6 Steps For Making A Habit Stick Long-Term

In our day-to-day lives, habits can often be tough to build as there are plenty of distractions that can lead us off the “straight and narrow” and right back to our old ways. To alleviate some of those troubles, we can examine some academic research on motivation, discipline and habit building. Anyone can become a habit builder simply by taking a series of actionable steps.

While habits tend to have a bad reputation, there actually two types of habits. They are separated into the categories of good habits and bad habits. Without habits, our mind would be consumed with minuscule decisions on a regular basis. Good habits aren’t built overnight though, but with the right approach…anyone can build positive habits.

Here are 6 steps for making a habit stick long-term:

1. Start With Cognitive Goals

When people set out to improve their health, they often think about action. Eat better, meditate, run more, etc. However, the truth is that making progress with your next habit starts in your head.

If you don’t feel ready to take an action step forward, don’t worry. Just focus on “cognitive goals,” where you gather information, think about your options, consider the benefits of change versus staying the same and map out how you might best integrate new healthy behaviors in your life. In due time, you’ll feel ready to take an action step forward and the cognitive work you’ve done will pay off.

2. Make “Micro Quotas” And “Macro Goals”

In a fascinating study on motivation, researchers found abstract thinking to be an effective method to help with discipline. In the most basic sense, “dreaming big” is pretty good advice after all. A variety of research around the self-determination theory shows us that creating intrinsic motivators (being motivated to do things internally, not through punishments or rewards) is an essential process of building habits that stick. You need to find a way to balance this desire to dream big with your day-to-day activities, which often do not result in quick, dramatic changes.

The answer is to create “micro quotas” and “macro goals.” Your goals should be the big picture items that you wish to accomplish someday, but your quotas are the minimum amounts of work that you must get done every single day to make the bigger goal a reality. Quotas make each day approachable and your goals become achievable because of this.

3. Create Behavior Chains

Creating sticky habits is far more comfortable when we make use of our current routines, instead of trying to fight them. The concept of if-then planning is built around environmental “triggers” that we can use to let us know that it’s time to act on our habits. Also known as implementation intentions, this tactic involves picking a regular part of your schedule and then building another “link in the chain” by adding a new habit.

For instance, instead of “I will keep a cleaner house,” you could aim for, “When I come home, I’ll change my clothes and then clean my room/office/kitchen.” Multiple studies confirm this to be a successful method to rely on contextual cues over willpower.

4. Find Your Motivation From Within

Motivations can be classified into two main categories: intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external). When we are young, we are often motivated by extrinsic rewards such as treats, toys or pocket money. These motivations continue into adulthood (which probably explains why so many of us still crave junk food, non-essentials and money as rewards).

While extrinsic motivators may work in the short term to get us to do things we are otherwise unlikely to do, we are more likely to maintain a habit if we are intrinsically motivated. In your career for example, you can choose to be motivated by intrinsic motivators such as a sense of accomplishment, the pursuit of knowledge or a desire for positive recognition.

5. Realize That Small Steps Make For Big Victories

Contrary to everything you might hear in flashy advertisements, slow and steady wins the race. Small and incremental steps are the best way to move towards your goals with success.

If you’re trying to get more physically active, start with a 10-minute walk around your block a few times a week. If you want to reduce stress, trying meditating for 5 minutes once a week. You may think this sounds too easy, but that’s the point. Over time, you can increase your efforts and enjoy the benefit of these healthy activities without feeling that the journey was such a struggle.

6. Find The Joy

A healthy life shouldn’t feel like so much damned work. If it does, then you’ll likely have a tough time sticking with your new behaviors for too long.

Rather than taking some generic route to health, figure out what you can do to support a healthy life that also fits your personality, empowers and excites you. When you design your life around things you love to do, it will stop requiring so much effort. Once you find the joy in living healthy, that’s when the lifestyle will stick.


Habits can either be bad or good. Making good habits last long can make life easier and far more successful. In this post, I shared with you 6 steps for making a habit stick long-term.

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