How to Learn Good Habits

Three Parts:Forming HabitsKeeping Up With Your HabitsImproving Motivation

At the end of the day, you are defined by your habits. Most of a person's experience in life is determined by a familiar routine. With this in mind, it is disappointing that so many people let themselves get weighed down by bad habits without thinking about it. While this may sound like a bad thing, habits can work just as much to the advantage of you and your life. Although good habits are usually much harder to pick up than their negative equivalent, following through with an activity tends to become a lot easier once it becomes routine. The trick is simply to get those good habits started in the first place.

Part 1
Forming Habits

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    Understand how habits are formed.[1] Habits have a lot to do with brain chemistry and everything to do with psychology. If we do something enough times, the brain will adapt to fit it. Left to our own devices, we will follow things that make us feel good, and avoid the things that make us feel unpleasant. Even when we know something like exercise (adding discomfort) or dieting (removing comfort) will help us more in the long run, your current brain chemistry will do anything to get you to stick to your routine. This is where willpower comes into play.
    • On a brighter note, habits naturally become a lot easier to follow through with the longer you stick with them. Someone who goes out running every day for a year won't even feel the need to be motivated to keep going out.[2]
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    Start small. All habits take time to grow. At the start to something new, it's natural to feel excited. The most common mistake people make at the beginning is by taking on too much, too soon. Even if you're feeling really motivated or anxious for change, a more gradual habit will be much easier to stay true to.[3]
    • For example, if you're wanting to go out running every day and want to ultimately run for 45 minutes each morning, trying starting with 10 minutes. At first it may seem like you're selling yourself short, but it will seem a lot more manageable than the full amount for the times when you need to be motivated. Of course, you can do the full amount on days you're feeling up to it.
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    Gradually build upon your habit. Once you start very small, you'll be able to build up the habit as your motivation for the activity increases. This should be done in small, non-threatening increments. For instance, if you started out going for a 10 minute run each morning, you should try pushing it up to 15 minutes after a week, adding 5 extra minutes onto your total until you reach the end goal. By keeping the increases small and gradual, you'll be able to give yourself the time to adapt.
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    Find ways to enjoy the activity. If you feel difficulty in starting a habit, there's a very good chance you don't naturally see enough pleasure involved in the experience. Luckily, for the vast majority of beneficial activities, there are plenty of ways you can see something positively. Finding the joy in something will make you enjoy the experience more, and this will make you feel more motivated to keep up with it.[4]
    • For example, many joggers report getting a "runner's high" after running for a while. Exercise can be a naturally pleasurable thing once you get the hang of it. Other ways you could improve a jogging situation would be to bring music or a running partner along with you.
    • If you're studying a topic for school or work, you should try to acknowledge what things are interesting in the given subject you're working on.
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    Write reminders for yourself. No matter how motivated you are right now, there are going to be times when the goal slips your mind. Posting reminders of the habit you want to learn is a good way to keep your mind in the right spirit. Write a note on your calendar about it, or include a post-it note next to your computer. Because habits are best learned when they're daily, try including the notes in places you'll probably go past every day.[5]
    • If you have a cellphone with a built-in alarm clock, one thing you can do to remind yourself of your habit is to record a voice note where you tell yourself to follow through. Set your phone to play this voice memo when you wake up. That way, the first thing you'll hear in the morning is a direct, customized reminder to work on your chosen habit.
    • Remember the adage: "Out of sight, out of mind." You want to get the opposite of this.
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    Accommodate for slip-ups.[6] Nobody is perfect. However, when we're trying to stick with a new habit, it can feel devastating to relapse or lose your winning streak. Many people who give up on forming good habits do because they lose motivation for keeping up the effort once they've slipped up. Some dieters will let themselves binge eat after slipping once because they feel they've already failed. Embrace an occasional slip-up as part of the process, and don't let it bring you down. The bigger picture is the most important thing.

