40 Best Ways to Keep New Habits

Here's every trick you need to make any action permanent.

With January less than a month away, chances are you're beginning to think about those New Years resolutions and what you're hoping to achieve in 2018. But did you know that a staggering 80 percent of all New Years resolutions fail by the second week of February? That's not surprising, given research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, which cited that it takes, on average, more than two months to form a habit.

Well, we're looking to help set you up for success in the upcoming year. We looked at research and asked top experts for the best tips, tricks, and hacks to help keep habits. So read on, and good luck! And for habits you need to kick, here are the 34 bad habits everyone should stop by age 40. 

Think long-term.

keep a habit

While it's important to live in the now, it's also remember what you're working towards. In a study about motivation conducted by the American Psychological Association, researchers found that having a bigger concept in mind can help with discipline. And for more great advice, here are 100 ways to be a (much) healthier man or woman. 

Start small.

keep a habit woman at a desk

The American Psychological Association also suggests that after you've identified the larger goal, break it down into more manageable goals you can achieve now. A weekly goal is a good way to start because at the end of seven days, you'll know if you hit it or not. And for more great advice, here are 40 ways to stretch your paycheck every month. 

Save brainpower for big decisions.

keep a habit

According to a study in the Harvard Business Review, in order to maintain discipline in the long term, its best to limit the amount of decisions you're making. In other words, make as many mundane things in your life routine so you don't have to waste brain power making unnecessary decisions. If you want to expand on that train of thought, these 15 Over-the-Counter Drugs Will Make You Smarter.

Set goals that have true value to you.

keep a habit

In upcoming weeks, many people are going to say they want to lose weight in the New Year. But do they really want to lose weight or are they saying that because it's the popular thing to do? "Your goals have to be truly aligned with what you want to accomplish or you're just wasting your time," says Alok Trivedi, DC, a Chicago-based psychological performance coach and the author of Chasing Success. "When you set goals based on other people's values, you end up frustrated, aggravated, and resenting yourself."

Don't be so restrictive.

keep a habit

The all-or-nothing mindset has got to go. It's all about balance and happiness if you want to achieve success. "Cut that off in the single-minded pursuit of something like shredded abs and, while you may get them, I can almost guarantee it'll only be for a short time," explains Adam Rosante, a New York City–based fitness and nutrition coach.

Work on one habit at a time.

keep a habit

One of the top reasons people fail at their goals, especially fitness focused ones, is that they try to take on too much at once, explains Rosante. "And when you swing the pendulum to the farthest end of one spectrum, guess what happens next?" he explains. "It inevitably swings all the way back to the other side." Focus on one goal before working on another. Also: You might want to read about the 20 Ways This Popular Recreational Drug Affects Your Health.

Consider a coach.

keep a habit

Having a coach who is knowledgeable in the area in which your goal is lies can really help you get there. "You want to make sure you find someone who has a solid background and a depth of knowledge in the field," says Noam Tamir, CSCS, owner of TS Fitness in New York City. "You want a coach who can connect with you and who knows how to motivate you. You want someone that will lift you up when you drop the ball. It also makes it more enjoyable."

Don't create vision boards.

keep a habit

Contrary to what we've been led to believe about achieving goals, creating vision boards can actually be one of the worst things you can do, according to Trivedi. "In fact, I call them nightmare boards," he says. "The reason—you are constantly looking at a fantasy. It's going to slap you in the face and make you feel like a failure." Always seeing pictures of big mansions, fancy cars, and super fit models isn't reality and isn't going to inspire you. It can actually backfire by taking away your self-confidence and desire to move forward.

Create an affirmation.

keep a habit

The more positive the better! According to a study in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, individuals performed better when using self-affirmations. Plus, it helps calm nerves, too! Set up the best affirmation possible with the Best Way to Wake Up Earlier Every Day.

Have a personal life philosophy.

Woman doing yoga

And make it clear to yourself what it is. Think: A clear statement of who you are as a person. "It's not about what's popular or trending—it's about what matters to you and you alone," says Rosante. "This becomes your North Star for directing your thoughts, words, and actions, every day. It allows you to be your most authentic self and becomes the rocket fuel you need to power you toward your goals."

Goals that relate stick easier.

keep a habit

Research has shown that goals that are inline with one another are easier to achieve. "Small change makes big things happen," says Tamir. "Start with one goal, and once you're successful, do the same thing for the other goals on your list."

