Your life is made by the things you do each and every day.
Consistency over time leads to massive results.
This means that the best way to change or improve your life is to change the things you do every day. Create new habits, break old “bad” habits, and suddenly you’re creating a new life for yourself.
I am a huge fan of forming new habits and I’m always thinking of different habits to develop for myself.
I am most known for my habit of running every day. I’ve been running at least one mile every day since May 25th, 2015. I don’t take days off, ever. And most days I run outside. This habit makes me a more consistent runner, it helps me stay healthy and in shape, and getting outside and moving my body every day has done tremendous things for my mental health over the years.
At the beginning of this year, I decided to develop the habit of eating a salad every day. I’ve been trying to “eat healthier” for months and have made some progress, but there were still many days that I struggled to get a proper amount of vegetables in my diet. I’ve tried a lot of things to improve my health, but the fact that I am seeing the muscle tone in my belly again after eating just one salad a day for a month has me sold on the fact that a daily salad is a really good idea. (Bonus: I’m starting to crave salads now. Who does that?)
Steps to Create New Habits
I’m sort of a habit junky. If I want to change something in my life I usually try to figure out a habit that I can develop that will lead to the change I want to see.
Here are my tried and true steps for developing habits that can change your life.
1. Find a good reason
One time I tried to develop the habit of coloring in my adult coloring book every day. It was back when adult coloring books were new and everyone was doing it. I kept seeing all of these people rave about how peaceful and happy they were after coloring and I wanted to experience that too.
Except, I quickly learned that I don’t really like coloring. It’s fine to do now and then, but coloring every day just made me anxious and frustrated. I was not feeling peaceful and relaxed.
The reason for my new habit was because everyone else was doing it. Not a good reason. So your first step when trying to develop a new habit is to have a good reason for why you want to develop the habit.
What are you hoping to change? What improvements would you like to see? Why are you willing to put in all the work and effort that will be required to develop this habit (yes, it will be hard, always)?
2. Decide and Commit
Have you ever decided you were going to start something new and then one or two days into your new adventure you realized it was too hard or no fun? That’s not exactly a great way to start developing a new habit.
I know this sounds a little silly that I have to say this. If you want to develop a new habit, of course, that means you have to commit to doing the thing. But, I want you to actually commit and think it through. Make sure your reasons are strong before you even get started. Because once you decide to start, you will not stop.
Now, you don’t have to commit to forever when you are starting out. When I started my run streak I hoped to make it 41 days (from Memorial Day to the 4th of July), but I told myself I just wanted to see how long I could make it and set my sights on the first couple of weeks. Way back then if you would have told me I’d still be on this run streak 1350+ days later I would have told you I must have been abducted by aliens. It was never my intention to make it this far.
Don’t think you have to commit to anything for life. Start small, set a little baby goal and when you reach that goal just try for one day longer. And then you keep going one day at a time.
3. Do it. No Excuses.
You’ll want to give yourself an out. You’ll have a really good reason. Everyone would agree that you were justified in missing a day. But you aren’t going to miss a day. You are developing a habit and habits need to be done consistently, so you’re going to show up whether you want to or not.
The wind chill in my area for several days last week was around -40° to -50°. Guess who still went running every day? Me. Why? Because I made a commitment to myself and I honor the commitments I make with myself. That’s just who I am and what I do.
If you legitimately forget, forgive yourself and keep going. I didn’t eat a salad yesterday at all. I remembered at 2 am this morning. Does that mean I’ve failed and I need to give up? Nope. Today I’ll be eating a salad and will continue on as if nothing happened. Because nothing did happen. It’s a new day and a new chance to keep moving forward. Don’t give up, even if you miss a day.
Have you ever had a day when you were so busy, sick, tired, or whatever that you didn’t get a chance to brush your teeth? Does that mean that you are a failure and you’ll never be able to brush your teeth again? No way. You still brush your teeth every day, usually multiple times a day. Why? Because you are a person who values good hygiene and fresh breath. That didn’t change just because you had one, not so minty day.
