14 Foolproof Ways To Build A New Habit

When was the last time you wanted to incorporate a new healthy habit into your life? Maybe you've wanted to start going on runs or walks daily, or you're trying to get into the routine of doing a full skincare regimen on a nightly basis. Whatever the habit is, we wouldn't be surprised to hear that it was actually kind of difficult to start. You probably stuck with it for a few days, maybe even a week, but then something happened that threw off your routine, and you never got back into it. 

If this sounds like you, there's nothing to be ashamed of — new habits are notoriously difficult to incorporate into your everyday life. In fact, Healthline says that new habits tend to take 21 days to form and that they take an average of 66 days of repetition to become automatic. We know, that sounds like a long time, but there are actually several things you can do to make it easier to build that healthy habit that you want to become part of your routine. In fact, you'll probably have a habit of building new habits before you know it! Let's chat about 14 of our favorite foolproof ways to build a new habit in no time. 

Try habit stacking

Chances are you already have habits that are part of your everyday routine. For example, you probably wake up every morning and brush your teeth without even thinking about it. You probably also shower most mornings, make coffee, and maybe even have some breakfast. You also have other little habits you do throughout your day — you grab your wallet before you leave the house, you probably eat lunch sometime during the day, you change out of your work clothes after arriving home, and you brush your teeth again before bed. When you're trying to build a new habit, then, why not utilize a habit you already do automatically?

Habit stacking is a way to use already existing habits in your routine to build new ones. Essentially, you'll attach the new habit you want to build to a habit you already have by doing them at the same time — thus, the existing habit begins to act as a trigger for the new one. For example, if you want to take vitamins every morning, put your vitamin container right next to your toothbrush and take them right after you brush your teeth. Pretty soon, you'll automatically remember to take your vitamins after brushing your teeth. Or, when you get home from work and change out of your work clothes every day, start changing into workout clothes, which will prompt you to go exercise. Voila! A new habit has been born.

Build new habits one at a time

When you're getting all geared up to start a new habit, it's easy to want to go all out and start more than one new habit at a time. This is common especially when people want to make big lifestyle changes. For example, if you're trying to maintain a healthy weight, you might be tempted to get start eating healthier, exercising, and practicing good self-care all at once. 

While we admire your enthusiasm, we suggest you channel your efforts into adopting just one habit at a time. Why? Well, trying to adopt more than one habit at once can dramatically decrease your chances of retaining any of the habits you're trying to start. In fact, Plant-Based Life reports that you have about an 80% chance of success at building a habit if you try to build only one at a time. But if you try to adopt two, the chances of either of them staying in your life drop drastically, to less than 35%. Trying to adopt three habits at once makes your chances of success about 5%. We don't say this to discourage you, though! You definitely can adopt three new habits, or five, or more if you want — it just may take a little bit more time. We recommend ranking all the new habits you want to start in order of importance, then try to adopt the most important one first, and leave the smaller ones for last. 

Find an accountability partner

This tip may work especially well for any Enneagram twos or threes. The next time you find yourself wanting to adopt a new habit, don't keep it a secret — tell a trusted friend or family member, and ask them to hold you accountable to sticking with it. When you go to them, have a decent outline of what you want to start doing more (or less) of, why, and the days and times when you want to do the new habit. Ask them to check in with you around those times to see if you've done it. Even the simple fact of knowing someone is going to check in on your habit-building is sometimes enough to prompt you to stick with it. 

Of course, our friends aren't only there to make sure we've done something — they also are great at encouraging us to stick with new habits as we build them. Especially if the new habit you're trying to build has been historically difficult for you, having a friend as an accountability partner to cheer you on can be a hugely positive motivator. Accountability partners not only hold us accountable, but they can also help minimize our inner self-sabotage talk that tells us we can't do whatever we're trying to achieve. So the next time you're building a habit, tell a friend. We wouldn't be surprised if it really sticks this time.

Or just do it with someone

Don't want an accountability partner? Or maybe you're too social to adopt new habits on your own — no shame there! Why not try to build the new habit with someone? If you want to start exercising more, go to the gym with your partner or a friend after work every day. Or, if you want to eat healthier, do that with a household member and take turns cooking healthy meals for each other. 

