5 Hacks to Effortlessly Build Healthy Habits in 2018

At some point in the past few weeks (or five minutes ago after a Google search), you’ve made a resolution to change your life:

  • I’m going to exercise every day!
  • I’m going to start flossing!
  • I’m going to start eating better!
  • I’m going to quit smoking!
  • I’m going to stop wearing jorts!

That’s awesome, and I’m very excited for you.

No, seriously! I want to see how this turns out – I love a good redemption story.

Maybe you told some friends, or posted it on your blog, or shared your experience on Instagram, or started a club at work with coworkers about your goals.

Although I’ve railed against resolutions and big audacious declarations in the past, this year I’m changing my tune.

If you set resolutions or goals this year, whether in January and you’re in on “new year, new me,” or you just had a big life event (birth of your first kid, scare at the doctor, etc.) and decided: “This is the year I get in shape!” – I’m here to help.

Everybody has goals – it gives us something to aim for.

They just need to be done right.

I want you looking back in 6 months and not recognizing the “old you,” instead of looking back and asking yourself “what the hell happened? Why am I back where I started?”

With over 40,000 students in our flagship online course, the Nerd Fitness Academy, 200+ 1-on-1 coaching clients, 1000 people in our monthly team adventure Rising Heroes, and 10 years with thousands of emails and success stories, we have a damn good track record at helping people build permanent habits.

This resource dives deep into the key habit-building techniques that will actually help you get in shape this year.

Why do we suck At Building Healthy Habits?

homer simpson twitter fail whale

“I know what I’m supposed to do, I just can’t get myself to do it!” Welcome to the club – we all know what we need to do, but we just can’t get ourselves to make the important changes.

We know how to get in shape: move more and eat less!

We know how to exercise: get your heart rate up, do some push-ups, get stronger.

We know how to eat healthy: more vegetables and less sugar.

And yet, we can’t get ourselves to stick with ANY of these things for longer than a few weeks.


Simple: Building new healthy habits is tough, our lizard brains crave instant gratification, we don’t fully understand how habits are built, life gets busy, and our default behavior is often as unhealthy as it is easy.

As a result, we don’t put the right systems in place in order to make changes stick.

We also rely wayyyyy too much on willpower and motivation.

We tend to bite off more than we can chew, go too fast too soon, and then get overwhelmed too quickly.

Does this sound familiar?

  • I’m going to eat 100% Paleo/Keto AND
  • I’m going to run 5 miles a day AND
  • I’m going to work out in a gym five times a week.

If you’re somebody that eats a typically poor diet, never runs, and hasn’t set foot in a gym since grade-school dodgeball with Mr. Wazowski, changing alllll of these at once is almost a surefire way to succeed at precisely NONE of them.

We’re conditioned these days to expect and receive instant gratification. If we want food we can get it from a drive-through, stick a frozen meal in a microwave, or sit down at a restaurant that’s open 24 hours. If we want a game we can download it to our computers/phones/PS4s within a matter of seconds. If we want to watch a TV show, it’s a few clicks away.

Hell, Netflix even starts the next episode for you without any action required!

We expect getting in shape to go the same way.  

And this is why we suck at building healthy habits that stick.

We tell ourselves “Hey, I’ve been dedicated for a whole two weeks, why don’t I look like Ryan Reynolds yet?”, not remembering that it took us decades of unhealthy living to get where we are, which means it’s going to take more than a few weeks to reverse the trend.

And then we miss a workout because life was busy or our kid got sick. And we get disheartened that exercise or giving up candy is not nearly as fun as Netflix and video games and peanut M&Ms.

This is where everybody gives up:

  • They try to change too many habits too soon
  • They get impatient the results don’t come more quickly
  • They slip up when life gets busy
  • And they go back to square one

It’s why we are doomed to stay overweight and suck at building habits. It’s the videogame equivalent of attacking too many bad guys at once: game over.

We’ll cover the specific healthy habits and resolutions you SHOULD be picking later in this article, but I have a big damn question to ask you first: “But why though?”

Be Honest about Your “Big Why”

Before we do ANYTHING with actually building habits, you need a damn good reason as to why you want to build them in the first place or the changes will never stick.

Without a good reason, you’re dead in the water:

If you’re here because you decided you “should” get in shape, you’re going to fail the second life gets busy.

