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How to Pick Up Good Habits That You Don't Ditch After a Week Here are fifteen tips that will help you develop new habits and actually keep them.

By John Rampton Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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What if everything ran on autopilot? This includes chores, exercise, healthy eating and completing your work. They just happen on their own. The problem is that unless they invent robots, all your work won't disappear overnight.

It is possible, however, to create a new habit that requires little effort to maintain, with a little bit of initial discipline.

What are habits?

Before going on further, let me quickly explain what habits are.

In short, habits are learned behaviors that become reflexive over time. In many cases, a specific context triggers the behavior. After eating breakfast, for instance, you may brush your teeth automatically.

There are three types of habits: healthy, unhealthy and neutral. For example, taking ten minutes a day to stretch or meditate when feeling stressed can be classified as a healthy habit. An example of an unhealthy habit would be smoking a cigarette whenever you're stressed. Taking the same route to work or eating the same breakfast each morning are neutral habits.

A habit is a learned behavior, whereas an unconscious behavior, like breathing or blinking, does not count.

Related: 3 Things That'll Make You a Master of Forming -- and Keeping -- Great Habits

What's the difference between habits and routines?

A habit is different from a routine because you're aware of it. In other words, habits are repeated actions on autopilot, whereas routines are planned.

Unless you practice routines deliberately, they will eventually disappear. Habits, however, are formed unconsciously.

Intention and effort are necessary for gratitude practice, for example. It won't run automatically. Exercise is no different. Exercising isn't going to happen by itself. You will, however, grab a cigarette on autopilot if you have the habit.

To become a habit, a routine should be carried out without conscious thought. For example, say you begin your morning routine by drinking green juice. You can consider it a habit when you start making your juice daily without thinking about it.

How are habits formed?

The majority of habits begin as intentional, goal-directed actions. As an example, a parent may instruct a young child to wash their hands before eating. In the beginning, a child may only wash their hands to get praise from their parents. It is possible that they need a reminder every time they eat to do the task.

In time, the child will get used to the washing routine and no longer need reminders. Even if the parent doesn't reward the behavior, the child will wash their hands before meals. Because the behavior is driven more by context than concrete rewards, it can be described as a habit.

It is possible to think of habit formation as the creation of a mental shortcut. For example, a child must take many steps to wash their hands before dinner. To wash their hands, they need to go to the sink, turn on the water, lather on soap and then dry them off. Once the habit forms, the brain begins to group these steps together as a single "chunk." To put that another way, it interprets these steps as a single behavior.

The good thing about habits? They can save your mental energy. For you to focus on more complicated choices, you may save energy if you repeat certain behaviors automatically. The problem with reflexive behavior is that it is harder to notice and stop them. It can be hard to interrupt habits such as nail-biting at the moment since the brain identifies them as one action.

Now that you have more clarity on what habits are, how they're formed and the difference between habits and routines, here are a few tips to help you develop good habits and keep them:

1. Choose an easy habit that you will not be able to resist

"The most important part of building a new habit is staying consistent," says James Clear, author of Atomic Habits. "It doesn't matter how well you perform on any individual day." Consistency is the key.

Because of this, new habits should be so easy that you cannot resist them.

  • Would you like to build a habit of exercising? Today, you will exercise for one minute.

  • Do you want to get into the habit of writing? Make a goal of writing three sentences today.

  • Want to start eating healthy? This week, you should eat one healthy meal.

"It doesn't matter if you start small because there will be plenty of time to pick up the intensity later," Clear adds. "You don't need to join a CrossFit gym, write a book or change your entire diet at the very beginning."

"It's easy to compare yourself to what others are doing or to feel the urge to optimize your performance and do more," he says. "Don't let those feelings pull you off course."

Demonstrate your ability to stick with something small for 30 days. After you are consistently on track, you may want to increase the difficulty. Performance is irrelevant at the beginning.

Related: The First Step to Creating Healthy Habits Is Smaller Than You Think

2. Think positively

When you decide to develop good habits in yourself, staying optimistic is one of the most essential elements. In addition to helping you overcome negative feelings, positive thinking enables you to deal with stress effectively.