The beauty of this tip is that whomever you choose to do your new habit with doesn't have to also be adopting the habit. This is a great opportunity to get in with someone who already practices the habit(s) you want to adopt. That way, you can join in with them as they participate in it, and you might gain some valuable insight along the way. For example, running with a seasoned runner might teach you a lot about appropriate pacing and stretching. Working out with a friend who frequents the gym can lessen any gym anxiety you may have (after all, who actually knows how to use all those machines?) and even resting with your most zen friend can teach you how to rest better. 

Do it at the same time

Fortunately for those of us who are trying to adopt new habits, our bodies are creatures of habit. We love routine, so much so that our bodies have several internal habits we're likely unaware of. For example, your circadian rhythm is a habitual internal cycle that governs when your body wakes and sleeps, and how your energy ebbs and flows throughout the day. It stands to reason, then, that when we're adopting a new habit, we want to work with our body's natural habits as much as we can. This means that practicing a new habit at the same time every day can really help you retain it, even creating internal triggers that will prompt you to do the habit.

For example, say you want to drink more water, so you decide to drink a full cup of it upon waking every day. Soon enough, your body will internalize this rhythm, and you'll start feeling thirsty right when you wake up. If you want to eat at a regular time every day, eventually your body will start being hungry at that time. This doesn't mean you have to do your habit at the same time each day for ever and ever, but when you're building a new habit, practicing it at the same time every day can greatly increase your chances of retaining it.

Set reminders for yourself

If you're a self-proclaimed scatterbrain, or your life is just hectic 24/7, the hardest part about starting a new habit can just be remembering to do it at all. Life is busy, and distractions are near constant. It's easy to let everything else get in the way. If this sounds like you, and you're trying to build a new habit, consider setting reminders for yourself to do it. This way, the habit will stay front of mind, and you're less likely to end your day with regret at forgetting to do it.

You could set a reminder on your phone to go off at the same time every day for your new habit — this will help you retain the habit better and likely quicker. But some of us simply can't do something at the same time every day. If that's you, try starting your day with a list of daily to-dos, and don't forget to put your new habit at the top. Check off tasks as you go throughout the day. Having a written reminder of your habit is also helpful when it comes to actually adopting and retaining it. Of course, you can use whatever method will keep you from forgetting to do your new habit — try sticky notes on a mirror or bedside table or a written reminder in a place you frequent.

Attach the habit to a reward at first

Listen, if you're anything like us, nothing incentivizes you to do something more than the promise of a sweet, sweet reward at the end. Looking forward to something we love is often enough motivation to complete even the most grueling of tasks, from finally scheduling (and attending) that Zoom meeting you've been dreading to finishing up a dissertation. But rewards don't only have to be attached to one-off tasks like this — in fact, attaching a reward to a habit you're trying to build can help you retain it better, too. 

Say you're trying to make a habit out of doing an hour of yoga every day. As you're building the habit, give yourself a reward every time you successfully complete it. If you get to take a nice long bubble bath after a workout, you'll probably be more motivated to do the workout than you would be otherwise. If you're trying to read more books, get a treat from the bakery every time you finish one. As the new habit becomes routine, you can choose to drop the reward associated with it, but if you ever find yourself slacking on the habit, bringing the reward back is a good way to pick it up again.

Have a why for your new habit

Have you ever tried to adopt a habit just because you thought it was something you should do? Maybe you've been told you should cook at home more, or you should exercise more, or you should read more, or you should go outside more. All of these things may be true, but doing something just because we have to is a pretty terrible motivator. If you're trying to adopt a new habit, it's really important to attach a "why" to it — to know what you want to get out of your new habit and why it's important to your life in the first place.

Your chances of retaining your habit are greater as your "why" for it becomes deeper, specific, and more meaningful. For example, someone who wants to work out more could have the "why" of becoming healthier. That's a great reason, but it's not very specific or deep. But if you want to work out more so you can keep up with the kids you want to have in five or 10 years, that's super specific, and it gives you a great mental image to keep in mind as you're working out. 

Set a goal for your habit

Setting a goal for your habit can help you retain it even better. Adopt a SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) goal for a new habit you want to build, and you'll probably find that the goal motivates you to do (and even remember to do) your habit. Goals should be as specific as possible and should have an end date to really be effective.