If you are dragging yourself to the gym because you think you “should” run on a treadmill five days a week even though you hate it, you’re screwed!

As you’re determining the habits or resolutions you’re trying to set, make the habit part of a bigger cause that’s worth the struggle.

You’re not just going to the gym, you’re building a new body that you’re not ashamed of so you can start dating again.

You’re not just learning to like vegetables, you’re losing weight so you can fit into your dream wedding dress.

You’re not just dragging yourself out of bed early, you’re getting up earlier so you can work on your side business before your kids get up so you can set money aside for their college education.

In our flagship online course the Nerd Fitness Academy and in our 1-on-1 Coaching Program, we refer to this as your “Big Why.” Without it, you’re just forcing yourself to do things you don’t like to do – that’ll never last.

Tie it to a greater cause and you’re infinitely more likely to push through the muck and mire to get it done.

So dig 3 levels deep and ask “why” until you get to the root cause of WHY you want to build a new healthy habit or change a bad one. Write it down. And hang it up somewhere you can see it every day.

Got your reason? Great. Now let’s get into the science of habits.

Healthy Habit Building 101: the Three Parts


#1) Cue (what triggers the action): It can be a feeling: I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m bored, I’m sad. Or it can be a time of day: it’s Monday at 9am, work is done, etc.

#2) Routine (the action itself): This can either be a negative action you want to cut back: I drink soda, I eat cake, I snack, I drink alcohol, I smoke cigarettes, I watch TV – or a positive one: I go the gym, I go for a run, I do push-ups, I read a book.

#3) Reward (the positive result because of the action): I’m now awake. I am temporarily happy. My hands/mind are occupied. I can forget the bad day I had. I feel energized. I feel good about myself.

Depending on your routine/action above, habits can either be empowering and amazing, or part of a negative downward spiral. Your body isn’t smart enough to KNOW what it needs to do: it just wants to fix the pain or chase the pleasure of the cue, and whichever way you choose to respond will become the habit when it’s done enough times.

Factor in genius marketing, behavioral psychology, bad genetics, and an environment set up for us to fail – and bad habits rule us.

It’s why we crave certain foods, why we can’t help but check our phone every time it vibrates, and why we can’t keep ourselves from watching one more episode or grinding one more level in World of Warcraft.

As Charles Duhigg points out in The Power Of Habit:

“There is nothing programmed into our brains that makes us see a box of doughnuts and automatically want a sugary treat.

But once our brain learns that a doughnut box contains yummy sugar and other carbohydrates, it will start anticipating the sugar high. Our brains will push us toward the box. Then, if we don’t eat the doughnut, we’ll feel disappointed.”

We have trained your brain to take a cue (you see a doughnut), anticipate a reward (a sugar high), and make the behavior automatic (nom nom that donut). Compare that to a cue (you see your running shoes), anticipate a reward (a runner’s high), and make the behavior automatic (go for a run!).

The Dark Knight himself said it best: “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”

Let’s take a look at each part of the habit-building process and start to hack the sh** out of it!

Learn Your Cues: Recognize the triggers.

Whether you are trying to change an old habit, stop a unhealthy habit, or begin a healthy habit, it starts with the first step in the process:

“The Cue.”

If you want to stop drinking soda, but feel like you need it every afternoon to get through work, your brain has been wired to think SODA after the cue:

  • Cue: I’m tired thirsty, and have no energy.
  • Routine: I drink a soda around 3pm.
  • Reward: Weeeeee caffeine! Sugar! Happy! My life has meaning!

When identifying bad habits to avoid, it starts by becoming aware of the cue that sets the habit in motion. Simply being aware of the cue is a great start to breaking the cycle:

  • When I get bored (cue), I eat snacks (routine), and it fills the void with a happy stomach (reward).
  • When I come home from work (cue), I plop down on couch and play videogames (routine), and it helps me forget about work (reward).
  • When I get nervous (cue), I start to bite my nails (routine), to take my mind off the awkwardness (reward).

So if you are looking to break a bad habit, it begins by identifying what the cues are that make you take the action that you’re trying to stop.

