How do you create a habit that sticks?


“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” Jim Rohn

At this time of year, after the festive season, the focus and discussion turn to how to do something different for the New Year. Giving up smoking; going on a diet; starting an exercise regime; getting a new skill; almost anything you can think of.

We all have written that list; be it long or short; of things we want to do differently at the start of the new year. And I can honestly say that we have all failed. It might take a few days or even a couple of weeks, but the change we try to make falls by the wayside. We then get into self-recrimination mode. Which makes the apparent “failure” even worse.

We don’t seem to learn from this and every year without fail, people create “wish lists of change”. What we fail to understand is that you have to start from a different place.

Change your mindset

It is a well know fact that if you want to “give up” something; be it smoking; chocolate; meat or even caffeine; you are setting yourself up for failure straight away with the concept of “giving up”. This is a “loss” mindset. This creates desire. Want. Craving. And like all loss, you crave it more and more.

I know this, having tried to give up smoking on more than one occasion. Having tried to give it up, I managed to last about two weeks, before the craving made me return to cigarettes. The key to me stopping smoking was changing my mindset.  I decided it was my choice to stop smoking. And like all choice, you can choose to start again. January 2006 was when I gave up (A New Year’s resolution). I have not smoked since.

Recognise the habit

Nearly everything we do can create a habit. Eating certain foods like chocolate when you are “unhappy”; smoking a cigarette when you feel “stressed”; opening a bottle of beer at the end of a day’s “work”; almost anything can create a habit that you may find difficult to break.

For me, the habit I had when I smoked was I would get up first thing in the morning; make a cup of tea and open the back door to light my first fag (English slang term) of the day. Part of changing my mindset was recognising the triggers and habits that surrounded them.

So you have got a list of things that you want to do differently; start or stop; what do you do next?

HELPFUL TIP: Remember Mindset, Habit and Reward

Mindset #1: If you are trying to stop something; like smoking or eating something you do not want to eat any more; the starting point is to recognise that you are NOT giving something up. You have choice. Choice to continue or to stop. You are in complete control.

Mindset #2: If you are trying to start something, like a new exercise regime; the starting point is to create space and time for you to be able to exercise. You need to create mental space as well as time and maybe even physical space. When I started Mindfulness, I realised that I had to get up earlier in the morning to be able to practice. As a result, I got up 30 minutes earlier every morning. I also created a physical space to practice in the spare room.

Habit: Any action you follow, be it exercise; eating; diet; whatever, will take time. Some people feel habits can be created quickly. But it does take time. There is a fallacy that it takes only 21 days, less than a month, for a new habit to be formed. However, it can take over two months, or at least 66 days to create a habit that lasts. If you would like further information on why 66 days, check out an article from James Clear –


Finally, reward yourself. When I gave up smoking, I took the £5.00 per day that I spent on smoking and put it in a clear jam jar. Every day I would put in a fiver. For a complete month. At the end of January, I had £155. As a reward, I bought myself an iPod. When I started Mindfulness; I bought myself an exercise mat to use every day, putting it out as a visual reminder to practice.

So, creating that New Year’s change list is only the start. Remember it takes more than just a list to make a change stick.

I leave you with the following quote.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
― Mahatma Gandhi


One thought on “How do you create a habit that sticks?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s