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Five ways to make a habit stick

There are lots of good reasons to start new habits, from improving your productivity to replacing destructive habits with positive ones. 

Sydney Embray
09th May 2016
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Making a habit stick, particularly if you’re undertaking a challenging course or apprenticeship, could make the learning process an easier one. Do you know you need to make a change but are unsure how to get started? We’ve compiled a list of five ways to help good habits stick, which in turn will make you more successful. 

Set goals

Grab a piece of paper or open a new document and start writing out your reasons for starting a new habit. What has pushed you to make this change? Be specific—choose events and circumstances you can remember in detail and directly link to your own actions. Try to keep it objective as well—you’re not consistently late for appointments because you’re a failure or a bad person, you’re late because you don’t wear a watch or you don’t set reminders and alarms for yourself. 

Once you’ve established the need for change, focus on what you want to gain from the habit. What are the short-term benefits of your decision? How about long-term? 

Lastly, write out a pre-mortem—a method companies use to find holes in projects before they get off the ground. Come up with a list of all the ways you think you might fail, then follow it with a list of ways to avoid these stumbling blocks. For instance, if your habit is to get up when your alarm goes off, one potential failure is the snooze button. Moving the alarm across the room would be a good way to avoid falling back asleep and making yourself late. 


Go in for the long haul

Right from the start, make sure you’re committed to your goal for more than just a few days.  Common knowledge and experts say it takes around 21 days for an action to become a subconscious habit, but it can be daunting to try to stay focused on a goal that far away. To counter this, check in with yourself once a week or every few days. Re-evaluate your goals, note any snags in your progress, and remind yourself of why you started. After a few rounds, you’ll have reached the three-week mark with much more success, and your new habit will begin to seem more natural. 

At the end of three weeks, pull out your goals and pre-mortem and do a self-evaluation.  If you still have work to do, reflecting on your progress will remind you why you started and give you motivation to continue. If you’ve successfully ingrained your new habit into your lifestyle, the reflection will give you the confidence to take on more goals and a reason to celebrate.

Stay consistent

Consistency—making an effort every time, no exceptions—is the key to making and breaking habits.  Let’s say you’re trying to start the habit from point 1. You might get up on time the first two days, but you stay out late and are tempted to sleep in on the third morning. If you don’t follow through and get up on time anyway, you’re telling yourself that the habit is optional, and your progress will move a significant amount in the wrong direction.  Consistency is a series of conscious, focused decisions and will ultimately determine whether or not your habit sticks.


You can help yourself along by adding some positive and negative reinforcement to the mix.  For example, you might start the habit of studying for an hour a day when you have a big accountancy exam coming up. You can reinforce your decision by telling yourself that if you don’t, you can’t watch Netflix or go out with friends that day. Positive reinforcement, like a reward, can work too—for every 5 days in a row of studying, you could take a day off to have fun.  Just try to stay away from rewarding yourself with food or sweets too often , or you might soon after find yourself in need of a few more new habits.

Get a teammate

Accountability is another great way to stay on track. Ask a friend or family member to support you, then report back to them now and again about your progress and be honest about how you’re doing. Not only will they be there to encourage you, but just telling someone else about your progress gives you an opportunity to check in with yourself as well. Don’t forget to make use of tutors in both online and in-class courses for feedback and advice, and if you’re making a career change, find a mentor in the sector you’re looking to enter. Once someone else has invested in your success you’ll have double the reason to keep it up and hit your goals.


Now that you’re equipped with what it takes to make a habit stick, why not begin your search for that all important course? 

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