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Carola Pickenhan - Independent Lifeplus Associate


The 6 secrets to maintaining a new habit

Reading Time: 4 minutes

When something is a habit, you do it almost automatically and without thinking, but sometimes things we want to become a habit can seem a bit of a chore. Why is this? We all set ourselves goals and it’s great to do this, but with the best will in the world, much of the time we will fail to stick to our goals long enough to see them to completion. Don’t worry though, as our six top tips will help put you in a healthy mental state, boost your focus and motivation and will put you on the path to not only reach your goals, but turn them into easy-to-maintain habits.

1 – Start small

It can be very tempting when setting a new goal to focus on the end result and then try to get there as quickly as possible. This is completely normal – it’s human nature to want to succeed at what we put our minds to. By focusing on the large goal rather than breaking things down into smaller goals though, it’s less likely that we will succeed. A great example of this is if you decide to lose weight. With a focus on your end goal, you may find yourself going from zero to 100 by cutting out all ‘bad’ foods overnight and going from a place of no exercise to multiple gym sessions each week. The problem with this is that it requires a phenomenal amount of willpower and if you run out you could be more likely to quit altogether.

Instead start small, so that very little extra effort is required, and build from there. For example, instead of instantly changing your entire diet, try adding an extra piece of fruit each day. After a week try switching your lunch to a salad or healthy soup. The following week, commit to eating more vegetables with your dinner. By making these small changes, eventually the big changes you first envisaged will have been made and you will barely have noticed.

2 – Take one thing at a time

Habits are hard to build, so don’t try to do more than one new thing at once. For example, if your end goal is to lose weight then try to focus only on one way of doing this in the early days. Rather than completely changing both your diet and your fitness regime, perhaps focus on your diet first. It will take enough willpower and effort to reduce your calorie intake without having to then find more willpower to motivate yourself to go to the gym too. After a few weeks when it has become more of a normal-feeling to be eating less, you might then bring in your new habit and try including some more exercise in your plans.

3 – Make sure you have clear intentions

This is not the time to be vague. If your goal is ‘to go to the gym more’ then decide when you are going to go and what you are going to do. If you know, for example, that on a Monday you are going to do a Pilates class at 9:00 AM, on a Wednesday you are going to jog on a treadmill for 20 minutes after work and on a Friday, you are going to go for a 30-minute swim first thing in the morning, you will have a clear idea of when and what you need to do to meet your goal. If you just say you are going ‘to go to the gym more’ there is no real tangible commitment and it will be far easier to put things off, let the days roll into each other and not achieve your goal.

4 – Make yourself accountable

Research has shown that watching someone else’s behavior and habits can have a big influence on your own.1 For this reason, it can be beneficial to find a partner to work on a positive habit alongside you. Not only will you have accountability for your actions, but you will have someone to look at to motivate you and encourage you to reach the same goal that you are seeing them achieve. This could be a friend, partner or even someone you know through a social media network.

5 – Reward your wins – even the small ones

Never underestimate the effort it will take to maintain a new habit. Even if the habit is something that seems relatively small in comparison to what others are doing, you are running your own race and you should always reward yourself for any progress, no matter how small. Rewarding yourself activates the reward circuitry in your brain that’s responsible for emotions such as achievement and pride, which empower you to take action to maintain your habit and create even bigger successes in the future.2

6 – Set your environment up for success

Do what you can to make your environment suit your desired goals. For example, if you are in the habit of checking your mobile phone before bed each night, don’t simply decide not to do it, but instead place your phone charger in a different room so that you can’t take your phone into the bedroom with you. If you use the alarm clock on your phone, buy yourself a traditional alarm clock instead. Likewise, if you want to get into the habit of reading more books, ensure that there are books waiting to be picked up at the places you would usually sit down to relax, whether this is on the sofa or in bed. This way you will be less likely to turn on the TV instead.

While these top tips do not guarantee that your goals will become a habit, they do put you in the best position for success. Maintaining motivation, keeping good self-control and adapting new behaviors into daily habits is always going to be difficult. By following these tips, we believe you can do it.

  1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/bdm.408 []
  2. https://academic.oup.com/cercor/article/18/4/898/282183?login=true []