Developing the habit of forming new habits

By Jackie Bland


Both in the workplace and at home we can excel at setting goals. Creating the habits and changes in behaviour that mean we achieve those goals is another matter.

The proverbial road to hell is paved with good intentions...but why?


It’s usually because we don’t train the brain in a way that programmes in the desired new thinking patterns and behaviours. Like a muscle, the brain responds to incremental training, step by step, keeping ambitions in check. A strong surge of resolution might feel good on New Year’s Day, or at the end of an inspirational conference but it won’t secure that goal without some dedicated back-up planning.


Writing down your goals makes them more real and more likely to be achieved.

When it comes to success in forming habits, we need to be kinder to ourselves - we need small steps and lots of repetition. Here are some straightforward tips that will help.


Choose the new habit/behaviour. Resist the temptation to try to create lots of new habits at once (e.g eat healthily, go to the gym three times a week and start reading more, it’s just too much). Choose just one habit at a time, it reduces stress, focuses your mind and increases your chances of success.


Give yourself a decent stretch of time to establish your new habit. If you go all guns blazing for three days and then loose your focus you will automatically fall back into more established patterns i.e old habits. You will succeed in adopting some habits more quickly than others, but whatever the habit, try to commit for at least a month without wavering.

Link your new habit to an existing one, e.g ‘everyday after my shower I will do 5 minutes worth of brisk exercise.’


Start very small. 5 minutes worth of exercise completed every day can be counted as success. Doing an hour long work out right from the start is likely to only happen once. Once you have established a small change you can gradually add to your new habit, e.g 5 minutes exercise in week one, 10 minutes in week two and so on.


Anticipate your own weak moments, or things that might happen to undermine your new habit, and plan for them. For example, if you’ve resolved to drink water instead of cola at work, then plan how you will deal with walking past the vending machine, or making sure you have a plentiful supply of cold water.


Make some sort of chart or list where you can record success. We feel good when we can list small goals and tick off achievement. Leave your list/chart somewhere visible as a reminder.


Make sure you take some time to celebrate success and reward yourself. Maybe you can buy yourself something as a reward when you reach a milestone or feel that you have fully established your habit.


Reinforce your new habit with your internal dialogue and the way you think about it. If you think about your habit as something you are imposing on yourself, something that is not the real ‘you’ then it is less likely to succeed. Fully embrace the new habit or behaviour and make it a true part of you. Simple reinforcing phrases can help ‘I always exercise after my morning shower’ or ‘I only drink water at work’ for example.


By operating like this you can actually form a habit of creating new habits, working through things you want to change one by one at a pace your brain can deal with.


If you have lots of things you want to change and don’t know where to start, don’t be tempted to go for the biggest most challenging things first. Create some success by forming a relatively small and easy new habit and then use the confidence that comes from that to move onto more challenging things.


Good luck - you can do it!

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