How to Build New Habits That Stick

Guide building new habits

Posted On January 12, 2021


The human being is a creature of habit. He has shaped his life through his daily routines that have gradually become anchored in his life.

The majority of our patterns have been created unconsciously; the way we sleep, brush our teeth, or wash our hands is always the same and even the way we make love.

These rituals are essential in our lives because they are automated tasks that require little or no effort on the part of the brain. Moreover, our brain’s objective is to protect us and preserve us, which is why it is challenging to change a habit ingrained for years.

It goes against our brain’s logic, even if this habit is harmful to our health and well-being.

The golden rule for change is to start right now.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. Chinese Proverb

How long does it take to create a new habit?

Unfortunately, there is a very popular belief on the internet that claims that you can change behavior in only 21 days. Is this reality? And where does this famous 21-day figure come from?

Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon and author of the best-selling book Psycho-Cybernetics: A New Way to Get More Living out of Life in 1960, found that the average patient takes 21 days to get used to their new face.

He developed a theory that it takes a minimum of 21 days to create a new mental image.

Except: the 21-day theory is wrong.

Experts in behavioral science provide us with a very different version of how our neurology works.

Dr. Philippa Lally is a behavioral expert at University College London, and her primary area of expertise is habit formation.

The study examined the habits of 96 people over a 12-week period. Each person chose a new pattern to adopt that was more or less difficult to adopt. Some chose simple behaviors, such as drinking a glass of water after breakfast.
Others chose more challenging behaviors, such as doing a workout after breakfast.

So what are the results of the study?

On average, it takes 66 days for a new habit to become automatic.
However, this figure varies enormously depending on the task. The results range from 20 days for an elementary activity such as drinking a glass of water to 254 days for crunches after breakfast.

Why such a difference?

There are several factors to consider here: the difficulty of the new behavior to implement, the person concerned, and the specific conditions of the situation.

What can we learn from this study? There are no miracle numbers, too many parameters to take into account. However, it is sure that to create a new habit, it will take much more than 21 days of practice.


Why is it so hard to change a habit?

The main reason for this is our brain.
Our brain doesn’t like change. It doesn’t like what requires effort. Want a simple example? Try brushing your teeth with your left hand if you are right-handed or with your right hand if you are left-handed.

You can quickly notice the discomfort that persists for an effortless task that is already practiced every day. Then you can imagine how uncomfortable it will be to integrate a new behavior to replace a bad habit already present.

Change requires focus, a plan of action, perseverance, and patience.

A very common mistake is to try to base a change in a situation on our motivation. At first, this will work partly due to the excitement of discovering a new activity, but what happens when you are not in good positive energy?

Going for a run in the morning when it rains and cold takes a lot of energy than running in nice and warm weather, doesn’t it?
If your behavior is based on motivation alone, it won’t work in the long run.

That’s why it will be essential to have a concrete plan for transformation.


Stay focus on one habit at a time

Now that you’ve decided to adopt a new behavior, it’s time to choose what you want to change.

I have frequently made the mistake of wanting to change all of a sudden, only to give up after 3 weeks.

However, I started to make real changes when I focused on one habit at a time.

I started to write every day for at least 15 minutes, which allowed me to write my ebook “Objective destination” in a month and a half.

To be completely honest, I never thought I would write a book in my life, and yet this little habit made me more productive than ever before.

The biggest difference in my past failures is that I have remained focused on one task and nothing else.

You have to choose what new behavior to create. Don’t spread yourself too thin, even when it becomes problematic.

Once you’ve made your choice, make sure you stay focused on your goal, and once you’ve reached it, you can move on to the next behavior you want to change.


Create a daily routine

The only way to anchor a new habit is to create a context for change, and nothing is more effective than a concrete plan of action.

This means that to change a habit, you need to plan it, know exactly where and when you will work on it.

If you want to start meditating, is it better to plan it in the morning or in the evening? Before or after eating? For how long?

Whatever behavior you want to incorporate, learn how to create a positive framework for your situation.

There is an effective way to remind you of your new habit. Create a trigger related to a habit you already have. Imagine that you would like to drink a glass of water every morning, but you tend to forget.

Then create a trigger with an automatic behavior you already have in the morning; for example, you could associate drinking a glass of water right after you brush your teeth and therefore create a behavioral association.


Make it easy

This is a critical point that is too often forgotten. Nowadays, we find it challenging to stay focused on a specific task and even more so if it is a task that requires effort.