4. Go Public.
You want to tell somebody about the habit you are developing. You need to. It will be good for you. And maybe for them.
I hashtagged my #runstreak on a Facebook post on my second day. One of my running friends saw it and decided to join me. She’s still running every day too. It feels amazing to know that I’m not alone in this crazy journey.
When I decided to eat a salad every day I started making salads for dinner pretty often. My husband asked why, so I told him about my new habit. He thought it was a great idea. He doesn’t eat a salad every day, but if he’s around when I eat my salad he makes sure he gets some too.
One of the other habits I’m working on this year is to play with my kids every week for at least 30 minutes. This isn’t a daily habit, but the same concepts still apply. I told my kids about my goal. You better believe they are making sure to remind me that I am committed to playing with them more often.
5. Track Your Progress
I have a multi-tabbed spreadsheet listing the miles I have run for every day of my streak. I also keep track of the time. It’s fun to add it all up at the end of the month to find out how many hours I was out running.
Most of my habits are tracked on a page in my bullet journal each month. I use a dotted notebook for my bullet journal so I’m able to make a grid table with a column for each day and a row for each of the habits I’m focusing on for the month. I fill in the corresponding squares for each habit I complete by the end of the day. I’m certainly not perfect at all my habits, and some of my habits are weekly habits (like playing with the kids), but I love to see all those squares filling up throughout the month.
Tracking your progress helps you to see how you’re doing and it also keeps your habits at the front of your mind. When you create a visual way to track your habits and put it in a place you see every day you will have a constant reminder of the things you are trying to achieve. You’ll see all those filled in squares or X’s and you won’t want to break your streak. Trust me, after 1350+ days, I’ve learned that each new day you add to your streak makes it that much harder to even think about breaking your habit.
I’ve created a 90-day habit tracker printable that works just like the bullet journal habit tracker that I personally use. You write the habits you want to track in the rows and then fill in the corresponding square each day you complete your habit. You can get a copy of the habit tracker here.
6. Celebrate the milestones.
When you put in all the effort required to develop a new habit you should reward yourself. This helps to give your brain that extra boost to reinforce that it’s on the right track. Celebrating your hard work is also just fun and feels good.
When I hit a milestone on my run streak I try to either run a longer run to match the milestone (10 miles for 1,000 days, for example), or I go somewhere fun and adventurous for the day (a special trail or route that I especially enjoy). I’ve also celebrated running streak milestones with new running gear, ice cream, or a massage.
An important thing to remember though is that your celebration should not derail all of your progress. While a small DQ Blizzard won’t derail all the benefits of my multi-year run streak I do try to keep food rewards to a minimum. Gorging on junk food is not a wise way to celebrate anything in life.
In the same vein, if you’re working to develop a habit related to your spending and finances I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going on a spending spree as your way to celebrate your progress. Celebrations and rewards are good, but be creative to find healthy and responsible ways to celebrate your success and progress.
7. One at a time.
In this post so far I have mentioned a lot of different habits that I have developed over the last few years. And many of these habits are still active in my life. That does not mean I started them all at the same time.
It is very important that you focus on one habit at a time. I know it is tempting to want to start making changes in every area of your life all at once but have patience. You will get there. You need to start with one thing. Do that one thing every day until it becomes ingrained, a normal part of your day, and who you are. Then you can add another habit.
You may hear people say that it takes 21 days to develop a habit, some say it takes 30 days or longer. The research is a little mixed. The reality is that it depends on the habit, the circumstances, the reason, and the person. I can’t prescribe a specific amount of time to you in which your habit will become second nature. I can assure you that even when your habit does become second nature it will still take effort and hard work to maintain it. It’s still hard for me to go out for my run some days, but my habit is developed enough that I do it anyway.
Pick one habit, focus on that one habit for a few weeks and see how it’s going. If you feel confident you can add another habit. If you are still struggling to do it every day give yourself a little more time before you add in anything new.
8. Be specific and measurable.
What exactly are you going to do? How long or how many need to be done to count?