If you want to read more, a good reading goal would be to finish a certain number of books by the end of the month or by the end of the year. Keep track on an app (we love Goodreads) or just a journal. If you're wanting to work out more, set a weight you want to be able to deadlift in a month or two. Aspiring runners can have the goal of completing a 5K three months from when they start. Those who want to save more money could have the goal of being able to collect enough for a down payment on a house by the time they're 30. Keep your goal as specific as possible, and give it a date on the calendar that you want to be able to complete it. We wouldn't be surprised if you have a new habit built in no time.

Replace bad habits

While we're on the subject of building good habits, why not build good habits and replace bad habits at the same time? That's right — though it's unadvisable to adopt two habits at the same time, you can still go all two-birds-one-stone by using a new good habit to replace a bad one. These habits can be as big or small as you'd like, but we do recommend replacing a bad habit with a related good one if you want it to be as effective as possible.

For example, if you typically go for the box of donuts upon arriving home, try grabbing some fresh fruit instead. Fresh berries drizzled with honey can satisfy that sweet tooth and are a healthier option than donuts — before you know it, you're habitually eating strawberries every day. If you have a bad habit of drinking can after can of soda daily, replace it with flavored sparkling water, then just plain water to get in the habit of drinking more water every day. Endless scrolling through social media could be replaced by reading a book, and so on. 

Make the habit fun

If you've ever tried to adopt a new habit and were bored to tears while doing it, only to give it up quickly thereafter, you're far from alone. Unsurprisingly, boredom is not a great motivator to keep up a new behavior. Want to really make that new habit stick? Make it fun! After all, if you look forward to doing your new habit every day, you're more likely to actually do it. 

Your habits don't have to be fun in and of themselves, but you can probably find little elements to add to make them fun. For example, if you want to tidy up the house every night before bed, throw on some loud music and have a little dance party as you're tidying (bonus — this will get your body moving, too!). If you want to cook for yourself more, make a cooking playlist full of music you love that you can listen to as you cook. Listen to your favorite podcast when you run, or find an outdoor running route full of scenery you love. Read books in the evening with a glass of wine and a bath. Making your habit something you look forward to will make you more likely to remember to do it, and then to actually do it, meaning it'll probably be incorporated into your routine in no time.

Make it measurable

We get it. Building new habits is hard. But just saying you want to do something "more" or "less" probably isn't going to help you actually do the thing more or less. If you're really serious about adopting a healthy habit, you'll want to make it as measurable as possible to give you something concrete to strive for. 

If you want to save more money, have an amount in mind that you want to save. Your amount could be a measurable goal, like we discussed above — maybe you want to have a certain dollar amount in savings by the end of the year. But you could also make it more measurable by setting aside a predetermined amount from every paycheck. If you want to exercise, don't just say that you'll run every day. You could start by running a quarter mile daily, then a half mile, and so on. 

Give yourself grace

As you're adopting your new goal, it's inevitable that you'll mess up at least once — after all, none of us is perfect. A day will go by that you forget to do yoga. Or your workday goes long, and you have no time for your evening read. It's okay, friend. Life's chaos doesn't need to deter you from sticking with your new habit.

When you do falter on practicing your new habits, be quick to give yourself grace and forgiveness. Remind yourself that one bad day isn't going to derail your whole life, and that we all have off days once in a while. Resolve to pick up the habit again tomorrow. And if tomorrow is just as crazy as yesterday, give yourself grace then, too. Allow yourself to be human, and don't hold yourself to impossible standards. When your expectations for yourself are realistic, you're more likely to be able to pick yourself up and dust yourself off when setbacks do occur. And that means you'll be able to hop back on the habit train sooner than you may be able to otherwise.

Start small

Finally, if you're new to the whole habit-building game, start small, especially if you want to do a big life overhaul. Trying to adopt big habits can be overwhelming when smaller things in our lives are out of place. A small habit, like making your bed every morning, is pretty easy to adopt. It doesn't take much time, it's done at the same time every day, and it's easily measurable. 

Starting small when you're adopting habits can help you see that change really is possible. As you see yourself incorporating smaller habits into your routine, you'll probably feel more capable of tackling bigger ones. This will lead to a snowball effect, and before you know it, your friends will be calling you the Habit Queen, as they should. After all, you've mastered the art of adopting new habits! Start today and start small, and by the end of the year, you could have adopted many new healthy habits that will lead to a more fulfilling, healthier lifestyle.