14 Tips to Build Good Habits Effectively and Make Them Stick

Building bricks with habits written on them

What is the main difference between the successful and the unsuccessful? It’s the ability to build good habits and actually stick to them.

Luck, skills, money… These are certainly important, but they actually mean nothing without good habits. Why? Because they are generated by habits in the first place.

If your life is dictated by bad habits, how do you create and get advantage of your own “lucky” opportunities? How do you learn great skills? How do you make more money?

The answer is: you don’t.

The good news is that creating good habits is actually pretty simple. I said simple, not easy. You still need to put in the work. 😉

But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you can’t make the process a little easier.

In fact, today I’m going to show you 14 tips to help you build new habits more effectively and more efficiently.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

1. Understand The Habit Loop

The habit loop consists of cue, routine, reward, and craving

By understand how a habit works, you gain power over it, so my first advice for you is to get clear about the habit loop, which we’ve already seen in a previous post on how to break bad habits.

In a few words, every habit follows a simple framework, cue-routine-reward, and is “fueled” by a specific craving. If you identify all the components of the habit loop, you can build good habits and change bad ones much more effectively.

Let’s see an example of a good habit action plan:

“When it’s 4 pm (cue), I will wear my training clothes and do my workout (routine), because it makes me feel good (reward).”

In this example, your habit is fueled by a craving for feeling good.

Note that, when you’re trying to form a new habit, it will take some time (a week or two) before a craving starts emerging. After that, however, sticking to the habit will require much less effort.

For more details on how habits work and how to define an effective action plan, click here.

2. Focus on ONE Habit at a Time

Camera lens focus on nature background

“If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one”
— Russian Proverb

Willpower and focus are limited. Everybody seems to know that, but many of them still try to build multiple habits all at the same time.

The result? Failure. Failure. And again, failure. 

If you try to form many habits at once, the result won’t change, no matter how many times you try.

I know you are probably tired of being unproductive, of not making progress towards your goals, of wasting day after day, and I understand that you want to make a change as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, developing even one good habit is already no easy feat, let alone creating many at the same time. Sure, you could succeed, but your chances of failing are much higher.

Choose just ONE habit, one that you believe is important, and stick with it until it becomes automatic and effortless, then focus on the next one.

For inspiration on which habits to develop, take a look at this list: 12 Daily Habits That Will Greatly Improve Your Life.

3. Make It 10x Smaller

Leaning tower of Pisa shrunken 10 times smaller

A common mistake people make, even when they do focus on just one habit, is thinking too big right from the start.

If the only thing resembling exercising that you’ve been doing consistently for the last few years has been walking to the table, sitting down, and eating your pizza, you can’t possibly think about doing 5 full-body workout sessions of 1 hour each, every week, and expect to be successful at it.

If you’re lucky, you might be able to do it for the first week, but you would quit before it becomes a habit. Even if you were able to start big and actually stick with it, you shouldn’t do it.

Why? Because, as we already know, to build good habits you need willpower, and going big right from the start will consume a LOT of it, so much that you won’t have enough left for other tasks. This will cause you to be lazy and to procrastinate, which in turn will make you feel bad, which will make you unwilling to stick to your workout (or any other habit of your choosing), and so on…

Whatever habit you’re trying to establish, make it 10 times smaller or even more, until the specific routine takes no more than 3 or 5 minutes. If your goal is to do 1-hour-long workout sessions, start with exercising for just 5 minutes. If you want to get into the habit of reading 20 pages a day, start with reading just 2. You get the idea.

The main purpose here is getting used to following a certain behavior on a regular basis. By making the habit so small, you will have no problems with executing it. Over time, by increasing your effort little by little, you will effectively reach the level you wanted to reach in the first place.

First, get used to the new routine; then, increase the effort.

4. Try It For 30 Days

How long does it take to form a habit? 21, 30, 90, 200 days? Well, it’s different from person to person.

According to Maxwell Maltz, author of the popular book, Psycho-Cybernetics, it takes 21 days. According to a 2009 study, it actually takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days, with an average of 66, before a behavior becomes a habit.

But the point is not how long it takes. The point is that creating habits takes time.

I have found, however, that repeating a behavior everyday for at least 30 days is enough to effectively build habits (or, at least, to make it much easier to stick to) and to avoid talking yourself out of it too early, mistakenly thinking that you don’t really want that new habit.

After a month of “trial period”, you will have two choices: 

  • You can decide to continue with this habit, or 
  • you can decide that you don’t really want to keep this habit, after all.

5. Don’t Set Your Expectations Too High

Bodybuilding expectation vs reality

Expecting too much and getting disappointed is the last thing you want to do.

Don’t expect to be successful with your first tryRecognise that you will fail, even multiple times. But that’s normal. If the habit is important to you, just keep trying. 

If it makes you feel better, it took me 5 years (!) and countless failed attempts before finally turning it into a habit. 

