How To Build New Healthy Habits and Finally Stick To Them

How often have you tried to build new habits, but didn’t manage to stick to them? To be honest, I’ve lost count.

Many times I’ve reached the point where I wanted to change everything. And it won’t surprise you, but that often didn’t work out. I stuck to it for 1-2 weeks and then one by one I stopped with all my new habits.

That was not satisfying at all – which of course made sense. Something had to change in my behavior to be able to make those new habits my own.

I started reading about behavioral changes and I just tried a lot. After many more trials and errors, I noticed what worked well for me to build new habits and finally keep them up.

In this article, you will find the nine steps that help me create new habits, and hopefully, they will also help you. From using habit stacking and taking small steps to S.M.A.R.T. goal setting.

How To Build New Habits And Finally Stick To Them

The definition of habits

Before we dive into how you can make a new habit, it’s good to know what a habit is. So let’s start with the definition according to Cambridge Dictionary:

something that you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it


Does that sound familiar? You probably immediately thought of a few things that are a habit for you.

As the definition says, habits also involve things that you do regularly but that you don’t really think about at all. You just do it. Maybe because as a child someone told you to do it on a daily basis.

A few examples of these kinds of habits are brushing your teeth, locking your front door when you leave the house, and setting an alarm before going to bed.

Good versus Bad habits

There are probably a lot of things you do on a regular basis. However, not all habits are equally good for you. We can therefore divide our habits into good (healthy) and bad (unhealthy) habits.

As you might expect from the name, good habits have a positive impact on your physical, mental, and emotional health. Where, no surprise, bad habits have a negative influence on that.

It is probably quite logical that you want to stop with the bad habits and instead develop more positive ones. How to build new healthy habits will be the focus of this article.

The power of habits

As you have already read, habits are activities that you do almost automatically. They cost you little to no energy and effort to do it – only in the beginning when you still have to make the habit your own. Due to that, you have more headspace available for the more critical things.

By investing time in creating new habits, it will become easier to stick to them in the long run. Habits can contribute to a bigger goal in your life, such as creating a healthier work-life balance or improving your time management.

For example, when you work on your goal to get healthier, you can use habits such as

  • 5-10 push-ups after brushing your teeth
  • take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • drink a glass of water with every meal
  • park your car in the furthest spot in the parking lot

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Keystone habits

Some of our habits unintentionally have a greater impact on our lives than we expected. In his book The Power of Habits, Charles Duhigg calls these keystone habits.

These keystone habits often lead to other good habits and therefore have a greater positive impact on your life. For example, people who decide to exercise more also notice that they sleep better and that they want to eat healthier.

Why you want to build new habits

Creating new habits comes with benefits. Every habit has an impact on a certain part of your life. After all, that is often why you want to start with it.

While there are countless positive habits to choose from, the benefits often fall into one of the following categories:

  • Improve overall health (mental, physical, emotional)
  • Boost energy
  • Improve focus and productivity
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Strengthen connections with loved ones

Related article: The Power of Self-Care: Prioritize Your Well-Being

The 21/90 rule

I wish it was different, but creating new habits unfortunately won’t happen overnight. And I’m not just talking about the fact that it takes effort and energy.

It really takes more than one night before you can make something a habit. Regardless of how you approach it.

That’s why we talk about the 21/90 rule. Maybe you have heard about it? The 21/90 rule stands for:

  • 21 days to make a habit
  • 90 days to make it a permanent lifestyle change

This means that when you want to build a new habit, you have to do it for 21 days in a row. After that, you need to continue with it for 90 more days to make sure it becomes part of your lifestyle.

When you reach that point, you won’t think about it anymore and you just do it. It’s a permanent habit. Even when you have a few days without doing it.

The 9 steps to build new habits

Although building new habits doesn’t happen overnight and therefore takes time and effort, it is definitely worth it.

So, are you ready to improve your life and reach new goals? Then let’s get started!

The next eight steps will help you to build new habits and to stick to them.

  1. Set a clear goal
  2. Make a list of habits
  3. One habit at a time
  4. Be realistic, start small
  5. Create a trigger
  6. Set reminders
  7. Be consistent
  8. Adapt and adjust
  9. Celebrate milestones

1. Set clear goals

You are probably reading this article because you want to change something in your life. Make it clear to yourself what this is exactly and write it down.

By clarifying to yourself what your goal is, you will become more motivated. After all, you now know exactly why you’re doing it.

Besides that, it’s important that you do it for yourself. When you try to change something for someone else, the chance of success is much lower. So make sure the goal you set comes from internal motivation.

