17 Ways to Build Good Habits (and Make Them Stick)

We spend hours every day doing things that aren’t necessarily productive or healthy. To make matters worse, we always have the constant nagging thought that maybe our current habits just aren’t right.

While undoing habits like those are easier said than done, it’s easier to train yourself to form good habits. These habits can replace the ones you want to change — but only if you commit. In fact, our brains work on what’s called a “habit loop.” It’s a constant circle of cue, routine and reward.

Cues are our behaviors that lead to patterns. What we strive to change is the routine, so we can lead ourselves to a better reward. And that’s hard, too—but the human brain is an amazing thing. We can reprogram ourselves to function better with a little discipline.

Below are some surefire ways to create better habits for yourself and make them stick!

good habits

How To Build Great Habits

1. Think: what’s holding you back?

Obviously, if you’re reading this, you probably are holding yourself back from a habit change. Before you even begin adjusting your habits, you should break down the reasons why you’re hesitating.

Related: 8 Reasons To Learn How To Build Good Habits

Could the habit be inconvenient? Intimidating? These reasons don’t mean you’re destined for failure. You just need to address them individually. Once you know each reason specifically, you can develop a solution.

2. Be sure your life is in order

It doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect, but you should be relatively stress-free when you begin a habit change. When you’re stressed, upset, or paranoid about something, it’ll affect your daily life and make it harder to keep up with your good habit.

3. Pick just one

One more thing before you start—make sure you focus on picking up one habit. Habits are like overloading yourself with coursework. The more you try to pile on, the more likely you are to fail. In order to make a habit automatic, it takes a lot of conditioning. Worry about one for now, and come back to the others another time.

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4. Start small

We often have dreams where we change our lives in one day. Bad news — that’s pretty much impossible. As human beings, we get over-motivated and pile on tasks. Instead of doing that, build yourself up gradually. For example, if you want to exercise and start out at 30 minutes per workout, bump it up to 35 minutes next time.

Related: Think You Don’t Have Enough Time To Chase Your Dreams? Try This

5. Set your goals

When heading into a new habit, it’s best to set your goals beforehand. That way you can envision yourself in the future achieving these goals, and that provides good motivation. When you know your goals, you won’t lose sight of why you picked up the habit, and you’ll be less inclined to give up.

6. Write it all down

Writing your ideas and goals for good habits can help solidify them in your mind. This keeps you focused — especially when you sit back and look at what you’ve written. Think of writing your goals down as a physical commitment to a habit.

7. Eliminate options and temptations

There is power in minimalism. Psychologist Kathleen Vohs published a study on self-control that found when we’re overwhelmed with choices, it depletes our mental energy. Discipline is the art of few decisions.

Think about how breezily your morning would go if you only had to choose from a small number of outfits. If you approach your habit with a minimalist attitude like this and eliminate excessive options, your mind and control will benefit.

Related: 8 Reasons To Learn How To Build Good Habits

8. Set reminders

Once you get into the swing of things for a few days, set reminders so you won’t forget to keep up your habit. Use any means possible, whether it’s writing on your hand, using your phone, sticky notes, a whiteboard, or a calendar. Reminders are great for conditioning.

9. Have a role model

Sometimes the actions of others are enough to convince us to leave the couch. Think of a role model in your life — it can be a musician, athlete, educator, or anyone you desire. These people are well-known for a reason. They got off their couch and changed their life, so that means you can, too!

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10. Find a buddy 

While role models can be inspiring, there’s an even better place to look — your friends! If you’re uneasy about starting a new habit, try convincing a buddy to join you.

Not only will you be bettering yourself, you’ll enjoy it with a friend around. Chances are, they’ll probably enjoy it too! Everyone knows time flies when you’re having fun with people you care about.

Related: The Benefits Of Friendship

11. Create a trigger

Triggers are rituals you can use before your habit occurs, and they can work positively and negatively. If you want to form a new habit, such as going to bed earlier, use a trigger like going to bed at the same time every night.

For example, if you want to eliminate a habit like biting your nails, you could snap your fingers as a trigger before you bite them.

12. Combine with other habits

This doesn’t mean adding on new habits — we already discussed how bad that can be. What you can do, though, is combine your habit with ones that already exist.

For example, we all brush our teeth regularly. That’s a great habit. But some of us don’t floss. If you wanted to pick up flossing, you could simply place the floss near your toothbrush so you can grab it right after you brush.

Related: 8 Reasons To Learn How To Build Good Habits

13. Big picture, little steps

Similar to the step about envisioning your goals, you can dream big when it comes to habits. Your goals are the big picture. But in order to complete this picture, you must take little steps. These small quotas will add up as the days go by, and before you know it, your goal will be complete.

14. Create consequences 

No one is perfect — and it’s likely that sometime on the way to achieving your goal, you’ll slip up (we’ll address that later).

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That’s okay! But you must create consequences for yourself to keep your discipline. For example, if you find you’ve spent too much time on the computer, lock it away for a certain amount of time the next day.

15. Know what’s beneficial

If you’re familiar with the benefits of creating a good habit, you’ll likely be more motivated. Notice how good you feel after you get a good grade or eat healthy food. Read books or articles that show you the benefits of better hygiene or exercise.

16. Know the drawbacks of poor conditioning

It’s also important to recognize the downsides of failing to change a habit. You’ll say, “I won’t let myself do that!” and your motivation will double!

Related: Motivational Words: 41 Quotes To Get You Pumped

17. Expect imperfections

Throughout your entire journey, you will most likely fail somehow along the way. But that’s all part of the game, and it’s your choice whether to let it bog you down or not. Use your failure as motivation to build your discipline. If you make a mistake once, tell yourself you won’t do it again.

Creating consequences can help for this, too. When all’s said and done, you’ll be glad for your failures, because you addressed them and prevented them as you became better at solidifying your habit.

The Takeaway

If you remember these tips, you’ll no longer be sitting at your computer, waiting for your life to change on its own. You’ll be up and about, committing and disciplining yourself to better habits. Creating good habits will lead to an overall healthier sense of well-being and a happier, can-do attitude. Good luck!


Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks, a site dedicated to inspiring readers to find happiness and success in their careers. For more great tips on everything from career development to health and fitness and more, follow her @SarahLandrum.

Photo by Esben Bøg

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