How to Form and Keep Habits


By Carolyn Simon, LPC

Recently, one of the most significant topics in personal and mental health care has been habits. Habits make up all sorts of our behaviors and can influence our productivity, movement, health, actions, well-being, stress levels, and more. Many individuals attempt to create new habits and can grow frustrated when they don’t easily stick or seamlessly integrate themselves into their daily lives. Forming and upkeeping habits takes time, patience, and information on how to get started and how to keep going.

Start with one or two.

Many people attempt to start a number of new habits at once or have too high of goals and aspirations that can lead to failure (in the short term). If someone wants to run a half-marathon by the end of the year, they may want to immediately get into the habits of drinking eight glasses of water a day, stretching every day, eating four vegetables a day, sleeping eight hours each night, and so forth, which can lead to feeling overwhelmed and not being sure where to start or how to maintain. Habits are much more likely to occur and keep going if they’re focused on one at a time, such as looking to incorporate a daily run, instead of trying to change everything all at once.

Keep it simple and specific. 

Wanting to get into the habit of running in order to run a half-marathon may seem like a great goal, yet without a plan and specificity one may struggle with where to start and how to maintain. For example, one may have a goal of wanting to create a habit of running fifteen miles a week for training, yet for a non-runner, this may seem insurmountable. Instead of running fifteen miles a week right off the bat, start with five minutes a day to make it more attainable and more likely to happen, thus increasing your motivation to continue going. After a week passes, you’ll have run a total of 35 minutes without making it feel too overwhelming or painful.

Continuously modify your habits. 

As time continues, goals and habits can be modified to increase your daily running to half a mile, one mile, two miles, and so forth. You’ll still be doing the habit of running every day, yet the time and distance will vary based on how your body is feeling and responding. Once the habit of running starts to seem easier and more ingrained, other habits can be introduced and worked on alongside your running.

Do it (almost) every day.

It may be impossible to ask someone to run all 365 days of the year since things like sickness, injury, travel, weather, and more can get in the way. The key to keeping habits alive is consistency and although doing it every day would be the most beneficial and effective, doing it more days than not will also have a similar effect. Try not to let two or more days get in between your habits, yet always take time to care for yourself based on what your body and mind are telling you!

Consider habit stacking.

Habit stacking involves building a new habit off an already existing habit, in the hopes of making it easier to remember and achieve. By taking a habit that you already do every day, like brewing coffee or brushing your teeth, you can stack a new behavior on top of the established one to help yourself. For example, one may think “As I brew my cup of coffee each morning, I will stretch for two minutes.” Or, “After I brush my teeth each morning, I will take my new medication that’s beside it on the counter.” Putting a new habit into your already-established morning routine will make it easier to remember and complete with practice. Remember, creating and maintaining new habits requires time, energy, repetition, patience, and commitment and is a great way to try new behaviors and lifestyles. 

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