Remind yourself.

keep a habit

A study in the Society for Personality and Social Psychology found that 40 percent of people's daily activities are performed each day in almost the same situations. Why? Because repetition can be key when forming a habit. The more you remind yourself what you're trying to accomplish and why, the more likely you'll be so stick with it. And for more great ways to improve yourself, read the 20 healthy living rules you should live by.

Find others with similar habits.

keep a habit

Read books. Watch movies. Seek out documentaries about what you're looking to accomplish or about individuals who have accomplished or excel in what you're looking to do. According to Psychology Today, role models can help motivate us to be our best.

Surround yourself with supportive people.

keep a habit

Support is one of the greatest tools for stick-with-it-ness. "Research shows that having friends or family members who support your goals improves long-term success," explains Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, CSSD, a New York City–based nutritionist. "Even if they aren't doing the same things you're doing, just having someone to offer encouragement, or listen when you're having a tough day can help you hang in when you feel like giving up." Find at least one person who gets it and ask if you can check in with them on a regular basis. Even a quick text can help you stay on track.

Leave the comparisons to others.

keep a habit

What you want to achieve and accomplish in your life is very different from what someone else wants to, so don't waste time comparing yourself to others. "This is only going to leave you feeling frustrated and drag you down," says Trivedi. "Nothing good ever comes from it and it causes psychological confusion."

Don't set a time limit.

happier woman relaxing at work desk keep a habit

While you want to be sure you have an end goal in sight, you don't want to set a limit on a habit you're trying to form. "Society already makes us feel as if we're not moving fast enough these days," says Joanne Encarnacion, a San Francisco–based integrative health and life coach. "The world can be demanding and you deserve every moment you can to pause."

Have a specific plan.

keep a habit

Your plan is your roadmap that will lead you either to success or failure. So set yourself up for the former. According to the American Psychological Association, the more specific your plan can be, the better.

Set up a successful environment.

keep a habit

Do you have equipment to cook well? Are your running shoes or weights easily accessible? Did you set up your bedroom to be conducive to sleep, not partying? Say goodbye to anything that can stand in the way of achieving your goals. "Success is more than exercise and eating well," says Leslie Bonci, RD, founder of the nutrition consulting company ActiveEatingAdvice. "It is also your environment."

Recruit an accountabilibuddy.

keep a habit

Having someone besides yourself working towards the same goal can help you reach it together. According to the American Psychological Association, involving a buddy can help motivate you and keep you accountable.

Visualize your goal.

keep a habit

Committing to a habit means having it at the top of your mind. According to Psychology Today, mental practice and visualization can actually help prepare you for success.

Repetition is key.

keep a habit

Think about it: Every time you go to the bathroom, you wash your hands after, right? It's second nature. According to research in the British Journal of General Practice, this repetition of a simple action in a consistent context leads to the action being activated automatically—also known as a habit.

Be honest with yourself.

keep a habit

Trying to make an unattainable goal a habit is just setting yourself up for failure. "Instead, be honest about where you are right now and get clear on where you want to be," says Rosante. "Then, map out a simple plan that you can stick to."

Track your progress.

keep a habit

There's no denying it—accountability helps to improve your success. And you can keep yourself accountable by tracking your progress, whether it's with a food app, a fitness watch, a journal, or a blood pressure monitor. "We respond well to numbers and this is much less vague and much more tangible," says Bonci. "This puts things directly in your face so you're confronted with what you have or have not done."

Celebrate success.

keep a habit

Positive reinforcement can be a good thing when you're trying to stick to a habit, whether it comes from yourself or someone else. "I try to make sure my clients don't feel overwhelmed or defeated if they have a set back," says Tamir. "Instead, focusing on the positive can help lift their spirits and encourage them to keep moving forward. I have learned this method from other great coaches and used it on myself, too."

Purchase a productivity planner.

keep a habit

Nope, we're not talking about your iPhone calendar with work appointments—purchase an actual planner that you can write in.  "This is a simple planner that breaks down in advance what your five most important tasks of the week are," says Don Saladino, NASM, owner of Drive Health Clubs in New York City. "You'll also write down five tasks of secondary importance, along with additional tasks. The key here is to write down what you need to do to be happy and successful for the week." This process helps not only with organization but execution as well, which helps lead to success.

Get into the right mindset.

get into the right mindset

While some habits don't require a ton of sacrifice, others do. If you're looking to make a positive change that requires some discipline, be prepared for that. "If you want positive change, you have to challenge yourself," says Rosante. "Just know that on the other side of discomfort and doubt is a much stronger version of yourself."

Make SMART goals.

setting smart goals

Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Relevant. Time-based. Research has shown that this is one of the most successful methods for setting goals.

