Your web browser is out of date. Update your browser for more security, speed and the best experience on this site.

Update your browser
by Gina Rees

Keys to Building Good Habits for a Good Life

4 Keys to Developing Good Habits

In the new year, we often talk about resolutions. And that’s a good thing because small, everyday actions -- also known as habits -- can make a huge difference in the quality of our lives.

In fact, brain experts say the payoff of developing good habits is exponential. That’s because our brain loves habits – particularly things we do daily that make us feel better. This is why we may want to shift our thinking to focus on positive habits and results in 2023.

Here are four keys to developing good habits:

1. Make sure the habit is achievable.

Be in tune with yourself. Know what you can do. For example, a fitness goal for me wouldn't be something that a 20-year-old would choose. I need to be realistic.

As another example, if I wanted to reduce the time I’m spending on my smartphone each day, I might think, “I'm only going to be on my phone for one hour a day."

But is that realistic? No. So instead, I might say, “I’m going to be off my phone for the first hour of each day.” That’s a smaller, more doable goal for me.

2. Visualize the reward of the good habit or create a reward for yourself.

Suppose I want to eat more healthy foods – to have better nutrition. I would focus on the immediate reward -- that I'm going to gain more energy. I want more energy to do the things I want to do – whether that’s playing with our kids or taking trips. So, the immediate reward motivates and inspires me.

3. Focus on the positive consequences of the habit, not the negative ones of not doing it.

In other words, focus on what you want to see yourself do, not what you want to avoid.

For example, suppose I want to eat healthier, and I know I’m going to a Super Bowl party in a few weeks. Instead of saying, "I'm not going to eat chips and queso at that party,” I would say, "When I go to the Super Bowl party, I'm going to choose to eat the fruits and vegetables served."

That’s because if I say to myself, "I'm not going to eat chips and queso,” my brain doesn't hear the “not.” It just focuses on the chips and queso.

Our brain listens to what we think and say. So, we need to make affirmative statements to ourselves, such as “I want to be stronger. I will work out more,” not, “I don't want to sit on the sofa and be unhealthy.”

4. Make your new habit accessible.

Set yourself up for success. Make doing the new habit easy.

For example, if you want to go to the gym regularly, make sure your gym is close to your house. Lay out your workout clothes the night before. In this way, when your alarm goes off, you can easily jump into your clothes, get into your car, and be working out quickly. Don’t give yourself easy excuses because our brain can talk us out of good habits too.

At the Center, we try to give people concrete ways to develop good habits, instead of just thinking and talking about them. If you want more resources, I recommend one of these books: Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits, by James Clear, or The High 5 Habit or The 5 Second Rule, both by Mel Robbins.

Here’s to better habits!