17 Unconventional Ways to Help You Stick to a New Habit

Habit formation is the process of making new behaviors automatic, and healthy habits can be harder to develop than we would all like. Even if it is a small change like drinking more water or taking your vitamins daily.  

The good news is that it is possible to start and maintain new healthy habits, but it may take longer than you think. 

Contrary to popular belief, 21 days may not actually be long enough to form a new habit.  (The myth may come from an old 1960 study done surrounding adoption to life events (1))

A study done by researchers in the UK found that on average it took 66 days to develop a new habit, but for more complex habits it could take a person up to 8.5 months for a new habit to become automatic. 

So, in general, you should give yourself at least 3 months to master your new habit.  We know that feels like a long time, but there are many tips and tricks to help you along the way. 

We rounded up some non-traditional, and slightly unconventional,  tips and tricks that have worked for others, that may help you master your new healthy habit. 

And trust us, this is not your average “set a reminder on your phone” list. 

Be Happy With a 50% Success Rate

Danni Zhang, psychologist and owner of New Vision Psychology

Give yourself a 50% policy - a lot of the times people cannot stick to a habit because they feel like that have 'failed' so they stop altogether. For example they may have missed one day of running or they may have eaten something 'naughty' during a diet. In response to this, they end up giving up all together. The 50% policy means that across any period of time, you only need to be 'successful' 50% of the time. This helps to combat people who suffer from perfectionism and using it as an excuse. 

Give Yourself Permission Not To Do Your Habit

Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW, Psychology of eating psychotherapist, author, blogger

Say, “I don’t have to do this if I don’t want to.” It’s called a paradoxical intervention in therapy, and works as well when we’re talking to ourselves because it gives us permission to make a choice and knocks the wind out of our desire not to.

Choose a Show and Only Let Yourself Watch It While Exercising

Meg Marrs, Safer Senior Care

I've begun implementing a new rule for myself to encourage my new habit of working out for an hour each day. I have a favorite television show I've been watching (Succession on HBO). My rule is that I can only watch this show while on the elliptical machine at the gym. 

Lower the Bar, Really Low 

Matthew Ferry, Executive Life Coach, author of Quiet Mind Epic Life, and has coached over 8000 top performers to achieve Enlightened Prosperity™ since 1993. 

I remember laying in bed listening to the alarm going off and thinking, "Why am I such a loser? I promised to get up and do yoga and I don't want to!" I promised myself that I would some yoga every day and I just couldn't get myself to do it. So I decided to lower the bar so low that it was impossible not to. 

Here was my new deal with myself. As long as I laid on the ground in Shavasana (dead man's pose) for 8 minutes listening to my favorite Deva Premal yoga song, then I have achieved yoga for the day. That was over 1000 days ago. Since then I have averaged 15 minutes of yoga every day. 

Since I lowered the bar to the absurd, it was easy to lay on the ground. But something magical happened once I did that. I would lay there for a minute and think, "Hmm? I could do a boat pose." Which then turned into a side plank or a leg stretch and I was off to the races. Sometimes I just laid there. Most of the time, getting on the mat was key to doing some poses. 

Lower the bar. This has become a simple way to take on any new discipline in my life. 

Associate the Habit with an Emotion

Lynell Ross, Certified Health and Wellness Coach and Behavior Change Specialist, and founder and managing editor of Zivadream

6 step foolproof method I use to my clients develop better habits:   

  1. Decide on one new habit that is important to you. 
  2. Write down reasons why it matters and how you will benefit from adopting this new habit 
  3. Write down the consequences you will face if you don't create this new habit
  4. Write down 1 action you can take daily to act on your new habit
  5. Make three 3 x 5 cards  with a reminder to do your new habit. Add color and pictures so you notice the cards. Put them in places you will see often during the day. 
  6. Each time you do your habit congratulate yourself. 

Write The New Habit Down 30 times on Sticky Notes, The Throw Them Away

Lory Levitt, Family Coach at Peninsula Family Coaching, LLC

Write the new habit down 30 times on sticky notes, as if it is already done. Each day, pull that sticky note down and toss it. Repeat until the area is clear. You have reinforced the success of the new habit by writing it down. You have created a visual reminder in the area that can't be avoided.. You are motivated to pull those pesky notes down by honoring your own word.

Write The New Habit on Your Bathroom Mirror, Computer Screen, Phone, Basically Everywhere

Melissa Morris, ACSM certified exercise physiologist and an ISSN certified sports nutritionist

One other unconventional way to stick to a new habit is to write it on your bathroom mirror so that you see it every morning and multiple times a day to remind you of your goals. 

Alexis Haselberger, Productivity, Time Management and Leadership Coach, founder Alexis Haselberger Coaching

Put a post it on your laptop as a reminder, update the lockscreen of your phone with a reminder, update the background of your computer desktop with a reminder, add a recurring task to your tasklist as a reminder, and if you use the Chrome extension Momentum, add your new habit as the answer to the "what are you working on today?" question so that every time you open a new tab in your browser, you are reminded of the habit you are trying to build.

