How to start new habits

How do you start doing new things and then stick to it?

Here are some tips that have worked for me and my clients to make a shift in a lifestyle behavior:

  1. Make a list of all the things you’d like to change. I personally like this part, it lets me dream and imagine the person I want to be and it helps me take stock of where I am in all the areas in my life. It gives me a chance to get it all out my head by putting it on paper. Some questions for inspiration: What habits could make my success more sustainable? What habits could give me more energy and help me be more productive? What habits would support my health and wellbeing or improve my relationships? What habits would help me achieve something I desire?
  1. Choose One. I know, once you see the things you want to change it can be tempting to come up with a grand plan to change it all at once. But the truth is, when you are in the middle of your daily life and usual demands, you simply don’t have the brain power to stick to more than one area. So I strongly advise you to address your list one item at a time. How do you choose what to focus on? This question is from Gary Keller’s book The ONE Thing (which I highly recommend by the way) and it always helps me focus: What is the one thing you can do, such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary? In this case, what is the new thing you can do that will have the biggest impact in your life and make the other things on your list easier to achieve?
  1. Once you have your one thing, break it down into something doable for you. We are thinking of lifestyle changes, not a bootcamp challenge. So choose a first step that feels easy to do no matter what happens in your day. For example, if you want to start exercising and you are starting from zero, the first step might be to go for a 10 minute walk every day. And don’t let the smallness of the first step fool you. Think of it as setting an anchor to which you will attach more actions in the future. 
  1. Set yourself up to succeed. Prepare a small routine to support you, like preparing your exercise equipment the day before. Think of the obstacles and excuses your mind is likely going to come up with and plan a solution ahead of time. It’s amazing how convincing our brains can be when we are doing something slightly inconvenient. So prepare yourself with responses. If a likely excuse will sound like “It’s too cold outside”, you can prepare mittens and scarf ahead of time. If a likely excuse is “I’m tired” you can prepare yourself to answer “I can be tired AND still walk for 10 minutes”. Decide right now what reasons are actually good enough to make an exception (for example, I am bed ridden with a fever would be an acceptable reason to make an exception).
  1. Expect resistance. And usually that comes in the form of simple small excuses we talked about. It also helps to notice how the resistance feels in your body and to learn to take it as a sign that you are on the right track of change.
  1. Use the External Rule trick. This one is from my repertoire as a mom and for now it works pretty well with my toddler. The External Rule trick is when I tell my child that we are doing or not doing something because that is the Rule. It’s not mommy’s opinion, it’s the rule given by some mysterious external entity and it is non negotiable. Last night she wanted to open an umbrella inside the dining room, and predicting broken objects and a hurt baby sister, I resorted to the External Rule. “Umbrellas are not for inside, only for the outside”. For my usually contrarian 2 and a half year old, the disappointment was pretty short lived. I invite you to use that on your mind when it starts coming up with excuses, feelings and negotiations about your new habit. “This is what we do.”
  1. Build on your small habit and make progress until you are where you want to be. Improve it, make tweaks to make it fit better in your life. Find a way that feels good for you.
  1. Keep focusing on this habit until it feels second nature. The new behavior must feel like “of course I do this, it’s just who I am”. That’s when you know you can move on to something new.
  1. Last but not least… Celebrate and give yourself a reward when you hit milestones, small and large!