your time. It’s up to you to begin. You have to make the intentional choice. And you have to continue to make choices that will help you develop good habits over time.

Plan ahead, especially when you are just starting to build a habit. Set aside a specific time each day when you will work on creating this habit. If you want to work out four times a week, sit down with your calendar on Sunday and figure out which four days that week are best for you. And don’t be afraid to be flexible. If you have a particularly busy week, create a backup plan. That way, if you plan to work out on Thursday morning but Thursday ends up being too hectic, you could use your lunch hour on Friday to keep your habit.

Start by picking one habit you want to develop. Write out your plan to make it happen. Every day, make choices that help you execute that plan.

5. Find Accountability

I’m currently training for a half marathon. It’s my first race of this distance, and it requires months of training. I knew I would have trouble keeping up with the habit of running, so when I began to train, I looked for others’ support.

Accountability is key to keeping your habits.

My coworker and I decided to train for the race together. We’ve held each other accountable for every early morning workout and every long run. Training together has challenged us both beyond what we thought our limits were—and helped us to stay on track through months of training.

Accountability is key to keeping your habits. If you can’t find someone to hold you accountable in person, look for an online community. I mentioned that I’m in the process of paying off my student loans early. Although not many of my friends are in the same boat, there’s an entire community of people on social media trying to do the same thing I am. Staying in the loop online helps me to stay on track with budgeting and saving.

Creating new habits isn’t always easy—but with a little elbow grease, you’ll begin to develop good habits that will last a lifetime.

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