Take Your Vitamin When You Let Your Dog Out 

I like to time my nightly vitamin with when my dog reliably needs to go out before bed, because if anyone runs with clockwork consistency, it’s him! Sometimes the simplest way really IS the best way to make changes and stick to them! - Roxanne, writer at For Another Time 

Put Hazard Tape on the Fridge

Lisa Cain,  founder of Snack-Girl.com and author of, "Snack Girl to the Rescue"

I used hazard tape to stop me from opening my fridge and eating mindlessly.

Put A Celebration on a Schedule 

Davide Di Giorgio, speaker, consultant, author, and founder of UNapologetic Enterprises, Inc.

When the alarm goes off, I stop what I'm doing and I celebrate - do a little dance, shake my hips around, pat myself on the back, say out loud "I appreciate you! I thank you! I love you! I celebrate you!", and depending on the habit, perform the habit OR acknowledge myself specifically about how good it feels to be building this habit. I'll literally speak out the benefits of the habit and the future results I will experience because of the habit.

Change Your Identity

Jaclyn DiGregorio, Motivational Speaker, Best-Selling Author & Coach, Host of the Spark Your Light Podcast

Habit change is hard! The reason most of us fail at implementing a new habit is because we place our focus on our actions, when in reality we should really be focused on our identity. If you don’t have the identity of someone who wakes up at 5am and goes to the gym everyday, why would you get out of bed when that alarm goes off.

In order to change your identity, you need to rewire the neural pathways in your brain. One of the best ways to do this is by using “I am” statements, or affirmations that relate to the identity you are trying to create. For example, if you really want to stop racking up credit card debt (the habit), you should start writing down “I am financially responsible” every morning (the identity).

There is no magic formula for how many times you need to repeat an affirmation until it truly does rewire your brain, but the more often the better. I recommend pairing your affirmation with daily activities you already do, that way it doesn’t take up any additional time. For example, say your affirmation out loud when you are in the shower, folding laundry, doing dishes or driving.

Visualize Your Future Success

Jessica Warren, Co-Founder at Mind: Unlocked www.mindunlocked.co

Every morning meditate on visualizing yourself after 6 months of doing the new habit. What is your life like, what do you look like, how are you feeling? 

Kenny Trinh, Managing Editor of Netbooknews

I started coding when I was 14 years old which isn’t something your typical 14 year old should do. But to tell you the truth, I didn’t like coding at first but I was able to train my body and mind to love the activity. 

So this is how I did it. I didn’t focus on the negatives in front of me  but instead I dreamt of the possibilities. I imagined creating wonderful applications that could help people while giving me substantial sums of money in return. 

That’s it, I simply focused on the future instead of dreading the present. It worked for me and I think it will work for other people as well.

Say The New Habit Outloud, to Yourself

Lory Levitt, Family Coach at Peninsula Family Coaching, LLC

Say your new habit and tell yourself WHY it is important. Repeat the same habit statement plus a NEW WHY each day to help you feel great about what you're doing and how much of an impact it can have on your life. "I will not drink today because it will allow me to sleep better." Then, "I will not drink today because my relationship with my spouse is improved." Etc. 

Choose a Symbol to Represent Your New Habit

Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW, Psychology of eating psychotherapist, author, blogger

For a client who’s learning to relax without turning to food, it might be a bird that’s tucked securely in a nest or one that’s soaring effortlessly through the clouds. For a client who’s practicing standing up for herself when pushed around then eating for comfort, it might be imagining herself as a tree, rooted to the ground, firm in her opinions or a lion roaring. For a client who gets emotionally overinvolved with people when she wants to remain detached, it might be a cloud looking down on the earth but not feeling responsible for those below.

Keep Your Goals Short Term

Linda Morgan and I am a productivity expert and organizational coach, and founder MotivationNook

If you want a way to be motivated to stick to a new habit, don’t make it long-term. While this may seem counterintuitive, there’s wisdom in this method. When we commit to something for an extended period of time, it can be hard to muster the motivation to keep on going. Yet when we know that something is short-term, we’re more energized to give it a real shot. Once the designated time is over, say a month, you can assess your progress. If you notice positive changes, it has the potential to give you incentive to continue. Howeer, if you see that you didn’t get what you wanted out of your new habit, then no worries- now is the time to reassess and perhaps change course.

Read Your Habit At Least Three Times a Day

Dave Mason, Author, The Size of Your Dreams

A huge part of habit building is consistency, of course. In the book, we teach a skill using notecards to reinforce habits. We teach people to read the notecards at least three times a day, first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and at least once more in the middle of the day, to focus you on your goals. So, for instance, say the habit you want to instill is going to the gym every morning. You might think the only time you need to be consistent to build that habit is each morning when it's actually time to go to the gym. That's not the case. At least three times a day, you're going to mentally reinforce that habit. So as you read your card at midday, it's reminding you of how you need to structure the rest of your day so you're able to get to bed at a decent hour so you can wake up at a decent hour. When you read the card last thing before going to bed, it's reminding you to get your alarm set and have your gym bag packed and ready so nothing is standing in your way.

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