The Beginner's Guide to Starting A New Habit

Have you ever wanted to start a new habit really badly, but you just couldn’t get going? I sure have. Most of the time, I know exactly what I should be doing, but I just don’t quite get around to doing it. I can get excited and set the goal, but I don’t follow through on the actions I know it would take to get it done.

Many people wait until January 1st to start a new habit because they think they need that new year mojo to get going. I used to be one of those people. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good new year’s kick in the butt. However, you don’t have to wait until January to implement something you know you need in your life now.

Speaking of January, let’s talk exercise. Now stay with me! I promise, it’s not a dirty word!

We all know the reasons we should exercise. We are basically a sedentary society who consumes more calories than we have the opportunity to burn in a day with our desk jobs and relentless screen time.

Just in case, here are a few reasons to exercise to get you started:

· Increased energy levels

· Decreased illness and disease

· Decreased stress hormones

· Increased feel-good hormones that are mood elevators

· Increased focus

· Feel good in your skin!

So why am I talking about exercise when you’re worried about the next employee you need to hire? Or how you’re going to make payroll this month. Or where you’ll find the next client. Or how you should run after on a new opportunity but you’re afraid you’ll fail.

Many people feel they don’t have time for exercise because of the demands on their life. But each of those scenarios requires you to be clear, focused, and fresh to make the best decisions. The number of crises you handle in a day highlights your need for an outlet for stress release. So, let’s figure out how you can put movement in your day to be ready for what the day will bring you.

I recently read a book called Atomic Habits – Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear. He does a great job breaking down how to create a good habit. So, here’s an executive review for you.

Law #1 Make It Obvious

When I was on a big health kick about 10 years ago, I learned that supplementation with vitamins would seriously benefit my goals for a healthy body and lifestyle. But I couldn’t remember to take the vitamins on a daily basis. Thus reducing the overall cumulative benefit I desired.

To remedy this problem, I used habit stacking, also known as habit pairing. I first learned this amazing tool from Gretchen Rubin’s work. Habit stacking capitalizes on a habit you already have in place. Because I brushed my teeth every morning, this seemed like a logical time to add in taking my vitamins. After that day, I’ve never missed a day of vitamins.

How could you make this work for you? Fill in the blank: After [current habit], I will [new habit]. Simple right?

Here’s another idea for you. To make working out in the morning a consistent habit, I laid out my workout clothes the night before. My habit stack was After I [wake up], I [get dressed in my workout clothes]. This helped me make my new workout cue visible and obvious. I also got the added bonus of eliminating a decision. Instead of “should I work out this morning?”, I just got dressed.

Law #2 Make It Attractive

In the book Atomic Habits, Clear introduces temptation bundling. Pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do.

If you know me at all, you know that I LOVE listening to podcasts and books on audible. I love learning, and this way, I can be learning all the time.

Back when I used to run every day, I tricked myself into running by temptation bundling. Even though I didn’t have a fancy title for it, it worked like magic. I would pick out a podcast or book I really wanted to listen to, but I couldn’t listen to it unless I was running. I would actually get excited to go for a run because I was excited about the episode.

How could you apply this law? What do you love to do that you could do before or during a workout as a temptation bundle? For example, my coach doesn’t love to bike, but he does love to get together with friends. After they bike, they all meet for coffee. The possibilities are endless. Just make it work for you.

Law #3 Make It Easy

I give major props to people who can get up and drive to the gym across town to work out. But I just couldn’t make that work personally on a long-term basis. So, I made it easy on myself. I signed up for an online workout video program. I keep my weights out and handy, so all I have to do every morning is press play. The less you have to do to actually do the habit, the better.

What you need to realize is this will be different for everyone, so find what’s easy for you. Additionally, it may be easy in one season for you, but not another.

After having 4 surgeries in one year, I was having difficulty getting back on my video routine. I couldn’t even do the 30-minute routines let alone an hour-long strength session. Instead of giving up completely, I adopted a make it easy strategy.

If I moved for 10 minutes, I counted that as my movement for the day. I would either go on a 10-minute walk or do this 7-minute yoga routine by Tara Stiles. Most of the time, just getting started on the walk would induce me to go longer. But on days I still didn’t feel like it, at least I had done 10 minutes and it helped my sense of accomplishment as I was rebuilding and recovering.

What would make it easy for you to work out? Meeting friends? Hiring a trainer to hold you accountable? Finding a gym that’s on your way home from work?

Law #4 Make It Satisfying

Part of what makes it hard for most people to start exercising is that results are not seen or felt right away. In fact, it can feel really hard in the beginning as you’re building strength, stretching new areas, or building stamina. Finding ways to make it satisfying on a daily basis can really help.

My favorite method for this is habit tracking. I print off a month-at-a-glance calendar and tape it to my refrigerator door. I write my movement goal of exercising 6 days a week on the top of the sheet. Every day as soon as I get done exercising, I get to mark a big X on the day. I set the bar low at 10 minutes of movement (yoga or walking) to count for an X. That way I can keep up my streak even when I’m busy, traveling, don’t feel like it or am just tired.

When I used to do all or nothing with my workouts, I would completely stop my programs altogether if I had to miss a day or two because of my schedule or traveling. That would get me off for the week, and I’d fall on the workout bandwagon for months at a time.

Now that I have a tracking method that allows for life to happen, I keep up my streaks and end up exercising at least 3-4 days every week, year after year. It’s much easier to keep up this habit than to stop and start repeatedly. And much better on my health overall.

Let’s face it, building new habits and breaking old ones can be extremely difficult. But by building a few of these systems into your day, you can set a new habit and expect success. Your biggest goal is only as good as your smallest systems. So decide which of these tactics you’ll use to set up your system and get started today.

I’d love to hear what ideas you came up with. Comment below on what you’ll implement next.