In order to think positively, you do not ignore all the unpleasant things in life and carry on with your daily activities. Instead, you react positively to them all.

If you think mostly negatively about changing your habits, you will have a hard time adopting the new, good one. But, on the other hand, it is easier for your mind to accept something if you view it positively.

So, instead of focusing on the negative, be positive. Remember, with the right attitude, the sky's the limit.

3. Reduce triggers and cravings

Find out which people, places and activities are connected with bad habits in your mind. After that, you should change how you behave toward them.

Those with shopping addictions should avoid shopping malls, for example. Also, when your friends take a smoke break, don't go outside with them if you're trying to quit.

There is also a link between chronic stress and poor behavior. As such, managing your stress levels will help you avoid triggers.

In the same way, cravings are driven by a desire to change your internal state of being. In other words, you can reduce cravings by identifying how you want to feel. Then, once that feeling is achieved, take an action that is healthier.

Instead of smoking when you want to relax, take a bath. Rather than drinking your third cup of coffee, eat a banana when you need energy.

4. Do it every day

Researchers from the University of Bristol investigated how people form habits in the real world, asking participants to take a walk before dinner or drink water at lunch. In the study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it was found that it took 18 to 254 days for a task to become automatic. However, the median time was 66 days.

What is the lesson? Creating habits takes time. The more often we practice them, however, the quicker they become, so start with something little and simple.

For example, it's more effective to do a small amount of exercise every day, rather than trying to go to the gym thrice a week to stick with an exercise habit. Then, as you become accustomed to daily exercise, you can begin exploring more intense forms.

5. Swish – a technique from NLP

Swish Patterns are used to break unwanted habits and limiting behaviors. In this method, you imagine a situation that is undesirable or triggers you, as well as a version of the situation that would result in a perfect outcome. After that, you swish the two images so that the desirable one occupies more mental space.

The first thing you need to do is visualize yourself doing a bad habit. After that, visualize yourself letting go of the bad habit and taking on a new one. Then end that sequence with a highly positive image of yourself.

Think of how you would feel if you picked up a cigarette, put it down and snapped your fingers. Last but not least, visualize yourself running and breathing freely. You should repeat the process a few times until the new habit becomes automatic.

Related: Form Lasting Habits Using These 4 Strategies

6. Make the habit fun to repeat

Most of us overestimate our willpower when trying to build a new habit and set a course for the most efficient method to accomplish our goal. For example, suppose you want to become fit through regular exercise. In most cases, you'll look for workouts that yield quick results, such as running on a treadmill.

However, research suggests that finding ways to make goal pursuit fun will help you persist longer and ultimately accomplish more.

For exercise, this might mean going to Yoga or Zumba classes with a friend, hiking or joining a team sport. For those trying to eat more fruits and vegetables, smoothies can combine multiple servings of fruits and vegetables in one tasty drink.

Overall, a positive experience is critical to habit formation. But it's often overlooked since repetition is key to sticking with something you enjoy.

7. Consider failure while planning for success

Again, it takes time to build a new habit, so don't expect success overnight. A good habit could require many failures before you become habitual.

As a result of your guilt after your failure, you may stop incorporating that good habit into your daily routine. A solid plan, though, will make it easy for you to get back on track quickly.

You should remember that slipping up is not a failure. It's a normal part of the process. However, to develop good habits, it's important to have a plan for dealing with failure. So, make sure you don't start building a good habit without a plan.

8. Motivate yourself intrinsically

There are two things you need to believe to build intrinsic motivation:

  • First, as long as you act according to your own preferences, you have the freedom to do so.

  • The work you do will make you a better, more knowledgeable person.

It is essential to learn how to deal with negative emotions to believe these two things. Additionally, you'll need a way to measure your progress. After all, progress is an important motivator. The simplest method is to write it down and stick it on your mirror. Writing in a journal or creating a more detailed spreadsheet might also be options.

9. Make sure you're flexible

As soon as we put something on autopilot, we fall into pretty consistent routines, exercising, studying or taking our medication at the same time and place every day. However, research suggests you should deliberately introduce some variability into your routine when you're just beginning to form habits.

