7 Tips To Develop Good Habits And Make Them Stick
Updated: Feb 25, 2021
Creating good habits and making them stick can be tough. On the other hand, good habits can not only change our beliefs about ourselves; they can also help us be more productive and make our lives easier.
But why is it so hard to make them stick?
Truth be told, change is more comfortable when it’s enjoyable. In the book Atomic Habits, author James Clear offers valuable tips that can make the process of forming and keeping good habits easier and more fun.
Tip #1: Set time and place as your cues
A neurological loop at the core of every habit consists of three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward. The cue is a trigger that reminds you to perform a habit, a routine is an action you do, and the reward is the payoff you get. The more you repeat a routine, the more automatic it becomes. That’s how habits work.
There is a wide range of cues that can trigger a habit. But the most common cues are time and location. So, the first step in creating a new habit would be making a precise plan for when and where the new habit will happen.
For example, instead of telling yourself, “I’m going to meditate every day,” try using this formula:
I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
Or: ‘I will meditate for two minutes at 9 AM in my living room.’
When the planned moment of the action occurs, there is no need to make a decision. You won’t leave it up to chance and hope that you’ll feel motivated at the right time – you’ll follow your plan.
Tip #2: Keep an eye on your environment
You are more likely to notice cues if they stand out. The next step in building healthy habits is creating obvious visual cues that can draw your attention toward the desired behavior.
Think of it this way: it’s not easy to meditate if you don’t have a feel-good space. Create a cozy space in your living room and make it visually appealing.
Or, if you want to read a book first thing in the morning, make sure it’s always on your bedside table.
If you want to eat more fruit, remove it from the back of your fridge and place it in a bowl on your kitchen counter.
The bottom line is that if you want to make a habit a part of your life, you need to make the cue a big part of your environment.
Tip #3: Use the Two-Minute Rule
The Two-Minute Rule states that a new habit should take less than two minutes to complete. Why two minutes? In most cases, the longer an action takes and the more energy it requires, the less likely it is to occur.
Try making your new habits so easy that you’ll do them even when it’s not convenient. Nearly any habit can be scaled down to a two-minute version:
“Meditate for 10 minutes every day” becomes “Meditate for two minutes every day.”
“Fold the laundry” becomes “Fold one pair of socks.”
“Do a 30-minute yoga class early in the morning” becomes “Do a two-minute sun salutation flow early in the morning.”
Think of these two-minute behaviors as gateway habits. Meditating for an hour each day might be challenging. Meditating for half an hour is sometimes inconvenient. But playing relaxing music and just sitting in your feel-good space for two minutes is a gateway habit. That’s how you follow the Two-Minute Rule.
Tip #4: Try habit stacking
We all have some habits that we take for granted each day. We don't have to think much about taking a shower or making a cup of coffee, right? Take advantage of these automatic habits to build new ones through habit stacking.
The essence of habit stacking is to identify a current habit you already have and then stack your new behavior on top.
The habit stacking formula is:
“After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”
For example: "After I pour my morning cup of coffee, I will meditate for two minutes."
Make sure you choose the right place and the right time (per Tip #1). If you are trying to incorporate meditation into your morning routine, but your mornings are hectic, you should probably consider a different time to meditate.
Tip #5: Use the temptation bundling technique
Do you have a friend who watches his favorite show while riding a stationary bike? Your friend might be onto something!
Dopamine, a type of neurotransmitter that plays a role in how we feel pleasure, is not only produced by our brain when we experience pleasure but also when we anticipate it. Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop – when dopamine level rises, so does our motivation to act. Therefore, if you want to make the right habit stick, you have to make it attractive.
In Atomic Habits, James Clear writes about a technique called temptation bundling. Temptation bundling works by linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do.