2. Make a list of habits

When you know what your goal is, you can break it down into small steps. Ask yourself “how can I achieve this (bigger) goal?”

Write down a list of habits that can help you to achieve your chosen goal. Make sure that they suit you. When habits are too far from your personality and existing behavior, it will be more difficult to maintain them.

Example: when you want to improve your physical health, you can think of habits such as:

  • Focus on your nutrition
  • Do pushups
  • Start running
  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep
  • Drink more water

3. One habit at a time

While setting new goals, you may feel the need to go all in. Unfortunately, this only increases the chance of failure.

This is partly because you want to change too much in a short time. After all, we just learned that it takes time, energy, and effort to build new habits.

If you want to change too much at once, it takes a lot more energy to achieve it. Besides that, it is a bigger step outside of your comfort zone, making it a bigger obstacle.

To increase your chance of success, look at the list of habits you just created, and choose 1 (maximum 2) to start with. After 3 weeks (the first part of the 21/90 rule) you can then add a new one – depending on how difficult that first habit was to master.

4. Be realistic, start small

Now that you’ve narrowed down the long list of habits to 1-2 habits, it’s time to look at the best way to get started. Keep in mind that you don’t have to go all in. Not at all! It is better to start with small steps.

This means that you don’t have to be able to do 50 push-ups immediately. If you want to become physically stronger and want to achieve this by doing push-ups, you can make a plan for this.

Example: look at how many push-ups you can already do. Then add one push-up every 2 days. If it gets easier, add one every day, or if you need more time take a few more days until you are able to do it.

The same applies if you want to eat healthier.

It can be very difficult to change all your eating habits at once. In this case, you can choose to start with breakfast. If that goes well, you will adjust your lunch as well. Or, you can choose to first replace all your drinks with just a glass of water.

Related article: Create a Self-Care Routine: The Practical Guide

5. Create a trigger

Deciding which habits you want to add is one thing, but it’s also important to determine when you want to do this. For some habits, this is easier than others. They replace an existing habit, such as making a healthier breakfast.

However, you might also include some completely new habits in your daily routine. To make this easier, it helps to link a new habit to something you already do. This is called habit stacking.

With habit stacking you “anchor” a new habit to an existing one. As a result, it triggers a reminder in your brain. When you do the existing habit, you now also have to do that new habit as well.

See for yourself when these new habits fit best into your day and how you can combine them with an existing one.

Example: do your pushups right after you get out of bed, after brushing your teeth, or as soon as you get back home from work. These are all three moments that are already a standard part of your day.

6. Set reminders

For some habits, it can help to set reminders. This might be because you can’t combine them with an existing habit and you are afraid to forget them. But also if you can combine them with something you already do, it can be difficult to keep it top of mind – especially in the first few days.

To help you remember this, you can use sticky notes in places you see every day (think of the fridge, mirror in the bathroom, etc), set an alarm, habit tracking apps, or just put it on your agenda.

7. Be consistent

To make something a habit, you need to do it consistently. As you have read above, it will take you 21 days. So make sure you do this every single day in those first three weeks.

It may be difficult, but if you want to achieve something, it’s definitely worth it!

8. Adapt and adjust

Building new habits doesn’t come naturally. It’s not always easy and that’s normal! If you are struggling with a certain new habit, ask yourself “what makes it so difficult?”

Is the change perhaps too big? Or maybe you chose a time in the day when it’s actually not convenient at all. In these cases, it can help you to make the habit even smaller than it already is or to apply it at a different time.

In addition, it may also be the case that it is simply not the right moment. When you are in a busy phase of your life, it is quite normal that you don’t have the energy to start something new. You need your energy for something that is more urgent. And that’s okay!

It is important that you evaluate why you run into something and how you can deal with it.

That, of course, also works the other way. If things are going really well, see if you can take it a step further.

9. Celebrate milestones

To keep up with something, it works to celebrate the small successes. It doesn’t need to be big. The main thing is that you consciously think about the milestones you reach and that you are proud of yourself.

Have you performed your new habit every day for a week? YAY!

Have you reached the first 21-day milestone? YAAYY!

Is this new habit now something you unconsciously do every day? YAAAYYY!

By working on creating new healthy habits, you become a better version of yourself every day.

Setting S.M.A.R.T. habit goals

Everyone has probably heard of this approach at one time or another, whether at school or later in your work. Yet we often seem to forget; S.M.A.R.T. goal setting.

With S.M.A.R.T. goal setting you make your goals more specific, which will help you to stick to them. This since they include the following elements: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

When you start formulating your new habit goals, make sure you use the S.M.A.R.T. approach.