Before my run streak started I had tried to have other exercise streaks. I’d try to develop the habit of exercising daily but I didn’t specify anything beyond that. If your goal is just to exercise every day then you can talk yourself into counting just about everything. I did a couple pushups, that counts. I went up and down the stairs a lot today, that counts. I had to park really far away in the parking lot, that counts. Except I don’t actually think any of those things should count.
Before you even get to day one of your habit you need to be very specific in what exactly you will do for your habit and then create a measurable way to define what counts. Your exhausted willpower will try to tell you that everything counts once you get going, so spell it out from the get-go.
I run at least one full mile every day. It can be a slow mile, but it has to be running. It can be on a treadmill, a track, a trail, the road, or even circles around my backyard. But I don’t count bicycling, the elliptical, walking, or any other movements. It has to actually be running and it has to be at least a full mile. You need to be this specific.
9. Baby steps
If you can’t currently run a full mile you should not commit to running a full mile every day.
If you drink a six-pack of diet sodas every day it will be really hard to keep up the habit if you decide to quit cold turkey. You might want to start with cutting back to five, then four, and so on. Baby steps are still better than no steps.
In 2017 I decided that I wanted to be able to do 50 pushups in a row. In January of that year, I started by doing 5 pushups in a row each day. It took most of the month to be able to work up to 5 regular pushups in a row with no breaks and good form. Then in February, I worked to do 10 pushups in a row. I continued adding 5 pushups a month and working on it nearly every day so that by the end of December I had finally reached my goal of being able to do 50 pushups in a row. It took an entire year to reach my goal, but when you do pushups every day for an entire year, you can experience significant results.
Consistent baby steps will get you a lot closer to your goal than leaps, fits and starts, and giving up because it’s just too hard. If you try to go big too soon you will crash and burn. But if you carefully shuffle along with small steps you are less likely to give up and more likely to reach your ultimate destination. When coming up with the habits you want to develop keep it small and doable. You can always go bigger later.
10. Keep at it for the long-haul.
When I first set out to run every day I hoped to make it a couple weeks, then I wanted to reach the 41-day goal, and then I decided to just keep going. One step, one mile, one day at a time I consistently make the choice to just keep at it. I don’t know when my streak will end, but I intend to keep going as long as my body and life allows.
When you are starting to develop a new habit you should commit yourself to a short-term goal and take things one day at a time. However, when you reach your short term goal that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re off the hook. Why did you decide to develop the habit in the first place? Probably because the habit itself or the results of the habit are really good for you. Which means that when you get to the end of your original goal it might be in your best interest to keep going.
Not every habit needs to be continued for life. After my “year of pushups” I did not keep adding 5 pushups every month. I reevaluated and decided on a different strength goal I wanted to pursue. So although I’m not doing pushups every day, I’m still working to build my physical strength on a regular basis. Tweaking and adjusting your habits is a great idea as your life and goals progress.
But if a habit is still serving you, even if it’s hard to keep doing, you may want to consider keeping at it. It’s a whole lot easier for me to get my daily run in now than it was three and a half years ago. But there are still a lot of days when I just don’t want to and it takes a lot of effort and determination to get out there and run.
There is a false belief out there that if something becomes a habit then you never have to think about it and it is never difficult for you to do. I’ve found that for most habits this isn’t actually true. Sure, you can probably think of a few habits that are so ingrained that it takes effort to not do them.
Have you ever wanted to go to the store after work but as you are driving it’s like your car auto-pilots itself home? Your habit is to go straight home, so it takes extra focus to change that up. However, for most of the intentional habits you develop in your life, there will always be a little extra brain power, focus, and intentionality required. That doesn’t mean you haven’t developed the habit, it simply means your brain prefers laziness to good choices. Good thing you have more control over yourself than your lazy brain does.
Show up, every day, for as long as you can and just see how much it changes your life.
Pick one area of your life that you would like to improve. Think of one small habit you could develop to improve in this area of life. Use the tips above to develop that habit over the next few weeks. Start today. And don’t forget to grab the 90-day habit tracker to track your success.
Additional Resources for Creating New Habits