10 Tips to Build New Habits — Starting Today

Joggers in early morning mist

The old saying goes, “The more you do something, the easier it becomes.” This is true for sports as well as for building habits.

If you want to read every day, for example, it may be hard finding the time to do it at first. But over time, with a little discipline and thought, you can turn something like reading every day into a habit that you don’t even think about.

Building new habits can seem a little daunting, as you’re basically reprogramming your brain, and brains don’t like reprogramming, at all. But with some work and the tips below, you can turn something you know you should do into something that’s automatic.

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1. Improve one piece of the habit at a time

Small, incremental work is the way to do anything. Even a granite wall that seems impenetrable can be worn away to sand over time by water.

Break down your prospective new habit into manageable chunks and focus on one chunk at a time. In other words, if your goal is to read 20 pages of a book every day, start with just finding time to read something every day, no matter how little. Then work up to the full goal.

If your goal is to eat better, start with one meal at a time. Changing everything at once is a surefire way to overwhelm yourself and go back to old ways.

2. Remove Obstacles Whenever Possible

Let’s say your goal is to go to the gym every morning. Before you go to bed you should lay out your gym clothes and put everything you need in a bag by the door. This way, you’re taking one step out of the process in the morning, when you’re most apt to give up and go back to bed.

Eggs, toast and sausage breakfast made from Legos

If you want to start eating breakfast every morning, get the food and utensils ready at night. That way, it’s fewer steps to complete when you wake up.

And so on. Whatever you can do to remove friction from the process will help increase the probability that you’ll make the action a habit.

3. Measure progress frequently

It’s easy not to notice progress when you’re at the center of things, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t measure it anyway. Look at your progress weekly and monthly to see how far you’ve come – not the days you did your new habit and the days you didn’t.

By measuring your progress frequently, you can see those small changes and be proud of them.

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4. Write it down

Speaking of measuring progress, the best possible way to do this is by writing it down. The act of writing something down goes far beyond being able to look at it later. Writing things down transforms them from imaginary thoughts in our heads into tangible things that exist in the real world.

This means your progress is something real once you write it down. So keep track and set some milestones for yourself in writing, even if you never look at them again.

5. Use the carrot instead of the stick

Negative reinforcement never wins. If you’re tracking your progress and writing it down, you need to give yourself a little positive reinforcement. Looking at your progress and telling yourself it’s good and that you’re going to get it done can really help you move forward in a new habit.

Carrot dangling from a string

By the same token, don’t allow yourself to get down if you don’t meet a goal or if you revert. Just start again and know that you’ll get it at some point. If you’re negative with yourself you’ll never succeed, period.

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6. Know the benefits and the pain

One part of writing down the work on your new habit is to record the benefits you’ll reap by adding the habit and the pain that will come from not gaining the habit. This is a method used in neuro-linguistic programming, or NLP.

Basically, the idea is that people will do more to avoid pain than to gain pleasure, but if you use both the pleasure AND the pain, you’ll double up on the power to get yourself to act.

For example, if you want to start working out every morning, write down all the positives that will come from it. Then write down all the negatives that will come from NOT doing it. Use these both as your motivation and you’ll be more apt to get it done.

7. Realize everything is a habit

Just about everything you do is a habit that you started at some point. Back to the face splash and coffee in the morning. You probably don’t remember when you started doing them, but they’re habits you’ve had for quite some time.

You probably put your socks and shoes on starting with the same foot, and your pants probably go on the same every time, too. Each of these is a habit that you formed without thinking about it. Use these ideas to build your new habit. Make the new habit so regular that you won’t even notice when it’s fully integrated into your life.

8. Set a time goal

A goal without a deadline is just a wish. Give yourself a time-frame in which to integrate the new habit into your daily life, and stick to it. If your goal is to cook dinner for yourself every night, give yourself a month to work into it completely.

Large public clock with Time sign on top of building

Since you’re already tracking your progress, you should notice how you’re doing and know if you need to speed things up or not. A time goal will keep you focused and on track. No time goal means you’ll put it off indefinitely.

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9. Allow for mistakes

You’re not perfect. The sooner you realize this, the happier you’ll be. There will be days you don’t follow your prospective habit and you’ll have to catch up the next day.

Life happens and you can’t always control it. If you get down on yourself for that, you’ll never get to your goal.

10. Don’t break the chain

Finally, one of the best tips for integrating a new habit into your life comes from what may seem an unlikely source: Jerry Seinfeld.

Seinfeld is known first for his hit television show and second for his incredibly funny stand-up act.

What most people don’t see is that being as funny as Seinfeld is takes an enormous amount of work. To that end, he’s come up with some interesting methods.

One of the best methods he uses is “Don’t break the chain.”

The idea here is simple. Get yourself a nice big wall calendar and a thick red Magic Marker. Every day that you follow through on your new habit, cross the day out with a big red X. Do it every day and try not to break the chain of red X’s.

This serves as a very visible reminder of your progress. After a week or two, you really don’t want to have a big, glaring hole in the middle of that chain, so you’ll find a way to get it done.

The more visual the method is, the better it works. This keeps you accountable to yourself – and to anyone that comes to your house and sees the calendar. Once you explain it to them, you’ll also have to explain any missing X’s.

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