How to create lasting change with habits that stick

how_to_create_habits_that_stickHow many times have you willed or pushed yourself to make changes in your life or to create a new habit, only to find that a few weeks later, nothing has changed? Maybe the new plan just didn’t work, you forgot about it, or the busyness of life threw you off track.

It’s a lot easier to start something new than to create a habit that sticks and becomes a routine and automatic or easy part of your life.

What can you do to create habits that stick?

Start by getting very clear on why you want the habit in the first place.

What’s the pay-off for you? Do you want more energy? Will it help you create more happiness? Will it bring you more ease? Be sure to focus on how this new habit will improve your life (I’ll walk away from the table feeling comfortable and fueled, I’ll sleep like a baby again) – not on the ways it will restrict you or deprive you (as in, once I get this habit down, I’ll stop eating dessert).

It’s usually best to focus on a small change (getting out of the house every day for a walk or eating a salad once a day) instead of something that may feel too overwhelming to maintain (walking for an hour a day, every day or eating seven servings of vegetables seven days a week). Get something positive going, even if it feels ridiculously easy and then expand on the habit that now exists.

The strategy for creating habits that stick that I see most smart women skip? It’s making sure to reward your progress along the way – more than you may think you “need to” or “deserve.” Set milestones that feel easily do-able and don’t dismiss them as nothing. Mark your progress with rewards and acknowledgment and keep your plan for your new routine front of mind until it becomes something that seems to take care of itself.

Want more ideas? I asked these experts for their best tips on creating lasting change and habits that stick.

“Get to Know Your Enemy.”

Be real about your challenges.

“Identify the barriers to getting new behavior to stick and clear them away. This is also known as ‘getting to know your enemy.’ Once barriers are reduced or eliminated, a habit sticks more readily. An example in my work is helping a client establish a routine of going to the gym three days a week by focusing on what would get in the way, i.e., lack of motivation, time constraints, shame about one’s body, knowing nothing about exercise, fear about looking stupid, etc..”

Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed. Psychotherapist, Psychology of Eating Expert, and author of Outsmarting Overeating.

“Create Habit Loops”

Link your new habit to an existing cue and be sure to reward yourself for getting it done.

“Habits are formed when we associate a behavioral cue (like waking up in the morning) with an activity (such as brushing our teeth), which at least initially, is associated with a reward (for example, when you are a child, this may be a parent’s approval). Over time, you can lessen or remove the overt reward and your brains begins to “reward itself” for completing the loop of Behavioral cue >>>> Activity >>> Reward. This is known as the habit loop. Once a habit is associated with other habits it sticks, so to speak. Most of us have associated brushing our teeth with going to sleep and waking up so it’s easy.”

Ben Michaelis, PhD, Clinical Psychologist and author of Your Next Big Thing: Ten Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy

Do a Butt-shaking Happy Dance

Never underestimate the power of rewards and celebration.

“Choose the behavior and be specific – decide exactly what you want to do, and how often. Then – celebrate every time you do it. It may seem dorky doing a butt-shaking happy dance to celebrate every time you drink a glass of water or eat a serving of vegetables, but it will build momentum, keep you in a positive head-space, and make you look forward to doing it again. These things are essential for building a habit!”

Ragen Chastain is the founder of A thought leader in the fields of self-esteem, and health at every size, she is a ballroom dance champion marathoner, co-founded the 4,000 member Fit Fatties Forum, and is currently training for her first Ironman.

“Channel Jerry Seinfeld”

Make your progress something inspiring that you can see.

“Track your progress. Jerry Seinfeld created a habit of writing material every day using his Seinfeld Calendar method. This simply involved taking a wall calendar prominently posted on a wall and drawing a big ‘X’ for each day he wrote new material. After a few days, you’ll create a chain of ‘X’s.’ “Don’t break the chain!” he famously said. Tracking makes progress concrete and visible. It’s also harder to lie to yourself about what you are or are not doing.”

Aron Choi, ND, licensed Naturopathic Physician in Seattle, WA

Less is More.

Don’t get carried away – keep it simple.

“Practice one, and only one, new habit at a time. Permanent habit creation requires focus and deliberate attention. When we apply too much at once, we spread these important pieces too thin, setting ourselves up for failure.”

Maya Nahra, RD is a registered dietitian and the founder of Healthy Habit Solutions.

Consider the Fork in the Road

Use the power of perspective and think about how you’ll feel tomorrow.

“What you practice becomes a habit, so the next time you feel the urge to sidetrack yourself when you’re in the middle of a healthy new routine, pause and think about which of the two options you’ll feel better about having done tomorrow.”

Jim Hjort, LCSW, founder of


Leverage your network for support and accountability.

“Women need connection. Structure your plan around partnership. Find someone you enjoy spending time with to share your new habit or routine.”

Andrea Page, founder of

And last, but not least…

Be sure you’ve carved out the time. New routines don’t happen if there isn’t a place for them in your life. Decide when this addition to your schedule is going to happen and honor that space. Claim the time on your calendar as an ongoing commitment.

Take good care,

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