5 Secrets to Make New Habits Stick

Why not take the time now to form and stick to great new habits? The good news is that habit formation is more doable than ever before, thanks to its status as a science. Here, top experts offer tips that work.

According to behavior scientist BJ Fogg, Ph.D., creator of the Tiny Habits method and director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University, you should:

  • Start with baby steps. If you start super small, you don’t have to rely on willpower; willpower often creates trouble, notes Dr. Fogg. Instead, sidestep willpower altogether by performing an action so small, it hardly counts as a new behavior. If you want to drink eight glasses of water, for instance, start with a sip in the morning. Small incremental change accumulates over time until it becomes a new habit.
  • Anchor the new tiny action in an established routine—like brushing your teeth or drinking your morning coffee.
  • Celebrate your success. Dr. Fogg adds that “emotions create habits in a way that repetition or frequency does not. Adopt a new habit faster by celebrating three times—when you remember to do the habit when you’re doing the habit, and immediately after completing the habit.” Learned behaviors like smiling at your image in the mirror or saying something to yourself, like “well done!” are also recommended because he says they can induce a feeling of deep personal victory.

According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, you should keep in mind:

  • Never miss twice. Lapses are inevitable on your path to form a new habit. Don’t despair or feel like your plan is a lost cause if you slip, even significantly. Instead, simply aim for avoiding two lapses in a row. If you eat a bag of chips and a pint of ice cream today, tomorrow is another opportunity to get back on track and stick to your plan.

According to Wendy Wood, Ph.D., psychologist and author of the book, Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick, you should try to:

  • Make it easy for yourself. Dr. Wood herself says she has slept in her running clothes in order to wake up and be ready to go. Trying to eliminate “friction”—the small obstacles in your way—can help you to accomplish your desired habit. Friction can include too many steps; too long a wait time; or any hassle factor. We’re sensitive to this friction, even more than we’re aware. Think of the website Amazon as the opposite of friction—one or two easy clicks get you to your goal, she points out. Use this same principle for habit formation: smooth the way, and you’ll likely accomplish the habit. Layout gym clothes the night before, line up your smoothie fruit on one shelf in the fridge.