Every time I failed, I would get disappointed for not being able to stick with it, and I would wait many weeks before making another attempt. At one point, I decided that failure was totally ok, that I just had to retry the next time. In the end, I succeeded.

So, you should do your best to build your habits, but you should also expect and be okay with failures. You just need to try, and try, and try.

One more thing about high expectations: try not to expect too much from the habit itself, lest you feel disappointed and give up.

A good habit can improve your life, but it can’t solve everything. For the other problems of your life, you will need to find and adopt different solutions.

6. Don’t Do It (Just) Because Of Someone Else

Doing something just because of what others say is wrong

When deciding which habits to develop, you need to choose something you want to do. If not, you won’t be able to make it stick just by relying on willpower.

Think about the kind of person you are or want to be: is this the right habit for you? Does it describe you? Is it something you would do?

If your answer is yes, do it.

Also, make sure to do only what you believe to be important for your goals. Don’t do what other people think you should do.

Now, I am not saying that you should never do anything that someone else thinks is good. 

There’s nothing inherently bad with following other people’s advice. In fact, if you get motivated to build good habits because of what someone else said, it’s actually a great thing. 

What I’m saying is that you shouldn’t, for example, workout regularly just because you want to improve your appearance and attract someone. Instead, do it because it makes you feel good, confident, energetic, happy, and attractive.

I’m repeating myself, but really, don’t do anything just because of someone else. Always do something you want to do, something you believe in. If what you want to do can also satisfy other people, such as your parents, that’s even better 😉

7. Make It Fun

Build Your Habits: The Game

It’s easy to give up and quit when you don’t get results fast and you don’t enjoy the process.

As we already know, forming a habit is often quite a long process, so it’s easy to lose motivation after a while. And if you see your habit as a task or chore, you’re doomed.

To make the whole process more enjoyable, an awesome way is to challenge a friend that has the same habit goal. A little competitiveness is always great for motivation and for making things fun.

If you don’t have friends with your same goals, and you can’t convince any of them into joining you, no problem. You can still have plenty of fun.

Just gamify the whole process. Set different “missions” and milestones, and set rewards for their completion. This strategy is great for two main reasons:

  1. It taps into our natural tendency to become more motivated when we know that there’s a reward at the end;
  2. Games are fun! I used to be a (too much) passionate video gamer, so I don’t need any other reason to play a game. But seriously, who doesn’t like games? Even if you hate video games specifically, there’s no way you don’t enjoy all other kinds of games. If that’s the case, you’re lying.

8. Set The Right Environment

Environment that supports habit building

How hard is it to stick to a healthy diet when you have lots of tasty but unhealthy food in your house?

That’s right, it’s not hard. It’s close to impossible.

If you want to successfully build new habits, you need to change your environment into one that supports your goal. 

First things first, remove as many obstacles and temptations as possible. At least, make your bad habits’ cues more difficult to see and your bad behaviors more difficult to execute. Throw your chocolate bars and chips away, or put them somewhere difficult to reach.

For good habits, do the opposite. To read more books, always have a book you can grab whenever you want; to eat healthy, put fruits in places where you can easily see them; to focus more, work/study in a room with no TV, and turn off your phone.

Finally, one more thing you can do is to create physical reminders and put them, again, somewhere you can easily see them. If you don’t use something to remind you of the habit, your chances of forgetting it are higher.

If you want, you can also set reminders on your phone, so that you will remember to stick to your new habit.

9. Eliminate Decision-Making

You may or may not have noticed, but making decisions is tiring. 

The more decisions we make, the poorer these become, because our brain gets a little more tired after every decision we make, regardless of how big or small the latter is. 

This is called “decision fatigue”, and it’s the reason why some of the most successful people make the extreme (but effective) decision of wearing almost the same outfit every single day. 

To avoid depleting your willpower unnecessarily and making bad decisions because of that—such as “oh well, it’s not a big deal if I eat fast food just this one time”—you must write a plan.

Not only do you need to create a plan (maybe using a to-do list), but you have to trust it completely. If you stop every now and then to ponder if you should actually follow your plan, you will only become prey to decision fatigue.

Remember, also, to decide ahead of time what you’re going to do in case things don’t go as planned.

If even making a plan is too tiring, you might consider joining a challenge, where all you have to do it to follow a (hopefully good) plan made by someone else.

10. Don’t Talk Yourself Out Of It

The human brain hates discomfort. Whenever you start a new habit, you’re going out of your comfort zone, and your brain doesn’t like that.

Before even getting started on your new habit, negative thoughts and doubts start arising, and if you don’t deal with them correctly, you will likely start avoiding the habit or directly quit after a few days.

Try to pay attention to your thoughts. Whenever you feel discouraged or have doubts about your habit, ask yourself this question:

“Is this what I really think or is it just an excuse?”

This will force you to “get a grip” on yourself and think clearly. You will realize that most thoughts are just excuses, and that you actually want to build those new habits; otherwise, you wouldn’t have decided to form it in the first place.