  • Specific: be very clear about the habit you want to establish. Avoid vague statements.
  • Measurable: use quantifiable criteria so you can track your progress.
  • Achievable: be realistic and make sure it fits your lifestyle, so it can actually be accomplished with the resources (time, money, energy) you have.
  • Relevant: align the habit with your broader goal and values. This makes it more meaningful and will give you more motivation.
  • Time-bound: set a timeline for reaching your goal and maintaining the habit.

Example: In September, I will do a 15-minute HIIT workout every day after I get home from work.

Dealing with common obstacles

As said before, creating new habits isn’t easy. During this process, you may be held back by various obstacles that you encounter.

Being aware of the three most common obstacles will put you one step ahead of them. This will make it easier to overcome them.

  • Lack of consistency: prioritizing and being consistent with new habits can be challenging on busy and chaotic days.

    Tip: Remind yourself why you want to do this and what positive effect it will have after you do it.
  • Negative self-talk: replace self-doubt with positive affirmations to encourage a growth mindset.

    Tip: encourage yourself with uplifting and empowering statements like “I can do this” and “Every step counts.” Also regularly look back at what you have achieved.
  • Time constraints: Running out of time is one of the most well-known problems, not only with creating new habits. It is therefore all the more important that you also look at the small steps you can take.

    Tip: although I don’t want to advise multitasking too much, it can help in this case. You still have to think carefully about what things you combine. Don’t combine two things for which you need your brain, but you can listen to an educational podcast while doing a workout.

Be patient and persistence

It’s been said a few times now, but since it’s such an important part it can’t be said often enough: building new habits takes time!

Many people throw in the towel after a few days. But it’s important that you really give yourself time to make that new habit your own.

In the beginning, it will take you a lot of time, but after those first 21 days, it will get easier and especially after the next 90 days. Once you’ve really made it a habit, you do it automatically and it doesn’t cost you any energy or effort.

So be persistent to do it every day. Even though you don’t have much time and how tired you may be. You will be grateful afterward!

Habit tracking and accountability

To stay motivated, it can help to track your progress by writing down how many days you have already been working on your new habits.

You can do this, for example, by simply marking the days on a calendar. Another way is by using a habit tracker app such as HabitBull, Done, or Streaks.

Building new habits definitely won’t happen overnight, but it will help you improve your overall health. By following the nine steps, which include habit stacking and S.M.A.R.T. habit goals, you will finally manage to stick to them!

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17 responses to “How To Build New Healthy Habits and Finally Stick To Them”
  1. Habits are hard to break! I’m currently working on eating less sugar…and it’s really not a success so far 😭 thanks so much for sharing!!

  2. I’ve struggled so much with building habits in the past and still do at times! Great tips and pieces of advice! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Such a motivating post and just what I need to get inspired. Love the 21/90 goals. Thanks for this one!

  4. I love the idea of setting a trigger! And it’s really helpful to have a realistic sense of how long it takes to set a habit. I’ve been wanting to get into a habit of meditating but definitely struggle to make time for it. Thank you for this great guide!

  5. Such a great post! Creating new habits can be difficult and it’s not an overnight process! I really loved that you emphasized on how much time it can take to create a better habit no matter what it is!

  6. Tracy McHugh

    Such a great post! Very important to be accountable to a healthy lifestyle.

  7. These are great tips! Yes! I too (as most who will honestly confess) am guilty of these failings and need to work towards applying your tips for success!

  8. Absolutely loved your article! It’s like you’ve taken the words right out of my own experience. 🙌 The concept of habit stacking and the importance of setting S.M.A.R.T. goals really hit home for me. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and practical tips. Can’t wait to put these into action!

  9. This is seriously a detailed guide on building good habits. Thanks for sharing this awesome post!

  10. This is brilliant post, great reminder for myself that I need to work on : Lack of consistency and
    Negative self-talk!

  11. Kirsten Smith

    Great post! Thanks for sharing!

  12. I think creating healthy habits is so important and can lead to a more satisfying life.

  13. I love your article! I’m a licensed mental health provider and there’s a lot of psychology about building and sticking to new habits. I appreciate you suggesting accountability and patience since those are two key factors.

  14. Any help with forming healthy habits is welcome. Some great ideas here. Thanks so much for sharing!

  15. I’m really great at the starting off strong with something and then slowly doing less and less for a variety of reasons. Things I need to work on. Thanks for the tips!

  16. Really enjoyed this post. Pinned to review again and start planning.

  17. It is so hard to develop a new habit. Thank you for your informational post to help make it easier.

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