Building and maintaining good habits is easier than it seems, but you can’t rely on willpower if you want to create long-lasting changes in your life.
Many people believe they need to always feel motivated to create new habits — but as you’ve no doubt experienced, motivation doesn’t last forever.
So, what’s the key to staying on track with good habits when inspiration and ambition are long gone?
Having a foolproof method to fall back on that serves your long-term goals.
What Exactly Makes a Habit?
While defining habits may seem like a no-brainer, habits are a bit more elusive in definition than you might initially assume. That’s because our habits are ruled by our subconscious minds.
In fact, this distinction is what separates habits from routines…
- Habits are automatic
- Routines are intentional
Arootah Founder and CEO Rich Bello defines a habit as, “a pattern of unconscious behavior adopted by your subconscious mind, which thinks it’s beneficial to us (because we keep doing it) to free up your conscious mind to focus on other things.”
We form habits through repetition, which means a habit is essentially a positive behavior pattern we regularly follow until it becomes automatic to us.
“The degree of happiness in our lives is mostly determined by our habits,” Bello explains.
And since habits are large contributors to happiness, it’s in our best interests to learn how to create good habits that last.
How Long Does It Take to Create Good Habits?
Forming good habits is one of the best ways to create positive change in your life. Once we form a habit, it becomes easier to execute on it.
But we can’t simply form new habits overnight. We must first invest time and energy in them, especially if we need to break bad habits associated with them.
You’ve likely heard the common myth that it takes 21 days to form a habit. But is there any truth to that?
A 2009 study for the European Journal of Social Psychology found that habit formation happens between 18 and 254 days. Other research suggests that forming a habit takes an average of 66 days.
In other words, the time it takes to create a new habit varies from person to person and habit to habit. This variance means that you need to put systems in place to keep yourself moving towards your new habit goals until those habits become automatic.
Why Creating Good Habits Benefits You in the Long Run
Most people can change their behavior for a short amount of time, but real change has the potential to impact your life for years, decades, or even a lifetime.
That’s why the key to long-term success lies in making small changes over time.
Think of your habits like the trajectory of an airplane. If you alter the direction of your flight by a few degrees, it might not make much of a difference now; but a thousand miles later, you’ll be in a completely different spot than you intended to be when you set out on your original course.
Creating good habits can have a compounding effect on your life. Once you learn to build habits that serve you, you can set yourself on a path you may find more fulfilling or beneficial.
How to Create Good Habits in 5 Steps
Here are five steps to take when you want to build better habits.
1. Understand what motivates you
Arguably the most important step in building a better habit is developing clarity around why you want to create that habit in the first place. Get curious about your goals and what motivates you. Why does this goal matter to you?
Let’s say you’re looking to develop a habit of running more…your “why” might look like:
I want to have longevity and stamina that will allow me to keep up with my friends and family.
2. Become mindful of your current behavior
Determine where you are in terms of implementing habits in your life. Maybe you currently run once a month, for example, and you want to increase your running sessions to four times a week.
Ask yourself why you behave the way you do when it comes to your current running habits. Do you skip running on a regular basis because you feel you don’t have enough time to do it? Is there another reason?
Identify what you currently do and try to understand your motivation behind those behaviors.
3. Prioritize the actions you need to take for success
Once you’re clear on what you want to accomplish and your current motivations and behaviors, pinpoint the actions you need to take to get from point A to point B.
One way to begin improving your chances of success is by developing keystone habits that result in more positive habits.
Eliminating bad habits by replacing them with good ones is another way to change your habits. Many people find this positive behavior “swap” easier than simply cutting out negative behaviors.
For example, if you want to begin running after work, you might try replacing your current “negative” habit of mindlessly scrolling through social media as soon as you get home with a positive one of putting on your running playlist. This habit swapping can serve as the first step you take toward getting out the door for exercise.
4. Make a plan
Once you’re clear on the actions you need to take to create your new good habits, make an action plan to solidify them.
At Arootah, we believe that reprogramming the subconscious mind can be a critical component of that plan. You can reprogram your subconscious through:
- Positive affirmations
For example, if you believe you’re a shoddy runner, you may not feel inspired to lace up your sneakers and pound the pavement four times a week. By creating an action plan to practice positive affirmations (such as “I am a capable, strong runner”), you can reprogram your subconscious mind until you convince your conscious mind that running is an activity you’re good at and truly enjoy.
5. Stay accountable
Accountability is a step many people tend to skip but holding yourself accountable is mission-critical when it comes to creating positive habits.
If you can count on one thing, count on not being motivated all the time. Utilizing a system of accountability helps you maintain a plan of positive action.
To build a habit of running, consider enlisting an accountability partner to jog with you or use a free habit-tracking app to track your behavior. You can even go a little deeper by hiring a coach to support you in meeting your goals and staying accountable. Having someone to report to on your progress helps you show up for your new good habit, even when you don’t feel like it.
The Bottom Line
Instead of living in dread of the moment you run out of motivation, focus on the five steps we’ve laid out above to build good habits and celebrate your small wins along the way to success.
Although it may take more than 21 days to form your new, healthy habits, the return on the time you spend building them can be exponential. When you prove to yourself you can forge positive habits, anything becomes possible.
If you’re looking to create better habits (or ditch bad ones), our Arootah coaches are here to support you along your journey in reaching your full potential.