How To Make New Habits Stick

At some point in each of our lives, we start a new habit, hobby, or activity. Sara Hopkins, LCSW-R, suggests some ideas that may help us keep going when we are tired.

Dec. 18, 2023 4   min read

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At the start of a new year, many people find themselves ready to begin something new. Whether that looks like a new form of exercise, learning an instrument, reading a certain number of books, or another type of goal, setting your sights on a new habit can be both exciting and intimidating.

Sara Hopkins, LCSW-R, is the Director for our Adult Mental Health Outpatient Program and offers her insight into setting goals and beginning new habits by explaining their benefits and the best ways to keep yourself motivated.

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Why new habits are good

We are all creatures of habit and routine. In a typical day, each person follows a routine to which they can add either healthy habits or habits that are unproductive.

The more we can be deliberate about adding new practices or habits into our routine and plan our days well, the more stable and well-rounded we tend to be.

There is a well-known saying that a new habit takes 3 weeks to become part of a routine. While that may be true for some people, it is not true for everyone.

“Bringing something new into your daily routine isn’t the same for everyone,” Hopkins said. “It all depends on the thoughts and actions you take to make a habit stick. There are a number of ways you can do this.”

Methods to keep yourself going

Setting a goal: Make your goal specific and measurable. When people describe a New Year’s resolution, it tends to be something vague and non-specific like ‘getting into shape’ or ‘eating better.’

Making a goal small and specific such as ‘walking 3 times a week’ or ‘only eating dessert 3 times a week’ allows some flexibility and eases you into the new practice.

Find a partner: Whether the person is a friend, relative, or co-worker, having two people try a new activity may lessen the mental load being carried.

Having someone to check in on you and ask how you are doing with your new habit or hobby holds you accountable and will help to keep you on track.

Being patient with yourself: It can be tough to build new habits into your daily routine. We get used to the way things are and can beat ourselves up when we don’t accept change immediately.

Dwelling on the negative won’t help you get better. Be patient and gentle with yourself, and embrace the knowledge that a new habit needs time to take root.

“What’s more important than how long a habit takes to stick is the way you choose to be successful,” Hopkins said. “By finding a way to make your goal measurable and clear, or finding a partner who holds you accountable, that’s better than making yourself do something you dislike just to check off a box that says you did it for a certain amount of time.”

Giving yourself grace

As you try out your new habit or practice, remember to be nice to yourself.

Everyone making a New Year’s resolution or setting a new goal should take a step back every few days to look at how they are doing and think about whether they are having fun.

For example, if you adopt a new form of exercise that you think is good for your health but you strongly dislike doing it, that might not be the thing for you. Don’t make yourself miserable for the sake of a new habit. There are plenty of ways to be active that are also enjoyable.

Another way to be kind to yourself while trying out a new habit is to use a reward during or after the new habit. For example, if someone is trying to meditate for 15 minutes and ends up succeeding, they can reward themselves by going to a movie later in the week.

“There are ways to build fun into the experience so it doesn’t feel like drudgery,” Hopkins said. “If you start to notice your new habit is impacting your life in a way that doesn’t feel positive – taking too much time or not seeing the results you were hoping for – take a step back.”

Allowing ourselves to be flexible and let something go if it doesn’t feel right or impacts you negatively can be good. Creating new routines in our lives involves a lot of trial and error in life.

“All of our health and wellness is about taking care of ourselves. That’s what we are all attempting to do when we are making new habits,” Hopkins said.

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