Before you start a new habit, do this

Have you ever tried to start a new habit and “failed” miserably? You so wanted to start a new diet, read more books, get off your phone, and the list goes on. But you haven’t been able to keep going after a few days or a few weeks. You’re not alone, my friend. It’s hard starting new habits. You’re basically telling your brain and your body to do a 180, cold turkey.

I don’t know about you, but shocking my system never leads to anything good. In fact, it’s led to me passing out, falling, and injuring myself. So, why do we try and form new habits by shocking our systems? Let’s try something different, shall we?

I’d been wanting to write this post for weeks now. I’d outlined it and researched profusely and after coming up with virtually nothing, I felt it didn’t have a backbone so I left it in the “vault”. But recently, I was reading Atomic Habits by James Clear and there was an entire chapter on my idea (chapter 13 if you’re wondering). I felt like I won the writer’s lottery. So, here I am at 6:00 in the morning writing this for you.

And since it’s a brand new year, you may have more motivation than ever before to start to implement new habits in your life. Let’s get off on the right foot.

Here’s what to do before starting a new habit

Have a pre-habit “ritual”

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If you’ve ever gone to college or did sports, you probably know that before you enroll in certain courses or teams, you need to complete the prerequisites (I’m actually not sure if this applies to sports, but it sounds nice). I mean, you can’t just start learning about calculus without first learning geometry or taking pre-calculus. You wouldn’t start a new job or go to college without some kind of orientation. Same with habits: you need to orient yourself and build up to them.

It’s kind of like the first day of school. Every class on the first day of school was shorter and less dense than the ones that followed (unless your teacher was obnoxious). The purpose is to get you in the groove – to warm you up to the idea of more classes. When you start a new habit, it’s important to have a precursor habit or ritual in place that you do each time you want to perform the behavior associated with said habit.

What I mean is this: each time before you workout, for example, you begin the habit of working out for that session by changing into your workout clothes. And then before completing the full workout, you do a warm-up routine. One thing I always do before cooking is tidying the kitchen – washing dishes, wiping the counter, getting my supplies out etc. It gets me into the mood of working around the kitchen so that starting to cook feels like less of a big deal than it did before I readied the kitchen.

Another example can be before going to sleep, having a nighttime routine (such as reading, journaling, or skincare) that helps you to wind down and get ready for some shut-eye. This way, it’s much easier to fall asleep than jumping straight into bed. Or on the opposite end, doing some sort of morning ritual or routine before you start your day. Doing these rituals every time you’re about to start to do your habit will signal to your brain that it’s go time! This will help you combat procrastination, overthinking, and overwhelm.

Follow the “two minute rule”

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In Atomic Habits, Clear talks about the two minute rule – when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do. Now, this probably wouldn’t apply to every single habit on the planet but it works wonders for those habits that seem momentous or impossible to start. And what I really like about it is his emphasis on “mastering the habit of showing up.” He goes on to give examples of ways to show up to a new habit for two minutes (or some other short amount of time) and stopping after the time has passed.

One example included going to the gym for just five minutes each session – and going home after the five minutes are up. Eventually, you’ll want to stay longer because you’ve already made the effort to get there. During quarantine, I found that this applied to my daily walks. After spending all day inside and with my butt in a chair, oddly, going for a walk was the last thing I wanted to do. Knowing I needed to get my body moving, I told myself I would just go out for 10 minutes and then come back. Most of the time, I’d walk for 30 minutes or longer despite only planning for 10 minutes.

I also use this a lot when writing, as well. Writing an article or blog post can seem REALLY daunting. But writing an introduction paragraph, not as daunting. Sometimes, I’ll just plan to write the intro and stop but more often than not, I’ll keep going because: why not?

You see, objects in motion stay in motion (and objects at rest stay at rest) – Newton’s First Law of Motion (I’m a nerd, sue me). This apparently goes for people, too. If you’re already in a groove for a few minutes, why stop there? Sometimes, starting small is all you need to do to finish big. Showing up is all you need to show out!

You’ll know this method is working when you find yourself asking “why not” when considering whether or not to continue with your habit after having started. After a while, you’ll become used to your habit and doing it each time will become less laborious than when you first tried it.

Seems so doable, am I right?!

It really is. Often, people make things much more difficult for themselves than necessary. Yes, starting a new habit is hard. But that’s mostly because it’s new and introducing new things suddenly and without preparing your mind and body can wreak havoc, which can make sticking to new habits nearly impossible. Humans only want to do what is easy and and want to get what is readily accessible. Having a pre-habit ritual or following the two-minute rule makes habits easier and more accessible.

Remember, objects in motion stay in motion. Whether it be doing your ritual or simply just showing up, you can do this. You have the power to change the quality of your life with your habits. Just don’t get stuck at rest because you’re not prepared to act.

Let’s chat: what habit(s) do you want to start this year and how will you make it stick?

2 thoughts on “Before you start a new habit, do this

Add yours

  1. I want to read more books this year! So I joined a virtual book club which is going to keep me accountable, and introduce me to books I’d never pick up on my own. Also, “ Sometimes, starting small is all you need to do to finish big. “ love that!


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