There's still no substitute for having a first-best plan. For instance, establish a mindfulness habit, perhaps meditating at 7:00 a.m. every day. Likewise, you should also consider mixing in a meditation session around and another at 6:00 p.m.

As you recall, it's essential to repeat a behavior frequently to build a habit. However, the less brittle your routine becomes, the less likely you will follow through. If you have a flexible habit, you can still accomplish what you need to, even when things go off track. For example, let's say that a traffic jam prevented you from meditating in the morning; you can still practice mindfulness at noon.

The key to being flexible is to provide yourself with "emergency reserves." You'll have these cards on hand for those days when you can't meditate, for instance. Think of them as your Get Out of Jail Free card in Monopoly.

A challenging goal, like meditating daily, for instance, can motivate you more than an easier one. But if you miss multiple targets, it can be demoralizing. If an emergency arises, having a few emergency reserves each week allows you to miss a day without losing sight of your goal.

10. Work on your environment

Environment plays a huge role in developing good habits. For example, let's say you decide to eat a clean diet. However, when you open the fridge door, you see all the junk food inside. You'll have a hard time resisting that, won't you?

You will have difficulty getting rid of your bad habits if you do not change your environment. It is, therefore, better to alter your environment according to your goals.

Related: 5 Ways to Set Good Habits That Actually Stick

11. Adopt healthy routines

Good habits are built through lifestyle choices. So, what is the best way to change your lifestyle? By improving your daily routine.

In other words, take the time to plan out your day and incorporate healthy practices where appropriate.

Eat vegetables and fruits as soon as you wake up, for instance. Then, you can take a restorative nap during your lunch break. In the evenings, go for a stroll. Just remember to select realistic and healthy practices when choosing them.

12. Get the social support you need

Sometimes, this step is overlooked despite being obvious. As you set goals, let your friends and family know about them since they can serve as cheerleaders and hold you accountable.

Evidence suggests that the behavior of those around us strongly influences our behavior. For example, are you interested in starting a regular running routine? It's probably better to join a running club than ask a few friends who don't jog to join you. After all, members of the running club already have the habits you're looking for. As a result, you'll learn what works and gain friends who will keep you on your toes when you fall behind.

If you want to pick up good habits, try hanging out with people who are a few steps ahead of you. However, don't overextend yourself. The experience of training with marathoners can be disheartening if you only want to improve your 5K speed.

Overall, it has been shown that socializing with people who are already successful and being inspired by them is crucial for success. The added bonus is that it's more fun to achieve your goals with the people you like.

13. Keep a journal

In general, journaling is considered a good habit. Why? As well as helping you learn from your mistakes and wins, it enables you to improve your ability to communicate.

You are likely to achieve many victories as well as some mistakes when you implement a good habit into your life. Keeping a journal in which you list all your wins and errors will allow you to easily see all the mistakes at a glance that were not in line with your habits development strategy.

Furthermore, it can help reduce these mistakes so you can remove obstacles to developing a positive habit and replace it with a negative one. In addition to identifying the obstacles, this method accelerates your habit-building progress.

14. Set calendar reminders

It can be hard to remember to maintain a habit at first. As discussed above, habituation takes time.

One solution would be using an online calendar, such as Google Calendar, iCal, or Microsoft Calendar. With these calendar tools, you can schedule the habits you want to develop. You can also set notifications to remind you when it's time to start working on a task. And you can even make events that recur monthly, weekly or daily.

Related: Science Says Healthy Scheduling Habits Make People Happier

15. Practice self-compassion instead of self-judgment

The probability of you having a bad outcome is much higher if you think that you can't do the good habit you want to incorporate into your life. The reason? Because it's hard. When faced with a difficult task, motivating yourself with a can-do attitude is better than judging yourself.

Self-judgment creates a sense of guilt and shame because you take responsibility for your mistakes when you are working on them. In turn, you begin to feel guilty and ashamed. Negative consequences often accompany these feelings.

Because of this, it's important to think about forming a good habit with self-compassion rather than self-judgment to give yourself some empathy and love, making it easier to do so.

John Rampton

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Entrepreneur and Connector

John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor and startup enthusiast. He is the founder of the calendar productivity tool Calendar.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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