How to Master the Habits You Want and Shed the Ones You Don't

Forming a new habit, or getting rid of an old one, is the key to happiness and success.

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By Lisa Evans

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Let's face it, we all have a bad habit we'd like to break, or a new habit we'd like to start – like exercising in the early morning, or eating a healthy lunch (or for busy entrepreneurs, maybe something as simple as taking a lunch break every day). We've all read articles with titles like "The Top 10 Habits of Successful People" and have maybe tried to incorporate some of the habits of Steve Jobs or Richard Branson into our daily schedules with little success.

While following in the habit footsteps of others may not be the key to your success, forming a new habit, or getting rid of an old, unhealthy one, is the key to happiness and success, according to happiness guru Gretchen Rubin.

Rubin has made a career out of researching and speaking about happiness. "I've noticed when people mention a big happiness boost or a big happiness challenge they were struggling with, often it came down to an issue of habit," she says. Being exhausted all day long, for example, was really a result of a lack of habit of getting enough sleep. In her new book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives, Rubin spells out the four pillars of habit-making:


Keeping track of your behavior can help you to change your behavior. If you're trying to eat healthier, keep a food journal. If you're trying to walk more, use a step counter. If you're working on a project, keep track of the number of hours you spend on the project each day.

"Just by monitoring something, you tend to improve your behavior," says Rubin. Keeping track of your behavior keeps you honest with yourself about how much you're really working towards your habit change.

Related: How to Optimize Your Daily Decisions

Build a foundation.

Setting up your life to succeed in creating a habit requires a solid foundation to start. This foundation, says Rubin, is made up of eating and drinking healthily, getting enough sleep, and exercise. All of these things can give you an energy boost and improve your self-mastery, both of which are necessary when trying to form a new habit.


"For most people, putting something on a schedule makes you more likely to do it," says Rubin. If something can be done at any time during the day, it's likely doing to happen at no time. If you say you want to make daily exercise a habit but you don't put it into a schedule, you're likely to find yourself at 9pm remembering that you didn't exercise today. Putting something on a schedule eliminates decision making and makes it a commitment.


"Almost all of us do better when we know someone's watching," says Rubin. This is why support groups such as Weight Watchers for those who want to lose weight or AA for alcoholics work so well. Support groups create an external accountability that help us keep on track with our goals. No matter what the new habit you want to create is, you can set up your own accountability group at home, among friends or at work. Simply knowing that someone is going to ask you whether you did "x" today, will help you to make your new habit a priority.

Related: How to Declutter Your Mind and Unleash Your Willpower

Lisa Evans

Lisa Evans is a health and lifestyle freelance journalist from Toronto.

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