Taking the first step: 7 tips for building new habits

Article by Kezia Thomas 09.02.15

Most people start the year with grand plans. Resolutions are usually quite broad, and sometimes they are huge ‘end game’ goals that require drastic life changes. I am an advocate of thinking big and setting yourself a challenge, but when you make your mind up to climb a mountain, you need to plan a route to get you to the top.
Forming habits is an easy way to make steps towards achieving your big goals, and ensuring you don’t slip up on the way. If you make small and realistic changes to your lifestyle gradually, you are far more likely to achieve success.

Here’s a seven step guide to how you could apply this to your own goals.

1. Choose something that is important to you

If you’re going to stay motivated, your new habit needs to be something that has value to you. This way, whenever you’re about to give up, you can give yourself a powerful reminder of the benefits of continuing, and this will help you maintain commitment. Something you are emotionally attached to will have much more power than something you’ve agreed to and don’t really want to follow through.

2. Choose something that is easy to start

The smallest changes can have the greatest impact because you are more likely to stick to them and allow a habit to form. You can keep building off that platform, taking the next step when you’re ready.

Break down your big goal into smaller chunks. Rather than “I’m going to lose X stone of weight” think in terms of small changes you can make to your diet to get you off on the right track. Maybe something as easy as “I’m going to take one less sugar in my tea.”

3. Trigger the behaviour

You need a reminder to make you start doing your new thing. Incorporating changes into your current routine has the most impact, so try creating chains of thought to help you succeed, using ‘if’ and ‘then’ planning. For example, to support a healthier eating plan: “If I am offered dessert at a restaurant, then I will order a cup of tea instead.” To start on your marathon training: “If I am walking the dog, then I will jog for ten steps and walk for twenty.” There’s scientific proof that if-then planning can make you twice as likely to succeed in your goals, so it’s definitely worth a try.

4. Stay consistent

Creating routine around your new habit is essential, and the if-then planning can really help as your cues will always be identical.

You may need to create a new routine to help you embed a habit. For example, if you don’t have a dog to walk, but your challenge is to start running, then you could think about walking or running to the local shop to get a paper every morning.

5. Remove temptation and blockers

If you change your environment and schedule to help you, it makes it more likely you will achieve your goals. Consider what you can do to help yourself by working out exactly where things may start to go wrong. Don’t buy the foods that will sabotage diet changes – you can’t eat something that isn’t there. Make sure you have the right clothing and motivational playlists ready on your MP3 player for your morning run – if it’s easy, fun and the weather isn’t a barrier, you’ll be more inclined to go.

6. Get some support

Without support from the people around you, it’s going to be tough. They need to understand what you are trying to achieve and why it’s important to you, so that they can encourage you and help you stay motivated. Whether it’s a close friend, partner or your whole family, make sure you share your plan with them and ask them to help you form your new habits.

7. Reward yourself

If you’ve made a commitment to change and you’re on track, you ought to celebrate your successes and help you stay motivated. Rewards can be anything that has value to you – getting your nails done, ordering a new book, having a day out. Set mini-milestones and reward yourself when you get there: you’ll have earned it!

The road to achieving your goals may seem long, but the journey can be as rewarding as the end game. I hope this helps you find the way there!

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