Create good habits with these 4 easy strategies

The beginning of any new situation—such a new duty station, a birthday, the start of the school year, or a new role—is a great time to set new goals. When you create a habit to help achieve your goal, your behavior is more likely to stick! For example, if you work really hard to lose 10 pounds, but you don’t make healthy eating and exercise a habit, it’s likely you’ll gain back the weight. Try these 4 strategies to help you develop new habits to reach—and keep—your goals.

1. Make it simple. The first mistake you might make when trying to develop a new habit is thinking you can rely on willpower. Sometimes you’re really motivated, and other days you just want to sit on the couch. Your motivation might change based on your mood, the weather, and other factors. One way to help overcome the shifts in motivation is to break the new habit into smaller manageable pieces.

For example, say you want to start reading each night before bed. Instead of trying to read for 30 minutes, start with the goal of 5 minutes. When your motivation is low you can push through just 5 minutes of reading. When your motivation is higher you’ll likely read longer. The goal is to make it easy to get started. Once you’ve gotten into the routine of reading 5 minutes each night, it’ll be easier to add time, and eventually build up to your goal of reading 30 minutes per night.

Try the WOOP—Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan—strategy to help you increase your willpower and generate the energy and motivation you need to achieve your goals.

2. Set up your environment for success. Another way to help create a new habit is to set up your environment so it’s easier to achieve your goal and harder to do the things that get in your way.

For example, if one of the main obstacles to reading each night before bed is that you’re tempted to use social media on your phone instead, put those apps in folders so it takes more effort to open them. Even better, charge your phone in another room, if possible. Place the book you want to read on your nightstand so it takes little effort to begin reading. Small changes like these make it easier to practice your new habit.

3. Build on routines you already have. Another part of starting a new habit is remembering to do it. This might seem easy, but the stresses of life can make it hard to remember to work on your new “habit.” Setting alarms or putting up reminders can be effective, but it’s even easier if you link the new habit to a routine you already do.

For example, if you want to be more grateful, each night at dinner ask everyone at the table to share 3 things they’re grateful for. If you want to lose weight, do 15 squats after each time you brush your teeth. When creating a new habit, try to build your new action into a routine you already have.

4. Enjoy the process. If you can’t get yourself to do the new “habit” at first, don’t lose hope. Developing habits is often a trial-and error-process. Learn from your mistakes. If one thing doesn’t work, try something else. Maybe you can break down the habit to make it simpler or find a different routine to connect it to. And try to enjoy the process! If your desired habit is to eat cookies every day, it’s likely you’ll succeed in no time, because eating cookies is fun. Find a way to make every new habit fun: Congratulate yourself after each success; don’t beat yourself up after each failure. To learn more ways to accomplish your goals, watch HPRC’s “Falling Forward: 6 Ways to Recover from Setbacks.”

Bottom line

Creating new habits is a great way to set yourself up for long-term success in accomplishing new goals. These 4 strategies—making the habit simple, setting up your environment for success, building on current routines, and finding ways to enjoy the process—can help you reach your goals more easily. 

Resources

Fogg, B. J. (2009). The behavior grid: 35 years behavior can change. Paper presented at the Persuasive 2009, 4th International Conference on Persuasive Technology, Claremont, CA.

Fogg, B. J. (2009). A behavior model for persuasive design. Paper presented at the Persuasive 2009, 4th International Conference on Persuasive Technology, Claremont, CA.

Fogg, B. J., & Hreha, J. (2010). Behavior wizard: A method for matching target behaviors with solutions. Paper presented at the Persuasive 2010, International Conference on Persuasive Technology, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Wood, W., & Rünger, D. (2016). Psychology of habit. Annual Review of Psychology, 67(1), 289–314. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-122414-033417