How to Develop Good Habits

Aristotle had this to share about habits: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

The motivation for developing a positive health habit may come from the beckoning of a New Year, a firm nudge from your doctor or your ever-expanding waistline. A few months ago we talked about how to break bad habits. While bad habits can almost miraculously get set in stone overnight, developing a good habit takes a bit more coaxing, commitment, deliberation and time. But you can become a true master at developing a good habit. You just need the tools and resolve to help you get there.

Here are five practical tips to transform your healthy pipe dream into a solid reality.


Anyone who has written a grant, business proposal, or college application, knows that just a few lines below writing your full name, you must state your objective. So let’s start our good habit forming right here. Set your own objective and be clear and specific about it. If the good habit you want to develop is to be active in some small way each day, or to swap out ice cream for fruit, then your road to health just started blazing with a string of green lights. A crisp and sharp objective gives you the resolve to take the consequent steps to execute your plan.


Don’t worry – You don’t have to own a crystal or burn incense to practice this good-habit-forming step. In fact, imagining what your life might look like with your health goal fastened securely and proudly to your low-rise jeans is a practice that is used by world-class athletes and leaders. Here’s why: As you mentally rehearse your health goal, your mind and body become trained to perform the skill or behavior. In doing so, you literally “intend” a specific outcome to occur. This visualized intention ups your experience and confidence even if the actual behavior hasn’t been put into action.

Visualize yourself in challenging situations that test your capacity to stick to your commitment. If your co-worker often beckons you to ditch the weight room for happy hour or if your mom, in all of her sweet maternal sincerity, feeds your break-up sorrows with homemade mac & cheese casserole and oatmeal raisin cookies, visualize yourself not caving to the temptation. Mentally-preparing for surprises and executing them in your visualization practice will effectively equip you to handle the real-life situation when it arises. And believe us, it will arise.


If you don’t succeed….yeah, yeah, you know the adage. But compadres, it’s true. As you go about making this new habit into a permanent one, aim for consistency rather than for how well you adhere to your newly-made commitment. For instance, your objective is to avoid all refined carbohydrates from Monday through Friday and you encounter three carb challenges throughout the course of your workday. You only cave to one. Rather than focus on the singular slip, get right back in there and stay committed to your cause.
Experts can’t concur on how long it actually takes to form and establish a good habit. Most estimates put it at around a month or a bit less. Instead of measuring the success of your healthy habit by some deadline, measure it rather by your continued focus to recommit to your objective right after being sidelined.

As we’ve said before: It’s the day-to-day effort of putting one foot in front of the other; of making one primal choice at a time. In order to form a long-lasting good habit, you have to commit to the change every day. And then recommit to it the next day and the day after that.

Start Out Small

We don’t change overnight. It took you a few decades to develop the body, resolve and habits that you currently own up to. As well-intentioned as the new habit you want to establish may be, you don’t want to go about it in a bipolar kind of way with a rush of adrenaline in the beginning that quickly turns to three months of inaction.

So heed this advice: Slow your pace. Want to (finally) commit to a regular fitness program? Make a pact to hit the gym once a week for the first couple weeks. If you manage to accomplish this goal pat yourself on the back and up the ante to two days each week and so on. Make your goals challenging enough so that real change is actually taking place (one day is better than none!), but not so hard (e.g. exercise every day of the week) that you set yourself up for failure.

Shout it Out

When it comes to establishing that new habit, tell as many people as you can about what it is you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Not only does it create accountability on your end (the heaviness of living up to expectations is a massive motivator for taking the right action) but it also gives you that “ra-ra” pat on the rear just when you need it.

Remember that your habits are you own choices. It is up to you, and only you, to put them in place and stay their course. Luckily, you’ve already made the first step by reading this post. Armed with the right frame of mind and tools to get you from point A to point B you have set yourself up for success. Now get out there and develop some good habits!

Questions for Readers

What good habits have you developed in your life? What helped you form them? Was the change slow and gradual or immediate? What good habits would you still like to develop and what is keeping you from already living them? Share your thoughts in the comment board!

Further Reading:

How to Break Bad Habits

10 Simple Steps to Help Motivate a Friend

The Social Dimension of Eating: How to Eat with Unhealthy Eaters

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31 thoughts on “How to Develop Good Habits”

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  1. After every workout, no matter how intense or easy, I always ask myself, “Are you glad you did that?” and the answer is always “yes.” So even when it’s -30 degrees outside, a little voice tells me “You’ll be glad you did it…” and I’m able to make it to the gym.