Don't feel like you need to be perfect.

don't feel like you have to be always perfect

It's impossible to be perfect, and trying to can cause more harm than good. "You should have a plan that you can stick to at least 80 percent of the time," says Rosante. "If you mess up, don't beat yourself up. Life is about living and the freedom to unapologetically embrace your own happiness."

Schedule your workouts in your planner.

plan your workouts

Write down not only the days, but also the time and workout you plan to do that day. "This will keep you from inadvertently scheduling anything else during these time periods, and also makes your exercise sessions seem as essential as any major meeting or appointment," explains Wayne Westcott, PhD, CSCS, a professor of exercise science at Quincy College.

Have your fitness gear ready to go.

always have your gym bag packed and ready to go

Pack your gym back the night before, or lay your clothes out so they're ready when you wake up. "This will prevent you from leaving home without your exercise essentials or from not taking time to assemble your gear in the morning if you're running late," says Wescott. It eliminates an excuse.

Simple and short workouts are good

simple and short workouts are better

Time is always the enemy when it comes to fitness. "Because our lives are busy and time is our most precious resource, when things get tight, our workouts are usually the first thing to land on the chopping block," says Rosante. "Unless you're preparing for a bodybuilding competition, there's no reason for your workouts to be much longer than 45-minutes, tops. The key is consistency and simple, effective, science-backed programming."

Let others know when you're working out.

tell people you're working out

Say it out loud and tell as many people as will listen. "Telling others when you plan to train during the week will make you feel committed to keeping your word and doing your workout as announced," says Westcott. It can also help keep others from trying to derail you with other plans.

Choose a proven program.

choose a proven workout program

Anything backed by science is better than something you read on the Internet. "A program based on science gives you structure," says Tamir. "We often have a lot of things going on, and rather than just going into the gym or eating healthy with no proven plan, this helps you stay committed to your end goal." Also, if it's something that has worked for a lot of other people, it's more likely will work for you, too.

Slow yourself down at every meal.

slow yourself down at dinner

If you're trying to eat less, this is a good way to help you stick with it. Research from the University of Rhode Island observed 30 healthy women during two separate visits and found that when the women ate slower (21 minutes longer), they consumed less food, took in about four more ounces of water and 65 fewer calories—that's four times fewer calories per minute. Fast eaters reported a lower level of satiety, despite eating more food in less time. "To use this technique take smaller bites, put your utensil down between bites, and chew your food more thoroughly," suggests Sass.

Include something with color at every meal.

eat something colorful at every meal

You've probably heard before that a colorful plate is a healthy plate, and it's true. Vegetables and fruits are some of the most colorful foods on the spectrum. Adding some to your meals can help you stick to a nutrition or weight loss goal. "This will increase your daily produce intake, [plus] provides the eye appeal, keeps your mouth busy with chewing, and adds much needed fiber," explains Bonci.

Eat like a child.

eat smaller portions

If you're looking to trim portion size, switch to smaller plates, glasses, and utensils. "It may seem silly, but this won't allow you to put as much on your plate," explains Bonci.

Use lots of spices.

eating more spices is a habit to keep

Sugar isn't the only way to get flavor in your meal. Ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and pumpkin pie spice are all sweet options that don't carry the calorie punch. "Even vanilla, lemon, almond, and maple extract have a sweet aroma and sweet taste," explains Bonci. "Slices of citrus added to water, sparkling water, and teas provide a sweet taste that does not come from a sugar packet, too."

Replace what you're giving up.

healthy snacks

If you just give something up you will feel deprived. " 'Swap for' diets are better than elimination ones when it comes to success," explains Bonci. "If you give up soda replace with sparkling water. If you give up chips replace with another crunchy food like roasted chickpeas." This is incentivizing and strategizing to optimize success.


prioritize your work out plan

Sure, there may be a few goals you'd like to achieve, so what's the best way to choose where to start? "Use the 5-3-1 rule," suggests Tamir. "Pick five things that you want to accomplish when it comes to your fitness or weight loss goals," he says. "Then from that, pick 3 that are most attainable and desirable, and from those three, pick one that you are ready to act on today."

Keep a food journal, and write in it daily.

keeping a food journal is a good habit

A study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that people who kept a food diary six days a week lost abut twice as much weight as those who kept records just one day a week or less. "It works because it raises your awareness and forces you to be conscious about what and how much you've eaten, and make connections about why," explains Sass. "When we don't track we tend to underestimate how much we've eaten, or even forget about some foods, snacks, or drinks."

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