It’s a new year, and many of us are looking to make positive changes in our lives.
The best way to do that is by creating habits that will stick for the long term, rather than just making resolutions. If you want to run a marathon, form the habit of running. If you want to write a novel, form the writing habit. If you want to be more mindful, form the habit of meditation.
Of course, that’s easier said than done—just form new habits, no problem. If only it were so easy. So in this guide, I’m going to lay out the key steps to forming the habits that will change your life.
Steps to Creating a Habit
- Pick a positive habit. I recommend you find new, positive habits to form, rather than starting with quitting a bad habit. If you want to quit eating junk food … focus instead on creating the habit of eating more vegetables. Good positive habits to start with include meditation, reading, writing, exercising, eating vegetables, journaling, and flossing.
- One habit at a time. We all have a list of a dozen habits we’d like to change—and all right now! But in my experience, the more habits you do at once, the less likely your chances of success. Even one habit at a time takes focus and energy! Trust me on this: starting one new habit at a time is the best strategy, by far, for any but the best habit masters.
- Small steps are successful. People underestimate the importance of small steps. Start small—really small. Meditate for 2 minutes a day the first week (increase by 2-3 minutes a week only if you’re consistent the previous week). Start running for 5-10 minutes a day, not 30 minutes. Eat a small serving of vegetables for one meal, don’t try to change your entire diet at once. Start as small as you can, and increase only gradually as long as you stay consistent. Small steps allow your mind to adjust gradually and this is the best method by far.
- Set up reminders. The thing that trips people up, in the beginning, is remembering to do the habit. Don’t let yourself forget! Set up visual reminders around where you want to remember. For example, put reminders in the kitchen for the veggies habit, or a note on your bathroom mirror for flossing. Digital reminders on your phone and calendar are also useful.
- Set up accountability. How will you hold yourself to this habit change when you feel like quitting? Accountability. Join a community or small team to hold yourself accountable. You can also join my Sea Change Program for this accountability.
- Find reward in the doing. You won’t stick to any change for long if you really hate doing it. Instead, find some pleasure in the doing of the habit. For example, if you go running, don’t think of it as torture, but as a way to enjoy the outdoors, to feel your body moving, to feel alive. Bring mindfulness to each moment of doing the habit, and find gratitude and joy as you do it. The habit will become a reward, and you’ll look forward to this nice oasis of mindfulness.
- Try to be as consistent as possible. The more consistent you are, the better. Resist putting off the habit, and make it your policy to just get started when you have said you’ll do it, rather than indulging in the old pattern of, “I’ll do it later.” That’s an old habit that you want to retrain by doing it immediately.
- Review and adjust regularly. I like to review how I did with my habits at the end of each day before I sleep. It helps me get better and better at habits. But at the minimum, review once a week and do a check-in with your accountability team if you have one. Adjust as needed. For example, if you forgot to do the habit, adjust by creating new reminders. If you aren’t consistent, maybe set up a challenge with your team so that you pay them $10 each day you miss, for example. Adjusting each week means you’ll get better and better at doing this habit. If you fall down, keep coming back.
If you’d like some support in forming these habits, I invite you to join me and more than a thousand others changing one habit at a time in my Sea Change Program online.
Leo Babauta is the author of six books, the writer of “Zen Habits,” a blog with over 2 million subscribers, and the creator of several online programs to help you master your habits. Visit ZenHabits.net