How to Form Habits That Stick

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Nowadays, we all strive to become more productive. We organise our schedules, prioritise tasks, banish distractions and even download apps that help us manage our time. But how often do you consider how far your basic habits contribute to your success?

Habits can help make us much more productive because forming habits means we need not put as much effort into meeting our everyday responsibilities. This means we can devote most of our attention and focus to doing things that make our lives meaningful.

Later, we’ll discover the difference between habits and routines and take you through helpful tips on how to form habits that stick.

First, we’ll find out how creating habits helps us keep more willpower in reserve that we can then use to conquer challenging tasks.

Let’s dig in.

Forming habits to strengthen willpower

Our willpower is the main factor that stops us from achieving our goals. If you had inexhaustible willpower, nothing life throws at you would stop you, because you would be able to overcome challenges and find imaginative solutions to problems.

Of course, no one has limitless willpower. It is like a muscle and if you use it too much there comes a point at which you no longer have the energy to keep putting effort into something.

The good news is, you can strengthen your willpower by forming habits. If you build strong habits, you won’t need to exercise as much willpower because you won’t have to make as many decisions to become successful. The more good habits you develop, the more willpower you’ll have stored for tasks you can’t transform into habits, like solving unusual problems. Habits can also help you improve your working life, personal life, and relationships. So, how do you form habits that stick?

The key to forming and sticking to new habits is commitment leading to incremental progress and gradual change. This has proven successful time and time again.

Soon, we’ll discover how you can form beneficial habits. Now, though, let’s investigate the difference between habits and routines.

Routine vs. habits

It is easy to assume routines and habits are the same, but they are not. A habit is something you do with little thought, whilst maintaining a routine means we must intentionally do things repeatedly and often before they can become a habit at all. It is tempting to skip following routines because we think forming habits will let us do boring, unenjoyable tasks on autopilot. But sticking to routines can be uncomfortable and you need to put effort into it if you’re going to keep it up — at least to start with.

Habits, by contrast, are so deeply ingrained that not doing them will feel strange and may even make you feel bad.

How to turn routines into habits

A green neon sign reading 'Habits To Be  Made'.
Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

First, think of the things you do every day that don’t vary much and write them down. When you have a list, devise a routine that means you do those things, in the same way, each day, so they become habits. As about half of our actions are driven by repetition, you might be unsure where to begin. A good place to start is by creating a productive morning routine. If you follow one, you won’t waste time deciding what to wear or wondering where you put your keys.

Here are some tips to follow if you want to transform a routine into a habit.

Choose the behaviour you want to turn into a habit wisely

Not all routines will blossom into habits. Some behaviours demand too much effort and focus to become a habit. That’s why playing an instrument, doing the housework, and writing your diary entry are things that can’t be done without conscious thought.

Instead, aim to make something like not checking your email first thing every morning or drinking more water throughout the day. Whatever you pick, make sure your goal is realistic. Turning any behaviour into a healthy or productive habit will take commitment, discipline, and effort.

Understanding why you want to transform a particular behaviour into a habit will help you stay motivated and overcome obstacles.

Understand you’ll encounter roadblocks

Ask yourself why you haven’t formed a habit before. Has a lack of time prevented you, or some species of fear? If your busy schedule has prevented you from forming a habit before, use time blocking to devote between 30-60 minutes a day to that activity. You can seek out a friend or family member who wishes to build the same habit. You can share the same goals and keep each other accountable.

Your chances of succeeding are drastically improved when you share your intentions and goals with someone else, particularly if that person is someone you respect and value.

Start slowly

You can give yourself the odd nudge to start following the new routine you’ve set out for yourself. Here are some things you can do to help get started.

  • Use time blocking to ringfence time for that activity, making sure not to overdo it at first.
  • Form micro habits first. Micro habits are small adjustments you make to your daily routine, to make slow progress towards your overarching goal. For instance, if your goal is to get better quality sleep so that you can be more productive, you could start by keeping your favourite books by your bed and putting your phone on charge in another room. That way, when you’re winding down in the evenings, you’re more likely to dive into a book than engage in late-night doom scrolling. This will help set you up for a better night’s sleep.
  • Find ways to make tasks more enjoyable to give yourself the motivation to begin. Pair the task you’re trying to transform into a habit with something you enjoy doing. You could choose to pair running on the treadmill with listening to your favourite music. You must only allow yourself to do the ‘fun’ thing together with the less pleasurable task.
  • Remember, whenever you are trying to change your long-term behaviour, it will take time. So, be kind to yourself. After all, if you’ve made it this far, you’re obviously prepared for difficulties along the road.

Choose a simple cue

Our brains have a simple mechanism for forming new habits, and it all starts with having the right cue that prompts you to do something until you can carry out that task without conscious thought. Hey presto, you’ve created a habit.

So, think about what sort of cue you could give yourself to make yourself do the new activity you’ve introduced into your daily routine.

If your goal is to go for a short run every morning, it could be something as simple as making sure you see your running shoes by the bed when you wake.

Reward yourself

You can give yourself a treat whenever you complete the task or activity you set yourself. This will give you the best chance of keeping it up and maintaining your motivation. This could range from allowing yourself a bit of relaxation to reading a chapter of your favourite novel.

Be consistent

To build habits, you must be consistent. Plan to do whatever it takes to make sure you keep it up. It is essential that you believe changing your behaviour is possible if you want to succeed. Rules alone won’t cut it; your psychological block will stop you from creating a new habit.

Nevertheless, it is true that drawing up a plan can help you stay consistent and will do much to ensure that you don’t miss a day. Missing days too often can sound the death knell for forming new productive habits.

Next, let’s look at how you can go about breaking bad habits to make room for better ones.

Breaking bad habits

Sometimes, to build productive health habits, it is necessary to break bad ones and replace them with good ones. To do this you need to reduce your craving to indulge in your bad habit by replacing it with something more beneficial that satisfies the same craving. If you have a habit of grabbing a KitKat when you get home after work, you might think about eating a healthy snack in the afternoon or finding a healthier alternative that hits the spot.

How habits affect others

It is worth noting that habits can affect more people than just you. Over time habits can be built across teams and even whole businesses. So, if you want to be a productive leader, you’ll need to pay attention to which habits govern behaviour in the workplace and how they influence work performance and productivity.  

A single habit can have a significant impact on productivity and have multiple effects on a person’s behaviour. But you can consider the sorts of tasks your team struggles to finish because of stress and encourage the formation of habits that will help ameliorate the problem and boost worker efficiency.

Wrapping up

We’ve talked about how creating good, productive habits can help us save our limited willpower for when we truly need it. You can follow the tips we’ve given to help you begin to form habits that will help you live, healthier, more productive, and enjoyable lives. We hope you’ve now gained the confidence you needed to start forming a habit that will stick.


  • You must have a realistic goal and be consistent.
  • You need to be kind to yourself and realise you will encounter problems and that it will take time to form a habit.
  • You may need to break bad habits you’ve acquired before you succeed at creating better ones.
  • You must believe that you can change your behaviour if you want to make a habit stick.

So why not start thinking of an appropriate cue you can set up for yourself to give yourself a nudge? You might even want to reach out to a friend so you can start forming better habits together. Good luck!

Published by Lizzie

Lizzie here. I'm a freelance copywriter and editor based in the UK. I'm also passionate about volunteering and hold a MA in History from the University of Warwick. I've written for a multitude of fantastic websites and companies, including a legal automation software company, a dog training site and more. Check out my reviews on Fiverr and Upwork for more info!

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