Learn how to create healthier habits that last.
Have you ever tried starting a new habit? Like switching to a plant based diet? Or staying off social media and starting a new book instead?
I recently decided to start going to the gym. There’s a great one nearby. A five minute commute, brand new equipment and recently renovated locker rooms. I felt great the first few days I went. I loved my new routine:
✅ Wake up extra early
✅ Lace up my new shoes
✅ Grab my gym bag
✅ Hit the treadmill
And then one morning I was just a little too tired. So I hit snooze on the alarm - just ten more minutes and I’ll be good. But then it was five more minutes on top of that. Then it was, “I’ll go to the gym later.” And later came, but the gym never did.
I bounced back and forth between following through and skipping gym days more frequently. Sometimes I just didn’t feel like I had the time, something would come up, or I’d prioritize other things. Then it was back to the same place - not going to the gym.
You probably know how the rest goes. Feeling guilty that I didn’t keep up with my routine like I said I would. Being too discouraged to pick it back up. Falling back into old habits. Blah, blah, blah.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Your brain is constantly forming new pathways each time you make choices and take actions. Those pathways are strengthened the more you make the same choices, which becomes a habit. You basically teach yourself what becomes second nature. Just like you don’t have to think about driving your car now. You’re used to it, so it feels effortless.
The same can be said for hitting snooze instead of getting up for my morning exercise. It’s what I’m used to! So it can be difficult to make changes, since it goes against our “normal” choices and behaviors.
If I would’ve approached building new habits differently I could’ve set myself up for success from the beginning. Here are some of the best suggestions from experts to help you form better habits so you can learn from their advice and save yourself the struggle.
There’s an old saying, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” In a perfect world, I would go to the gym for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week, first thing in the morning. I’m talking 6am - before the birds even know what to do with themselves. I would eat extra healthy, I’d go hiking every weekend, I’d have all the time and energy to do all the things.
But in reality, that didn’t really work for me. That’s because it’s not always effective to dive into big changes full force. We need to teach ourselves new things gradually so new mental patterns can form.
Instead, it’s better to start simple: I know I can commit to a ten minute workout every morning. And I’ll start in my living room. For some people, something even simpler than that would be a better choice. One thought leader, Christine Carter, started by running for just one minute every morning. One minute! Eventually she didn’t want to stop at just 60 seconds, so she kept going. The desire to start doing more became natural. Before she knew it, she had a whole new running routine.
I don’t like running. It is what it is.
But Cameron, GQueues’ founder, LOVES running. He shares pictures from epic trails and lights up whenever he talks about running on a sunny, Colorado day. So it makes sense for him to set a goal like training for a marathon.
It wouldn’t make sense for him to try to form a new habit around something he just doesn’t like. Same for all of us. If I decided to try a new habit of running every day, I probably wouldn’t succeed - or at least I wouldn’t feel very happy about it. Remember how my stellar gym routine worked out? Oh right, it didn’t...
Sure, it’s possible you can like something more over time, but it’s not exactly a recipe for success. It will be much more difficult to start, and you might get discouraged more easily. So instead, you should focus on the things you enjoy.
If you want to form a new habit of daily movement, it’ll probably be much easier to accomplish your goal if you choose something you like to do, like square dancing or synchronized swimming. Because it’s what you enjoy.
Setting up habits based on what actually brings you joy makes those habits much easier to set in stone. If you already want to do it, the habit will form with much less resistance.
One of the biggest things that can stop us from starting and continuing new habits is friction. When something feels “just too difficult to do,” that’s friction talking.
Take a new fitness routine for example. There’s waking up earlier, packing your gym bag, changing into your workout clothes, prepping snacks, filling your water bottle… That’s a lot of steps. And lots of chances to say, “Nope! Not happening today.”
Our habits are more effective when they’re more effortless. Wendy Wood, a professor of psychology at USC, actually slept in her exercise clothes when she first started her fitness routine because it made it easier to go running first thing in the morning!
By intentionally removing barriers to put her habits into effect, it became easier to set them in stone. The friction was reduced, so it propelled her habits forward.
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, shares that one of the best strategies for building new habits is to “stack” them onto habits you already have. So what are you already doing that’s a solid part of your routine? Those habits are already locked in. Adding something new to an existing habit makes it work like a cue. If you follow up brushing your teeth with ten minutes of movement in the morning, then you’re teaching your brain to recognize brushing your teeth as a cue for that new movement habit. Just like a running routine evolved naturally for Christine or Cameron, your movement habit will feel more and more natural over time until it’s just what comes next after brushing your teeth.
