7 Simple Techniques to Keep Good Habits Going Strong

Good Habits

My dad used to say that February is the longest month of the year. Growing up in New England meant that it was at least six more weeks of cold, wet, dark days. It was hard then, as it is now, to hold on to our New Year’s resolutions that are made so, so many days ago — and develop good habits that stick.

On January first, did you want to eat healthier, increase your productivity at work, or live a more balanced life? Being consistent with good habits helps me feel more in control — and feeling more in control makes me happier at home and at the office.

Over the years, I’ve come up with 7 tips that help keep my resolutions and make new habits second nature. I hope that by sharing them, you can benefit, too.

Here are my 7 time-tested tips you can use to turn your resolutions into reality:

1. Get motivated

This sounds obvious, but most people don’t think about it much: if you want to break out of a slump, get yourself excited about a new habit. But how can you do that when it feels uncomfortable or even alien? For me, I’ve learned that by talking about it with anyone who will listen, reading as much about it as possible, and thinking about what it looks like to be successful, it starts to feel more familiar and fun — and more more exciting!

2. Start very, very small

Good Habits
If I’m having a hard time getting started, I’m probably thinking too big. When I needed to start training for a two-day, 39-mile walk for charity, I thought I had to do intense workouts 5 days a week. Instead, I tried taking small, tiny, baby steps…literally. I walked half mile, and then a mile, and then 3…after 12 weeks, I was ready for 39! I know, that approach sounds wimpy at first. But it worked!

3. Set reminders

I try to think about my new habit every day. To this end, posting a goal or new habit on my wall or computer monitor helps a lot. I’ll send myself daily reminders. I’ll even set a daily recurring task for myself in our task management software. And if I can commit to doing one small thing to solidify my new habit every single day, I’ll be closer having a new habit!

4. Set realistic expectations

Good Habits
I found that the key to setting realistic expectations is to accept the baseline — what is presently going on — without letting go of hope of the future.

While I was trying to lose weight before my wedding years ago, I wished for a weight loss number that was greater than what the experts suggested was reasonable. I still hoped that I could make faster progress than what the charts stated. But, to hold on to my pre-wedded happiness, I had to accept that my significant weight loss may never happen. Still, I let hope keep my dream alive. I lost an appropriate amount of weight and was content with the results. Added bonus: My new habit of eating smaller portions stuck around well past our wedding day.

5. Think about the benefits

One common problem is that we think about how hard something is. Walking 39 miles sounds so hard! But instead of thinking about how hard something is, I try to think about what I will get out of it. For example, instead of thinking about how tiring walking can be, I try to focus on how good I feel each time I’m done with practice walks, how much healthier I’ll be when it’s over, and how much money will be raised for my favorite charity. The benefits of something can truly energize you!

6. Squash negative thoughts

Along those lines, it’s important to start monitoring your thoughts. Recognize negative self-talk, which can cause new habit slumps. After a few days of doubt, try squashing those negative thoughts like a bug, and then replace them with a corresponding positive thought. Squash, “This is too hard!” and replace it with, “I can do this! If that person can do it, so can I!” It sounds corny, but it works. Really!

7. Celebrate your success!

Good Habits
After doing all of that hard work to change your habits, you deserve to celebrate your success! I walked my 39-mile event 5 times, and each year it was celebration-worthy. Choose the reward that feels right to you: Treat yourself to something special: the perfect cup of coffee, watching the sunset, or replacing your well-worn sneakers…or a trip to a tropical paradise! It’s about doing what you want to do and feeling proud of your hard work.

I want to leave you with one of my favorite quotes about habits. Mahatma Gandhi said, “If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But, when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it, even if I did not have the ability in the beginning.”

Read more from Marcy Kawadler: 10 Business Lessons I Learned From My 10-Year-Old