    I do the same thing if I ever indulge in sweets. My answer is always “no.” Okay, sometimes it’s “uhh, not really, but…” Still working on that one.

    Actually last night I had a dream that I pigged out on heavily frosted cupcakes, ice cream and chocolate, but they all tasted so unbelievably sweet that they made me nauseous. I still feel ill when I recall that taste. This will be a useful tool as well.

  2. The best habit I’ve ever developed has been to avoid the car for almost all trips less than 10 miles or so.

    I commute at least 14 miles a day (7 mi x 2) by bike and the hardest part was not the biking time which was only 1/2 hour compared to a 1/4 hour drive. It was the preparation of food, gear and clothing that needed to happen. So every evening I made a habit out of packing the next day’s lunch, work clothes, gym clothes, towels, etc into my backpack, laying out all my cycling clothes and giving my bike a once-over. That way, when I wake up in the A.M., I just roll out of bed, throw on my gear and hit the road.

  3. hanging a door gym in my bedroom has done wonders for my pullups. Hanging my rings on the bar is doing my dips good. I can’t help but trying one or the other when I get up, before bed, and all the other time I pass my bedroom.

    Making friday the day for lunch with the guys fills social obligations and leaves 4 lunches a week when everyone knows I eat healthy. Cooking my own meals means I control my meals.

    I’ve never had a sweet tooth. If you give me candy I’ll eat it, but it isn’t worth the effort to reach my hand into the candyjar as I walk by. This makes low carb easy.

  4. I really like the bit about try, try again. So many people never make it through what Seth Godin calls the “Dip” because just when it gets really tough is when you are about to break through to the other side. But that’s when most people end up throwing in the towel…


    1. Hey adam,
      A small advice for me. My problem is while reading I cant concentrate more ..pls help me.

      1. Yes Adam it is not your problem .Its just you are not briefed on what can be better for your life .For it is also a habit just like others.
        -Just to help you , its one thing that you have to do;help yourself outline the benefit after the every short period of concentration…Just practice this habit

        For more help :[email protected]/+256782948982

  5. Nike summed it up many years ago when they said, “Just Do It.”

    When it comes to bad food choices switch it to, “Just Don’t Do It.”

    It’s really kinda easy. People think too much.

  6. my favorite habit is making my lunch the night before. after dinner, i clean the dishes, then make my lunch, put it in a bag, and stick it in the fridge to be grabbed quickly the next day. this way im not tempted to eat out for lunch while at work (which almost always means something i dont actually want to eat)….. it also saves money…

    1. i make MORE of dinner and take that for lunch next day, then its just one preparation

  7. I agree with Matt. For me to get on and stay on a regular workout program was tough until I started getting fully prepared the night before. Every night I make my lunch/snacks fill my water bottles, and pack up my clothes etc. I pack my work clothes, deodorant,shampoo and everything in my gym bag and put it in front of the door. In the morning I get out of bed step on my gym clothes, so I put them on. Go down stairs coffee and breaky where set up the night before also, and out the door I go to the gym on my way to work. I do this 5 days a week just to keep it regular, and I have not missed a day in over 6 months!In that 6 months I’ve bought lunch maybe once a month as well and its always been planned.

  8. Great article!

    I have a question about greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is one of my sensible vices, and I have it most mornings for breakfast before work with some blueberries or pumpkin and a sprinkle of cinnamon. I usually buy the full-fat variety because I’m not afraid of fat and because full-fat milk is less processed. However, I have noticed that the low-fat varieties have about twice as much protein. Why is this? Is it worth getting the lower-fat variety in order to get the extra protein boost?

  9. Good question, Sally. I’d go with full fat almost every time, but I suppose you could go with the higher protein version if you aren’t getting enough protein otherwise. Do two FitDay analyses for a full day or week of eating – one with the full fat and one with the higher protein – and see how the results compare.

    As to why the low-fat version has more protein I’d venture to guess that they are simply making the yogurt more protein dense by removing the fat. That is to say, imagine you have a cup of yogurt and you remove some of the fat. The volume will go down. Now if you replace the volume with more low-fat (higher protein) yogurt (to fill the cup) you will have more protein overall. You usually see this sort of balancing act with fats and sugars. For example, if you remove fat from an off-the-shelf salad dressing you have to replace it with something to fill the bottle. It’s usually replaced with sugars. Compare full-fat and low-fat dressings next time your at a grocery store for fat/carb content to see what I mean.

