7 Proven Strategies to Make Your New Habits Stick

If you’re struggling to build one new habit, try starting multiple. It sounds counterintuitive, but new research from the University of California shows that a “kitchen sink” approach — taking on a group of new habits — is more effective than a minimalist one-habit-at-a-time approach.

In the study, college students went through a “multifaceted intervention.” They stretched and meditated in the morning and learned gratitude practices and stress management in the afternoon, followed with pilates, yoga, and body-weight training. They limited alcohol, slept for 8-10 hours each night, ate whole foods and less carbohydrates, and kept a daily journal.

After six weeks, brain scans showed that the students had better focus, reading comprehension, memory, and they were happier and fitter. Compared with “narrowly-focused interventions” where subjects only adopted one new habit, benefits from the multifaceted approach were up to 2.5 times greater. The success comes from a domino-like effect; one habit change boosts the effects of another. Follow-up tests also showed that improvements had lasting effects, the students still scored high on mental and physical tests even though they weren’t training as much.

The research challenges our quick condemnation of multitasking and juggling multiple goals. A jack-of-all-trades doesn’t mean being a master of none. Starting multiple habits can generate momentum and increase your health benefits.

Here are 7 key strategies for successful habit change:

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1. The “head-heart-hands” approach.

In the study, the holistic approach for building new habits was the key for success. The students took on lifestyle changes that appealed to the mind, emotions, and body. When you are starting new habits, make sure you exercise these three key areas.

2. Make a pre-commitment. 

There’s always a slump following the initial excitement and progress of learning a new habit. A pre-commitment is a ‘agreement’ with yourself to push through the slump — when you are mentally primed and aware of an impending obstacle, you’ll be less likely to quit. Successful people understand that mastery and competency comes from pushing through the slump.

3. Tap into your ‘Flow’ state. 

There’s a special zone where your performance is maximized. When you’re taking on new habits, make sure you’re challenged beyond your ability, but not quite overwhelmed. This is the zone known as “flow.” Don’t bite off more than you can chew, but don’t starve yourself either.

Pushing yourself too far leads to over-exposure to new information and creates anxiety and stress. Not pushing yourself far enough means you will be under-stimulated and lose motivation.

4. Reframe your stress.

Lifestyle changes can create stress. Reframe your stress response to master new habits. A Harvard study found that reframing your stress response as helpful rather than harmful changes your biological response. Typically during a stressful experience, your heart rate goes up, your blood vessels constrict, and you feel anxious. However, if you view this response as if your body is preparing you for battle, your blood vessels stay relaxed and you will feel courageous.

Reframe the stress that may arise from learning new habits.

5. Track your progress and celebrate.

Celebrating your little wins is crucial for keeping your motivation levels high. Your brain will release dopamine when you consciously celebrate a victory. Dopamine is fuel for motivation and making new habits stick.

6. Include intentional rest times.

Rest is a key ingredient for productivity, creativity, and to consolidate the new information you’ve learned from new habits. Schedule weekly times or days where you relax and disengage. Try to get 7-9 hours sleep each night.

7. Inject novelty. 

Don’t let your routine turn into monotony. Make slight adjustments to your habits — change the time, order, or location where you do your exercises.

But, only do this if you’re becoming stagnant and disengaged. Some personality types gravitate toward routine, others need novelty. If you’re a creature of habit, and you’re making good progress, do not fix what aint’ broke.

Infographic created by Visme:

7 Proven Strategies to Make Your New Habits Stick

7 Responses to “7 Proven Strategies to Make Your New Habits Stick”

  1. […] post 7 Proven Strategies to Make Your New Habits Stick appeared first on The Utopian […]

  2. September 15, 2016

    Simon Sprock Reply

    Great approach that you described here, also if most Coaches usually recommend to take step by step and change one single thing at a time, while this is recommended differently under three, I think about trying this one.

    Also interesting: If you change habits, your environment will usually adopt to this as well. This is something that I describe as breaking karma (see also http://wp.me/p7HoTI-iX). Coachiendo, the website this is on is a small project I just started with my wife to support people with Services, a friend should offer, but what many people are missing. Coachiendo is and will be the friend by your side.

    By the way, thank you for sharing, this is a great inspiration for me.

  3. October 9, 2016

    Michael Vogt Reply

    Thank you for the approach to change habits and make them stick. Undoubtedly the approach can be 100% successful. The success is hinging on the true willingness to stick with suggested steps and nothing else. It is never the program that has flaws but rather the willingness to change which is the largest obstacle in trying to form a new habit. It reminds of the Freud’s realization that people came to his sessions seemingly wanting to change areas in their life they found unwanting, but the desire to stay “sick” and not to change, but go through the motions, has not changed in many people. How many folks spend much more time complaining about what they don’t like than doing anything about it. Action to remove their seeming faults shifts responsibility to that person and it seems which every session or step to be taken, a voice in the mind will furnish reasons why one should quit, and those reasons are often utterly ridiculous but still enough for people to slowly withdraw from their newly goals until the tipping point is reached, the hands thrown in the air with a resigning voice: too much, can’t do it, don’t have the time, not really what I was hoping for, and this marks the end of another failed attempt to change.
    How do you recognize this point and what do you suggest to do to counteract these thoughts? I have seen too many people that proclaim they want to change but at the end stay status quo. All I can say is: Change is inevitable, except from vending machines! 🙂

  4. October 31, 2016

    Seth Tubre Reply

    Thanks for the advice! I’ve found that tracking down progress really does help.

  5. April 2, 2017

    chris Reply

    I used to find making new habits stick hard. But with years of practice I find it easier. I gave up smoking 5 months ago, and that habit was actually easier to stick to than I thought it would be.
    Some great strategies there. Working as a business coach I will implement some of the above

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