Part 2
Keeping Up With Your Habits

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    Give yourself an occasional break. Although habits will eventually become easier to keep up, you may run the risk of burning out in the early stages. If you're working in a new healthy behaviour like exercise or studying, it can be a good idea to give yourself a break now and then. Set aside a day to take it easy and do what you want. After having that time to relax, you should be feeling more motivated to keep going.
    • If you do give yourself a break, make absolutely sure that you don't turn this into an invitation to slack off for a longer period of time. If a break doesn't make you feel refreshed and motivated, it's not worth the risk.
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    Switch things up. After a while, your habit will begin to settle. While you usually won't have to fight a lack of motivation if you stick with something for longer than 3 weeks, there's a chance your routine may become stale. Even if your routine is effectively in place by this point, it's a good idea to play around with it. Getting the habit in place is the hard part; once the habit is steady, it's recommended you tweak your activity. There are usually ways you can make it more effective or beneficial to you, and a dynamic approach will keep it interesting for you.
    • It's not recommended you play around with your routine until the habit is relatively settled. Making a habit is a hard enough thing on its own. Adding new strains to it risks limiting the habit's development.
    • For example, if you're running, you might try a different path. New paths are especially good if you can switch from an even path to an inclined one.
    • If you're sticking with a new diet, working with new recipes will keep things interesting.
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    Get a friend involved.[7] Friends can be a great source of emotional support. When it comes to forming new habits, they can be essential in keeping you motivated and accountable. Often, simply telling someone else about your goal can lead to a social pressure to follow through with it. This positive pressure can be especially effective if you see the person on a daily basis.
    • It's even better if you're trying to make a new habit with someone together. That way, the two of you will understand what the other person is going through, and you can offer more specific advice as such.
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    Enjoy the positive outcomes. Almost all healthy habits come with positive outcomes. This is why they're considered healthy in the first place. Some of these habits, like exercise, will have a major and noticeable impact on the way of look and feel. The results of other habits may be more subtle. All the same, taking the time to pat yourself on the back for a job well done is an important part of keeping a habit in the long-term.

Part 3
Improving Motivation

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    Set realistic goals for yourself. At the beginning stages, people are often very motivated or excited over their goals. This causes them to get overzealous with their goals. Unrealistic goals will work against you. Although you may think they will simply push you to become excellent, an unattainable goal offers little reason to pursue it. Keep your goals small at first, and develop them slowly from there.
    • Unrealistic goals usually have at least one unlikely aspect about them. In order for a goal to be realistic, you already need to have most (if not all) of the skills and resources to accomplish it. If your goal is to get those skills in the first place, you need to set your sights low at first. After time, you'll be able to get a practical insight into what is and isn't realistic in that area for you.
    • Specific goals are much more effective motivators than broad goals.[8]
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    Reflect on the reasons you want change.[9] There will always be a reason why you want to make something a habit. The positive effects of doing something are a big incentive. If you feel less motivated to stick with something, think about all the things you'll get if you follow through with it. Positively imagining the future has a significant impact on someone's psychology, and it can work to your advantage if you need the extra motivation.
    • Remind yourself of the end goal. Even if you want your habit to become a permanent thing, there will be permanent changes that could potentially have a major effect on the way you live.
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    Reward yourself periodically.[10] Rewards are a positive force for motivation. Although they can sometimes be tough to administer to yourself, promising to treat yourself to something upon reaching a certain milestone can give you something new to work towards. Whether it's a new book or a night out with friends, anything pleasurable can work to your advantage in this case.
    • It's important that your reward doesn't contradict the thing you're working on. For example, a dieter should not reward himself at the end of a week by gorging himself on fatty foods.
    • Don't reward yourself before you actually do the thing you set out to do. Rewards require a clear cause-effect relationship in order to feel motivating.
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    Remember that it gets easier. The longer you follow through with a habit, the more used your brain will get to it, and the less motivation it will take to keep doing it. This is the basis of all habit-making. Knowing that it will keep getting easier and easier the longer you do it can be a source of motivation itself.


  • Habits usually take about a month to really sink in. However, there's no single time estimate for a habit to kick in. Everyone is different.[11]


  • Don't let yourself lose sight of your goals if you foul up. Success is measured by how fast you're able to pick yourself back up.

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Categories: Creating Life Balance