  10. Everything you’ve mentioned has been exactly my experience, although I have been curious about the time frames for developing habits. I’ve heard anywhere from 21 days to 6 months.

    But in any case, taking them on one by one is the only way to go. The healthy habits that have stood the test of time, were those that were slowly integrated like eating no processed food. Cooking everything from scratch is just something that I do now.

    The main one I struggle with, is visualisation – I can visualise the weight I’m about to gain by biting into that extra piece of cake, but I can rarely stop myself!

  11. I have always been in the habit of being a habitual habit former. Lol… but really i am not kidding.I pick up habits pretty quickly. Unfortunatley those habits have largely been bad ones in the past. Good advice here as always Mark!

    The SoG

  12. Mark,

    You recently posted on not needing to be pure all the time. I’m about to become unemployed. What’s your take on organic verses nonorgnic eggs?

  13. Cool post. I think a great habit to develop is not to question how your feeling whether it be good or bad just letting things flow is a great way to enjoy life. Too many people question why they are feeling happy which leads them to unhappiness or they question why they are angry, frustrated or sad which pro-longs the suffering. Getting in the habit of accepting your feelings and really feeling them is a great habit to enrich your life.
    Also a habit of visualizing for 10-20 minutes a day is great and it will help you achieve a lot of great things!

  14. I have no trouble with the visualization. After years of waiting I will be finally able to run my dream race – The Western States 100 mile endurance run. I think about it constantly, I visualize everything; running every twist and turn, other runners, food at aid stations… The event dominates my thoughts during the day and my dreams at night. I want to perform well in this event so much. I have an all-encompassing and singular focus for the next few months. My eating has gone from a complete mess to a very precise art.

    My point is, when the goal is big enough and you want it real bad, your focus will sharpen immensely and you will start to form great habits.

    Cheers, Paul

  15. We Live And Learn!
    When working on breaking bad habits i always say do your very best and don’t be too hard on youself. If you fail, don’t get discouraged, i believe we learn from mistakes. After all, we live and learn from them. Most importantly, never ever never give up on what you want to accomplish. Your strong will determination WILL get you where you want to be, everything takes time. Oh, and one more thing, THINK POSITIVE IN YOUR “EVERY” THOUGHT!!!

  16. I can visualise the weight I’m about to gain by biting into that extra piece of cake, but I can rarely stop myself!

    LOL!! I had the same experience with some double-stuff Oreos last week. 🙂

  17. Rule #1: forming good habits requires immediate commitment (I will do this, starting now)
    Rule #2: forming good habits take time (I will get to where I need to be, in time)

    It’s not related to diet/lifestyle, but when I was in High School, I was getting mediocre grades. I made the decision to put forth meaningful effort and see where my grades could go. So, I put a list of what grades I wanted to get in each class, taped it to a shelf on my desk where I could look at it every single day when I did homework. 2 quarters later, I went from a 2.5 to over a 4.0

    It’s the constant reminder of what you want to achieve. It’s *easy* to let goals slide a little, or even completely (ever noticed that gyms are packed in January, but not as packed come March?). If you remind yourself daily what you want to achieve, you will achieve it. Hold yourself accountable, and if you don’t reach your goals, figure out why, and get back at it!

  18. The first thing I think when I open my eyes each morning is, “what am I going to eat and what am I going to do today?” Then I plan out what’s going in the cooler I carry with me daily, what’s to be accomplished at work, what my workout will be or—if it’s a recovery day—what I will get done to clear the platter for more workouts in coming days. Included in this conversation with myself is the question, “what am I really looking forward to today?” It’s usually my workout or time outdoors, but if I can’t think of something, I add something fun or interesting to the agenda. So I almost always start my day with a positive outlook (and usually end it the same). Having a job I like helps a lot. I always thought of my little morning meeting with myself as planning and focus but I guess it’s visualization in a way. Starting new good habits and maintaining existing good habits is easier for me than breaking old bad ones, though. When I’m successful, I identify the conditions that accompany the bad habit and then come up with an alternative. Then I remind myself of the reasons for my choice and how disappointed I will be with myself if I blow it.

  19. Thanks for the post–it is an excellent reminder. My problem is that I know what good habits I should have, I just have a hard time sticking to them!

  20. There is an interesting concept I learned called Habit Gravity and Escape Velocity.

    Breaking out of a habit is like when a space shuttle is on its way out of the atmosphere. It uses up the most energy during this period. But once it escapes, it takes very little energy to travel.

    Same thing with habits, it’s most difficult breaking out of it. But keep consistent for at least 30 days, that is when it starts getting easier.