11. Never Miss 2 Days In a Row

To build good habits, never miss two days straight

There’s an Italian proverb that goes: 

“Non c’è due senza tre.”  (There’s no two without three.)

It means that if something (usually bad) happened twice, it will probably happen a third time*. 

That’s why you should never miss two days in a row. Not when you’re first starting a habit, and not even when you’ve already successfully formed it.

If you miss one day, it’s not really ok, but it’s still acceptable, as long as you do your best to stick to your habit the next day.

If you skip 2 days in a row you will break your momentum, and… you know how it goes. You will skip 3 days, then a week, a month, a year, two years, and so on.

By following the 2 day rule, you will keep your momentum and need much less willpower to stick to your new habits.

*There’s actually an English version of the same proverb, which is: “bad things come in threes”. Though, I still prefer there’s no two without three, since it isn’t limited to bad things. Plus, I think it sounds better 😉

12. Follow A Consistent Rhythm

When developing good habits, the right way to automate a new behavior is to repeat it frequently and with a consistent rhythm.

What this means is that, to effectively turn a behavior into a habit, you should do your “reps” every day, ideally at the same time. If you don’t want or can’t repeat a habit every day, you should still try to keep a steady pace. You can establish a habit much more easily when there’s a specific pattern to your repetitions.

Why is it better to do a little everyday, or at least once every week, instead of doing a lot, but just once in a while and at an irregular rhythm?

First of all, because the main goal, when first starting a habit, is to get you used to it, as we’ve seen in tip #3: “Make it 10x smaller”.
If you repeat the behavior once a day, even if it’s just for 5 minutes, you will get used to it much faster.
Repeat the behavior once a week, and you will need much more time before automating it.
Repeat it once a month, and it will almost feel like you are restarting the habit from zero every time.

The second reason is feedback, and it particularly concerns habits that involve the learning of a skill, such as learning an instrument, a sport, or a language. The more frequently you practice, the more frequently you can receive feedback on what you’re doing correctly or incorrectly, and the more feedback you receive, the faster you improve.

Don’t overdo it, though. It’s important to get enough rest every day.

13. Don’t Forget to Get Some Accountability

Girl holding friend accountable to his habits

Building good habits is not that easy, especially when it’s a solo journey.

Sometimes, we need some motivation from the outside. We need someone that can remind us of following our habit when we don’t really feel like it.

Tell others about it, find a friend you can report to, or if you want and can afford it, pay someone, such as a personal trainer or a private teacher, to hold you accountable.

Putting your money on the line can be motivating, since you obviously don’t want to waste it, unless you’re so rich that wasting a few hundreds doesn’t bother you in the least.

Another great way to be more accountable is to find a friend or a group of people with the same goal. 

Finally, if you don’t want anyone to know about the habits you want to form, be it because people would only laugh at you or because you want to learn a skill and then surprise your friends out of nowhere, or any other reason, don’t worry. All the other strategies I’ve put on this list do not require help from the outside.

14. Frequently Refresh Your Memory

After a few weeks since you first decided to form a new habit, it’s easy to forget the reasons behind that decision. With all other things that happen in your life, it’s no surprise if you lose (and forget) motivation to keep going. 

To avoid that, you simply need to refresh your memory.

Once every week, take a few minutes to answer the following questions (or reread the answers you gave the first time):

  • What habit am I trying to develop?
  • Why do I want to form it? 
    • What are the benefits?
    • What goals do I want to ultimately achieve by building this habit? 
  • Which came first: the egg or the chicken?

BONUS TIP: Never Stop Repeating The Habit

To successfully build good habits you need to repeat them frequently. But that is not enough.

You need to keep putting in the reps after having automated the habits, too, even if it’s already been weeks or even months since you successfully turned the behavior into a habit. 

Eat fast food for a few days, and you’ll have a hard time eating healthy again on a regular basis.

Skip your workouts a few times, and you’ll feel like getting up from your couch is too much exercise.

If you break the rhythm and stop the repetitions, you will forget the habit little by little, and in some cases you might have to restart it from scratch. Ok, maybe not entirely from zero, since habits never completely disappear, but you will struggle with automating the behavior again.

In a few words, you should just follow the 2-day rule (we’ve talked about it in tip #10).

It’s Time to Successfully Build (and Stick To) Good Habits 

Building good habits is not easy, but with the right mindset and strategies, your chances of success become much higher.

I have put my best strategies into this list, and I really hope they can help you as much as they have helped me.

Habits are extremely important, and it’s a pity that so many people can’t develop them just because they don’t know how to do it.

Now it’s your turn. Choose a good habit to build, follow the strategies you’ve learned today, and change your life.

Which tips do you find most interesting? Did you already have some other ways to build ant stick to habits effectively? Let me know!

[BONUS: Do you want to live a better life? Yes? Then fill the form below and download the free PDF containing the 14 best daily habits that will definitely improve your life by A LOT!]

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