At the same time, you can mentally train yourself, just like Pavlov’s dog, to build a new healthy habit by identifying the habit you want to build and the cue you want to use to proceed it:

  • When I wake up (cue), I will go for a walk (routine), and reward myself with an audiobook on the walk (reward)
  • When I get tired (cue), I will drink black coffee instead of soda (routine), and along with the caffeine boost (reward), I’ll get new running shoes after 30 soda-free days (reward), and satisfaction from the weight loss thanks to fewer calories (reward).
  • When I come home from work (cue), I will walk straight to my computer to work on my novel for 30 minutes (routine), and reward myself with Netflix after i have written 500 words (reward).

So, whether you’re breaking a bad habit or starting a new one, it begins by recognizing the cue that triggers the habit. Once you recognize or pick the cue, you can start working on fixing the routine (action).

Make the Routine Easier: Use Systems

“Steve, I get it, but I still struggle with the ‘building the routine’ part…for some reason I just can’t bring myself to do it.”

Yup – welcome to the toughest part of a habit:

The Routine (the action itself!).

This is where we’re going to start thinking and acting like nerds and scientists. Whether we’re trying to stop a negative routine (stop drinking soda) or start doing a healthy routine (start running), both need to be addressed with a different battle plan.

For starters, we’re going to stop relying on two things:

  • Willpower: if you have to get yourself to exercise, you’ll give up when you get too busy or it’s too cold.
  • Motivation: if you need to be motivated, you’re going to give up and then beat yourself up for not being more motivated!

Both motivation and willpower are finite and fickle resources that will abandon you when you need them most. Suckers and chumps hope and pray that they have enough motivation and willpower to build a habit.

Not us though! We’re going to remove both from the equation and use systems and outside forces to make the routine even easier to build (or tougher to build if it’s a bad habit you’re trying to swap!).

This can be done in a few ways:

  • Environmental hacks: making the routine easier by removing steps needed to complete it, or adding steps between you and a bad habit.
  • Programming hacks: add your habit to your daily calendar, track your progress daily with a journal, and make it part of your day.

We are products of our environment. We can use this information to our advantage, and make the process of building a new habit or changing a bad habit easier by modifying our environment. I dig into this more fully in our article: “Build your Batcave for Habit Change,” but I’ll cover the basics here.

Look at the places you spend your time. Reduce the steps between you and a good habit, and increase the steps between you and a bad habit. You’ll be less reliant on willpower and motivation and more likely to do the healthy habit or skip the bad habit.

Here are five examples of environmental hacks you can use: 

RUN EVERY MORNING: Go to sleep with your running shoes at the foot of your bed, with your running uniform laid out already. Hell, you can sleep in your running/workout clothes. Put your alarm clock on the other side of the room so you HAVE to get out of bed to turn it off.

GO TO THE GYM AFTER WORK: Pack your gym bag BEFORE going to sleep the night before. That way, every morning you already have a bag to throw in your car or bring with you. As soon as 5pm hits, you are in your car on your way to the gym.

EAT HEALTHIER: Don’t give yourself an option of not eating healthy – throw out the junk food in your house and start preparing meals the night before. Put a lock on your web browser from ordering pizza online (yes you can do that now), and don’t drive down the street full of fast food places.

WATCH LESS TV/PLAY FEWER GAMES: Use your laziness in your favor. Unplug the TV/system. Increase the steps between you and watching the TV. Put parental controls on your own system and have your friend set the time limit and the password. I knew somebody who put his TV in his closet and cut his TV viewing by close to 100%. Don’t rely on willpower – make it more difficult!

CHECK YOUR PHONE LESS: Turn off your notifications and uninstall the apps that waste your time. Put your phone in Do Not Disturb mode when you are at work, and put it in your desk drawer. Don’t rely on willpower to get yourself to not check your phone when it buzzes – get rid of the buzz.

You can also use programming hacks to help build NEW healthy habits: 

  • EXERCISE: If you want to exercise more, set calendar alerts at the beginning of your week so that every day at 8AM you receive a cue (ding! on your phone) and a reminder to do the activity. You’re much more likely to stay on target when the activity has been scheduled ahead of time.
  • HEALTHY EATING: Consider batch cooking! If cooking healthy meals every night sounds like way too much work (I hear you on that), consider doing it all on ONE day – it’s a significant time savings, and it also will reduce the steps between you and healthy eating because the meal is already cooked and in the fridge!
  • WRITING: If you want to write a book, tell yourself you have to write 500 crappy words every day. Buy a calendar, and draw a big red X on every day you complete your task. Make your singular focus every day continuing the streak[1].

