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10 easy ways to form new routines that stick

Posted in: Wellbeing Last updated: 29 Jun 2012

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

Aristotle was right when he stated that the things we repeatedly do, define us. All very well if you’re living a healthy and happy life, but what if you’re looking to form some new habits? How do you make a start?

We all have different goals and levels of willpower; so instead of giving one definitive answer, we’ve researched 10 different techniques for you to try. These techniques will help you form habits that stick; whether you’re looking to start exercising more regularly, eat more healthily or something completely different.

Take a look, try them out, then leave your feedback in the comments area below. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

1) What do you want to change?

Start by writing down the habit you want to form, or behaviour pattern you want to change.  By having a clear goal in mind, for example swimming three evenings every week, you’re more likely to stay on track.

2) Create a strategy

Adjust your daily routine to include your new behaviour and make it easier to manage and achieve. For example, if you plan to exercise more regularly, you could:

  • Set your alarm clock 45 minutes earlier and go for a run
  • Lay your workout clothes out, so they’re accessible
  • Commit to running with a friend, so you can’t back-out
  • Reward yourself with a smoothie afterwards.

3) Be specific

Building on the idea above, be specific about your aims and goals. Instead of ‘eat more healthily’, say ‘I’m going to eat a piece of fruit after every mealtime’ – or, instead of ‘be more active’, say ‘I’m going to set my alarm 20 minutes earlier and do some yoga’. Don’t be afraid to start small.

4) Make it fun

If all this is sounding like a chore, remind yourself of the benefits of your new behaviour and make it fun. Running with a friend, making a fresh fruit salad or having a massage are three ways to improve your wellbeing that definitely don’t feel like hard work. In the words of Zen blogger Leo Babauta, ‘Make it so easy you can’t say no’.

5) Visualise it

Having a positive attitude towards your goals is half the battle. Take five minutes every day to visualise the benefits of your new habit; for example playing football with your grandchildren (because you feel healthier) or getting a good night’s sleep (because you’ve meditated before bedtime) to start seeing it in a positive new light.

6) Involve other people

It’s easier to form a new habit with a support system in place. Tell your friends and family about the new habit that you’re trying to form, and they can support and advise you as you work towards your goal.

7) Track your progress

It’s easy to get waylaid if you can’t see any progress. Invest in a new notebook and jot down your progress – good and bad – then look for any patterns or habits that are already forming. If you do have a bad day, consider the reasons why; what could you do differently next time?

8) Reward yourself

In Charles Duhigg’s popular book, ‘The Power of Habit’, he states that the key to forming a new habit is a 3-step pattern:

  • Reminder (the trigger that encourages the behaviour)
  • Routine (the behaviour itself)
  • Reward (the benefit you get from doing the behaviour)

By noticing the benefits we’re receiving, and recognising our hard work, we’re more likely to continue a particular behaviour until it becomes a habit.

9) Use affirmations

An affirmation is a simple declaration of truth. Jot down five key affirmations in your notebook for when your willpower is tested, then simply repeat them to yourself. You could also create a mood-board of quotes and images, inspiring you to stick at a certain behaviour and encouraging a habit to form.

10) Stick at it

Psychologist Jeremy Dean has studied the science of habits. According to his research, it takes 66 days on average for a habit to form; depending on what you’re trying to achieve. Start small (such as ‘drink five glasses of water a day’) and you could form a new habit in 21 days. Aim higher, such as ‘running every day’, and you might need a little more patience and determination.

It might take a little time, but with patience and focus it’s certainly possible to form a new habit and make it an integral part of your life. We’d love to hear your hints and tips for forming new habits, so please share any of your insights below.

Note: Whilst we take care to ensure Hub content is accurate at the time of publication, individual circumstances can differ so please don’t rely on it when making financial decisions. OneFamily do not provide advice so it may be worth speaking to an independent financial advisor about your own circumstances.