One of the biggest blocks to your commitment to new habits is your state of mind. When you feel discouraged or you’re focusing on what’s not working, you’re gonna be less likely to stick to your commitments. On the other hand, when you’re in a more positive mindset, sticking to your habits feels good and makes you want to keep going.
Where you direct your attention impacts how you feel. So focus less on what’s going wrong or where you can improve, and instead focus on what’s going well. Recognize the small things. Even if you didn’t follow your commitments perfectly, find something you did do, and celebrate the small victories. Focus on where you’re the strongest and acknowledge yourself for the work you have put in. It might not seem like much now, but it will build up over time. Every little thing counts toward your end goal!
People love getting rewarded for the things they do. It’s only natural. If you do things that result in good feelings, you keep doing those things. And in today’s world of instant information at your fingertips and same-day delivery, you’ve gotten used to having the good-feeling results as quickly as possible. That’s why you want to see a six-pack after doing 50 crunches in a row. But since habits develop over time, it can be hard to stick with them if you’re not seeing those good-feeling results right away.
So, why don’t you give yourself a reward? Whenever you do your new habit, you can reward yourself by watching your favorite show at the same time, or get yourself a latte in the morning, or put $5 toward the next trip you want to take. Whatever gives you that good feeling. If you connect good feelings to your habits by rewarding yourself when you follow through with them, eventually you’ll connect those positive feelings with the habit itself. You know something good happens when you do it, so the habit feels good to do.
Go easy on yourself! It’s so easy to get stuck in perfectionism. Of course you want to do everything right. You want to succeed. And that’s great! Your desire to succeed is what motivates you to form good habits in the first place. But you’re also human. So you’re not always going to do things perfectly. “Perfect” isn’t the goal you should strive for. Accepting where you’re at and having compassion for yourself and your process will help build a positive mindset overall. Then, your habits won’t feel like a burden. You won’t feel as stressed when you miss a day or need to make changes. You can be more flexible, patient, and understanding.
Your motivation won’t always consistently be there at first, so you need to learn to ride the waves. Especially in the beginning. And even if you’ve been practicing your habits forever, there are some times you can still fall off the path. Sticking to your goals anyway, even through the low points, is gonna make all the difference.
One author describes those lows as “The Dip”. It’s the inevitable point you’ll reach when starting something new where your motivation takes a nosedive. Whether it’s discouragement because you’re not seeing the results as fast as you hoped for, or something else that shakes your commitment to your new habits, push through it. It will pass! And the rewards will be sweet.
If you can strengthen your ability to sit through the temporary discomfort of starting a new habit now, you’ll be even more capable in the long run. Temporary pains, but long term gains!
Routines are powerful. Especially when they live in your schedule. I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s easy to think of a hundred things I’d like to do. Whether I do all of the things in my head - that’s a different story. But that’s why I try to write everything down. Even if I still don’t get to everything, at least now all my ideas aren’t just floating around in my brain. I have a system that supports me in keeping track of my habits. If it’s not in my app, it’s not gonna get done.
I like using GQueues to log my habits, but even keeping a written list can do the trick. In GQueues, I can make a list of habits I want to start. Like practicing my guitar daily, or reading 30 minutes a day, or exercising in the morning. I can schedule them into my day, then check them off when they’re complete. And there’s something oh so satisfying about crossing something off your list when you accomplish it 😊
Finally, choose to commit to your new habits for yourself. Some resources suggest surrounding yourself with supportive friends and people who can help hold you accountable. This can be great - but you should also check your motivation. Are you doing this new habit just because others expect you to, or is it because you want it for yourself? The best motivation will always come from within. If your habit is based on expectations of others or because someone or something outside of you is telling you to do it, it’s not gonna last. But if you stay connected to why you’re doing it, especially if it’s for your own happiness and wellness, then that habit is gonna last no matter what comes up. Strive to meet your own expectations, not others’. And focus on making yourself proud before anyone else.
Having better habits is easier than you think. Focusing on the right motivation, being patient, and taking it one step at a time will make such a huge difference in making your new habits last. Putting your new goals on a schedule seals the deal whether you’re working with an old fashioned calendar or using an app. If you’re looking for a tool to help support you in having better habits, start a free trial with GQueues and make your first to-do list toward better habits. Every epic journey begins with the first step! Now that you know what it takes to make lasting habits, give it a try for yourself and see what’s possible.
When I'm not writing blog posts and help articles, I'm chatting with customers. I help you get the answers you're looking for so GQueues runs as smoothly as possible for you and your teams. And who would I be without my oatmilk latte in the morning? ☕️