Make the Reward Momentum Building

Changing Rubick's Cube

And we are finally at the third part of the habit:

“The Reward.”

When looking to replace bad habits, do some reward analysis on your bad habits:

Soda gives you a caffeine kick and a burst of energy in the afternoon when you’re tired. Can you replicate that energy boost for your body in a healthier way? Switch to black coffee and go for a walk.

You find you spend too much time watching TV because you love escaping into worlds, and it’s affecting your health. Can you listen to your favorite audiobook but only while walking?

This will require some analysis and digging into the reward you’re trying to recreate without the negative action. This can lead your brain to some tough places, but it’s healthy to dig into it.

If you find that you want to start drinking way less (or give up drinking completely), you might discover that the reward you’re chasing is actually “escape from a job I hate” and “avoiding social anxiety in bar situations.”

Dig into your reward and what your brain is craving, and then see if you can reverse engineer a healthier routine with the same reward.

And then use outright bribery to get yourself to actually do the new healthier and choose the better action/routine.

What works for science and physics also holds true to building habits: inertia and momentum will work against you when it comes to building habits…until it starts to work for you as the habit becomes automatic.

We can fix the third part of the habit-building loop, the reward, with momentum-building prizes or results to bribe ourselves to continue. With each healthy and positive reward, with each completed routine, we make the habit sliiiiightly more likely to become more automatic the next time.

In other words, create rewards that reward you back!

DON’T reward your routine (running!) with an unhealthy reward (cake!). That’s “one step forward, two steps back.” And nutrition is 90% of the equation when it comes to weight loss anyways!

DO reward your routine (running for 5 minutes every day for 30 days straight) with a reward that makes you want to keep running (a snazzy new pair of running shoes).

Hacks for Effortless Healthy Habit building

a storm trooper stares at his reflection in the mirror

Your life will get busy. 

There will be days when you don’t want to do your new habit. Or you want to backslide and go back to old habits. Actually, that will pretty much be every day, especially early on.

So don’t leave it up to yourself!!

Stop relying on yourself and start relying on outside forces. Here are the best tips you can use to get yourself to actually follow through with a habit:

1) RECRUIT ALLIES: find a friend or group of friends to build the habits with you. A recent study [2] showed that:

Among the weight loss patients recruited alone and given behavioral therapy, 24% maintained their weight loss in full from Months 4 to 10.

Among those recruited with friends and given therapy plus social support, 95% completed treatment and 66% maintained their weight loss in full.

You do not have to go on this habit-building journey alone. Building a guild or recruiting a group of people to support you and help you and make you better could be the difference maker in building habits!

When your friend is already at the gym waiting for you, you HAVE to go. If it was up to you, skipping out and watching Netflix has no negative consequences. Recruit friends and allies!

Don’t have that support group at home? Consider joining ours 🙂

Remember, those first few weeks are the toughest, which means they’ll require the most effort to get started.

2) CULTIVATE DISCIPLINE WITH CONSEQUENCES: When you can’t get yourself to follow through on a new healthy habit you’re desperately trying to build, make the pain of skipping the habit more severe than the satisfaction you get from skipping it.

Allow me to introduce some BRUTAL consequences:

  • Every time I skip ______________ this month, I will pay $50 to my wife/husband/friend who will donate my money to a cause I HATE.
  • Every time I decide not to _______________ this month, I have to run around my house naked.
  • Every time I do ____________ when I shouldn’t, I will let my three-year old do my makeup before work.

Do any of these results sound like fun?  If you can’t afford to pay your friend $50, if running naked around your house might get you arrested, and if you’ll get fired looking like a drunk clown thanks to your kid’s makeup skills…maybe you just do what you know you need to do. The more painful it is to skip something, the more likely you’ll be to actually suck it up and do it.

3) NEVER MISS TWO IN A ROW. What happens if you miss a day? Who cares! One day won’t ruin you – but two days will, because 2 becomes 30 in the blink of an eye. As pointed out in a research summary: “Missing the occasional opportunity to perform the behavior did not seriously impair the habit formation process: automaticity gains soon resumed after one missed performance.[3].

4) DON’T PICK HABITS YOU HATE: “Steve I know I should run so I’m trying to build a running habit even though I hate running.” Stop. Can you get the same results with a different habit, like rock climbing or hiking or swing dancing? Pick a habit that isn’t miserable and you’re more likely to follow through on it.

