With a new year upon us, many people are stopping to take inventory and formulate new goals. To achieve any objective, it is often necessary (not to mention easier) to first form new habits that will push us all in the right direction.

But how can lofty goals become second nature habits? 

Psychology Today informs us of the obvious: as human beings, we formulate habits all our lives – both good and bad. Some we don’t even recognize as habits, yet they influence nearly every aspect of how we spend our time, energy and money.

Some researchers believe we develop habits out of a sense of efficiency: it saves us an internal debate every time we reach for a beverage (What kind of drink? What time of day and how much?) or how often we go out with friends to eat or see a new movie.

Our bad habits can also run the gamut from mildly disruptive ones, such as too much screen time, to those that truly hurt our health and well-being, like overeating, excessive drinking or indulging in recreational drugs. But worry not, those routines can be replaced with new, healthier habits – if we want it enough, that is.

Creating Incentives 

One way to help ensure a successful path to new habit formation is to set up a method of providing incentives or rewards along the way. Want to motivate yourself to ride your stationary bike? Allow yourself to watch TV as you are doing it. Alternatively, restrict your phone or social media access until after a ride is done. Both will motivate you in different ways.

According to NPR, some habits become ingrained in our minds over time, until the behavior becomes routine and we no longer need to concentrate on it to make the action happen.

In some cases – both positive and negative – a cue triggers our desire to perform the habit, such as eating a meal and wanting to smoke a cigarette afterward. 

But some good news is that changing our environment can hinder these unwanted triggers and subsequent habits from rearing their heads, allowing us to cultivate new routines that are more in line with current goals. In other words, take a vacation or deviate from your normal routine. The cues and rewards will not be as readily available or recognizable – and it should be an easier time to create more beneficial habits.

Coming Up With Goals

When coming up with your goals or preferred habits, Harvard Business Review suggests avoiding the bigger, lofty goals – or at least breaking them up into smaller ones. Starting out with a very small routine, perform it daily until your brain stops thinking about it and does it on auto-pilot. 

Even then, add to the new habit by only 10% or so each time you’re ready to advance. Then stay at that level for longer than seems necessary. 

Remember –it’s never too late to break a bad habit, no matter how big or small. So make a list of goals and know you can attain them with the right mindset.

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