What is the best way to create new habits?

And how long does it take to develop new habit?

The best way to create new habits is to identify a reliable trigger and start out by making it so easy that you can’t say no.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg states that every habitual action is preceded by a “trigger.”

It’s much easier to introduce new habits into your life when you stack them onto unbreakable habits that are already cemented in your routine.

These can be things like waking up, going to bed, going to work, leaving work, eating or showering.

Leo Babauta wrote about how he was able to create a flossing habit in his post, The Tiny Guide to Creating the Flossing Habit.

He first identified a trigger for the act of flossing: brushing your teeth. If you already brush your teeth every day, this is a perfect trigger for flossing.

Do you ever floss randomly during the day? Most people don’t. But those who floss regularly do so after brushing their teeth. The flossing habit is stacked on top of the habit of brushing.

If you don’t brush, you’re almost certainly not going to floss. The two go hand-in-hand because your brain has decided that they are to be performed together as one unit.

Trying to create a habit of going to the gym?

Don’t leave it to chance to determine what day and time you’ll go. Go on the same days at the same time every week, if possible. Set a trigger for yourself, like leaving work on Wednesday.

If it’s Wednesday, it’s gym day. When it’s time to leave work, you drive to the gym. After you solidify the habit, there’s no “decision” to make or willpower involved. It just becomes what you do on Wednesdays.

If you get it right, after a while it should be harder to not go to the gym on Wednesday after work than to go.

When you start out, make it so easy that you can’t say no.

The thing that amazes me the most is that even though flossing all of your teeth is very easy to do, Leo still suggests starting out by flossing only one tooth:

It’s so remarkably easy that you won’t be able to say it’s too hard, or you don’t have the time. It will feel a bit ridiculous, but just do it.

What if you’re working on a habit that takes 30 minutes instead of 30 seconds? It’s even more important that you start small. If you try to start a 30-minute habit without building up to it, chances are you will fail.

Using the gym example again, if your goal is to build a habit of going to the gym for 30 minutes three times a week, start out by going for 5 minutes once a week. It’s so easy you can’t say no.

This approach may require you to let go of your ego. For a while, it will feel like you aren’t accomplishing much, but it will serve you better in the long-run.

As Leo says about flossing, “the key is not to get the full benefit but to create a habit that lasts.”

How long will it take to create a lasting habit?

You may have heard that it takes 21 days, but this is a myth. In reality, it may take two months or longer [1], which I’ve found to be true in my own experience.

To add to that, it’s very easy to slip back into old habits, especially ones that were in place for years or decades. So it’s not just good enough to work on a new habit for a couple of months and then become complacent.

You must be very conscious and deliberate with your day-to-day actions because everything that you do is either reinforcing current habits or forming new ones whether you realize it or not.


[1] How Long Does it Actually Take to Form a New Habit? Backed by Science.

First published on Quora.

3 thoughts on “The Best Way to Create New Habits (and How Long It Takes)

  1. Great stuff Aly, love this! 🙂

    Like you I have a real interest in habit forming and have followed Leo Babauta for some time know time too. I have written an ebook and an online course on the habit forming process, so your article completely resonates with what I put across through my content.

    I have definitely used the second approach mention when trying to build up habits. When I wanted to start meditating I started by doing a few minutes a day. When this became comfortable I increased the time. I carried on this process and now I’m meditating 20 minutes a day and have done so for the past few months.

    I also find that having your big reason why can help make habits stick. If I use your gym example, as well as stacking it on top of another habit, the big reason why could be to do with to get to a healthy weight, or to get stronger or for a healthier mind etc.

    Loving the content, keep doing what you’re doing 🙂

    PS – On a related note, I’m on the hunt for feedback for my new show The HERO Podcast! It’s all about creating healthy habits. You may be interested in my latest episode where I discuss how to make lasting changes with Derek Doepker. You can check it out (and maybe leave a short review if you like) here: http://apple.co/2kjNoGN

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Luke!

      Thanks for checking out my content! Yeah, I’ve been getting really into habit formation because I think it’s the key to succeeding at anything and taking a habits-based approach to health and fitness is especially important.

      Your site looks great! I love the design. I’m currently listening to podcasts about 50-60 minutes a day during my commute, and yours sounds like it’s right up my alley so I’ll definitely check it out. I’ll add your blog to my reader as well.

      Best of luck with everything and keep up the good work!

      Aly G

      Liked by 1 person

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