When you want to be efficient:

  1. Be focused on a single task. The airplane mode of your phone will become your best friend during your work sessions.
  2. Tell the people around you to leave you alone during this time.
  3. Make sure you create a healthy environment where you are productive and will not be disturbed.

There is another fundamental point to create a new habit: make it easy.

That’s why if you want to go for a run every morning, you should prepare your sports clothes the day before. This will prevent you from finding an excuse not to go.
If you want to read daily, then make sure you have a quiet place to read.

In short, you get the idea. Make it as simple as possible.

Take time to analyze the various obstacles that prevent you from having a powerful and effective flow.


Take baby steps

As we saw earlier, creating a new habit takes a lot of time and energy. Don’t be in a hurry, or you may get discouraged.

The key to creating a new habit is to take baby steps, but what does this really mean?
It means moving forward gradually and steadily. This is at odds with the idea of having to change everything overnight, which seems more enjoyable at the moment and yet counterproductive in the long run.

Here is a concrete example in case you want to learn the guitar:
It is much more efficient to do a 15 min session every day than a single 3h session at the weekend.

The main reason for this is the functioning of our brain. It needs time to learn and memorize through repetition. But if there is too much information all at once. It doesn’t retain anything and takes much longer to learn.

Doing a three-hour session will also require a lot of willpower and energy to get started, increasing the risk of procrastination.

Take the time to cut out your tasks and make adjustments if necessary. If you feel that 15 minutes a day is too important to begin, then choose to do 5 minutes, and you will gradually increase the workload.

For many years I wanted to get back into meditation. The problem was that I couldn’t do 45-minute sessions because it discouraged me before I even started. I solved the problem by doing short 5-minute meditations.

Then I increased the meditation time every week, finally reaching my final goal after only a few weeks.

This is the secret of the effectiveness of this method, constantly moving forward by taking small steps.

To help you, I wrote an article about the Habit Tracker and how to use it.
It’s a very efficient tool for setting up new patterns.


Few examples of micro-commitments to inspire you

  • Read one page per day
  • 5 minutes of stretching on waking up
  • Learn one new word of a foreign language per day
  • Go for a 5 min walk
  • Write a paragraph each day

Be nice to yourself

Any change takes time and effort. It is not a linear path, and integrating a new behavior may require several tries.

Errors and questioning are part of the learning process. It is not a problem to stop and adjust and begin again.

I prefer to be honest with you, don’t expect to get it right the first time, and it’s perfectly normal. Keep courage; you are on the right path.

Be kind to yourself. It’s not a failure to start, stop, or adjust. It’s a failure only if you decide to give up.

Don’t let past mistakes prevent you from realizing yourself today. I know you are capable of success.


Persistence is your best asset

I’ve already talked about how difficult it is to change a pattern, to the point where you might think it’s impossible to change. And yet, it is time to introduce you to the most powerful ally in your success: Perseverance.

Don’t give up, be demanding of yourself. Be careful. I’m not saying to be mean to yourself; I’m just saying to be rigorous. Impose yourself to do your daily tasks even if some days are more complicated than others; remain constant in your approach. Your efforts will end up paying off.

We tend to underestimate the importance of having fun during the process of building new habits.

Don’t forget to associate positive notions to your tasks, such as putting on good music for your workout. The brain works by association, so you need to put fun into your routine.

In the long run, this will make all the difference.


Reward yourself

Building a new habit has no need to be torture. You need to integrate a personalized reward system and don’t wait until you’ve achieved everything to celebrate your progress.

In concrete terms, this means having to keep track of your progress. This way, you can celebrate every important step of your transformation.

The reward is entirely up to you. You don’t have to go broke to celebrate your success. You can treat yourself to a moment of relaxation in the middle of nature, prepare a good meal with your husband/wife, or watch a good movie.

It’s up to you to find rewards that you enjoy and will motivate you to keep going.



As we have seen in this article, changing a habit takes hard work, time, and there are no easy shortcuts.

Feel free to look around and find examples of inspirational people who have made change happen. Surround yourself with people close to you to support you in your efforts.

Be kind to yourself; you are on the right path.

Keep going and happy changing, my friends.


how to build new habits


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Written by Cédric Potard

I'm Cédric Potard, founder and author of this website and former 3D artist in the videogame industry. You can connect with me on my Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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