People struggle to create healthy or positive habits in all areas of their life. The barriers to achieving these new habits can seem unsurmountable. The list of priority projects and unexpected crises are endless. If this is something you have been struggling with, there are a few key factors to consider in creating a new habit and making it stick.  

The first factor to consider is the trigger or signal to your brain to engage in the desired behavior.

Let’s say the new habit you wish to develop is exercising. If you really want to be successful at establishing a habit of exercising, you have to have a strong signal that will tell you brain, “it’s time to exercise.” It is most effective if your signal is something that is already part of your existing routine, something that you can count on to happen like clockwork. If you know you switch your alarm off every morning and get out of bed immediately, you can select your signal for exercising to be switching off your alarm. Of course, that means if you don’t use an alarm on the weekends, you won’t have the signal to your brain on the weekends to exercise.     

The second factor is motivation or, simply put, the thing that you crave.

If you don’t really have the motivation to create the new habit, it’s just not going to happen. All motivational factors are not equal. A superficial motivation or craving is not going to allow for long-term results Instead, it has to be tied to a core value. If I say I will exercise because I want to fit into an old pair of jeans, that motivation will fluctuate depending on my mood or the type of day I’m having. If, on the other hand, I truly value being healthy so I can have a better quality of life, I can connect with that value on even the lowest days of motivation to exercise. In other words, my craving or motivation will be strong enough to sustain.

The third factor to consider is the actual action you have to take.

On some days there will be more discomfort or barriers to performing the action step. If the action step requires more physical and/or mental effort than you are willing to expend, you simply won’t take the action step. You really have to consider, on your toughest days with the most amount of distress, what is an action step you will still be able and willing to take.

If we take the example of exercise again, I might initially have a lofty goal of a one-hour exercise routine, but if I consider a tough morning with lots of things clamoring for my attention in the day ahead, I might really just be comfortable dedicating 15 minutes to exercise. Then 15 minutes of exercise is the goal/action step I should set for myself.

There is nothing that prevents you from doing more once you get going or if you happen to have a good morning with fewer barriers and lots of energy. Just don’t set your goal for your top performance, set it for an easily achievable mark on a bad day.

The final factor in establishing a new habit as the reward.

The reward is really gained by taking the action step. When you take the action step you satisfy your underlying motivation or craving and this is reinforcing. In my previous example, when I exercise, I satisfy my craving of living the healthy lifestyle I desire in order to live a better quality of life. This will help drive and sustain my new habit as well.