At the same time, we have tons of success stories of people who went from hating exercise to loving how it feels. It’s because they made the habit part of a bigger picture: “I am exercising at the gym because I am building a kickass body so I can start dating again!” It’s because they had a BIG enough why to overcome their initial dislike of exercise until they learned to love how exercise made them feel.

5) TRY TEMPTATION BUNDLING: Consider combining a habit you dislike with something you LOVE, and you’ll be more likely to build the habit. If you hate cleaning your apartment, only allow yourself to listen to your favorite podcast when you are cleaning or doing the dishes.

Want to go to the gym more? Allow yourself an hour of watching Netflix, but ONLY while you’re on the Elliptical. This is called temptation bundling, and it can be a powerful change.

Ready to Build a healthy Habit? Great! Do Less.

Lego Storm Trooper Ladder

Now that you’re educated like a boss on the different parts of a habit, it’s time to build one!

I’ll leave you with a final bit of advice: if you decide that you want to run a marathon or save the world or lose hundreds of pounds, you’re going to screw up unless you internalize the following information:


Or in the immortal words of Kunu from Forgetting Sarah Marshall: “The less you do, the more you do”:

Pick ONE habit, make it small, and make it binary. Something that at the end of every day you can say “yes I did it” or “no I didn’t.”

Habits that are nebulous like “I am going to exercise more” or “I’m going to start eating better” are more useless than a Soulcycle membership for Jabba the Hutt.

Here are big examples. Be specific. Be small. And track it:

  • Want to start exercising more? Awesome. For that first week, ONLY go for a walk for just 5 minutes every morning. Literally 5 minutes.
  • Want to start cooking your own healthy meals? Just aim for one meal per day or one meal per week. Whatever works for you and your schedule.
  • Want to stop drinking a 2 liter of Mountain Dew every day? Scale it back to 1.9 liters a day for a week. Then 1.8 for a wek. Then 1.7…
  • Want to get out of debt and build the habit of frugality? Start by saving an extra five bucks a day, or finding a way to earn an extra 5 bucks a day.
  • Want to learn a new language? Speak your new language out loud for 10 minutes per day. That’s it!

Keep your goals SMALL and simple. The smaller and simpler they are, the more likely you are to keep them. And the habit itself pales in comparison to the momentum you build from actually creating a new habit. I don’t care how many calories you burn in a 5 minute walk, just that you can prove to the new YOU that you can build the habit of walking, and only then can you up the difficulty.

We’re thinking in terms of years and decades here! So think small.

My real life example: I wanted to build the habit of learning the violin at age 31, but couldn’t get myself to do it because I told myself I was too busy, which is a lie (“I only have 25 minutes; I need 30 minutes to practice…might as well not practice at all”), and thus I never played!

Once I lowered the threshold to “I have to only play for 5 minutes per day,” it gave me permission to pick it up here and there – and I ended up practicing WAY more frequently, and got better much faster.

I still suck, mind you, but I’m lightyears ahead of where I was before!


If you’re new to building habits, or you have never stuck with anything long enough to make it automatic, it’s because you did too much. Habits are compound interest. As you build a new habit, it bleeds over to other parts of your life and makes future habits easier to build too – momentum!

As Mark Manson lays out in his guide on Habits

“Willpower is like a muscle. It can be exercised and practiced and built up. It can also be forgotten, weakened and atrophied.

Just like going to the gym and building up strength and endurance, you can build up your discipline and willpower over a long period of time by setting and accomplishing a series of tasks on a consistent basis.”

You’ve tried the whole “build all the habits at once” and it doesn’t work. So try building ONE habit for 30 days. And then pick a habit that stacks on top of that one and helps you build more and more progress and more and more momentum.

Start today: Pick Your Habit and Go

stop sign with OP covered up with ART so it spells START

I’ll leave you with a final quote from The Power of Habit:

“If you believe you can change – if you make it a habit – the change becomes real. This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you chose them to be. Once that choice occurs – and becomes automatic – it’s not only real, it starts to seem inevitable, the thing…that bears us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”

You’ll need more brain power initially, until your default behavior becomes the automatic habit building you’re chasing.

With each day of you building your new habit, you’re overcoming any self-limiting belief, building momentum, and becoming a habit-building badass! And then those habits become automatic.

So today, I want you to look at just ONE habit you want to change:

  • Identify the cue that spurs it on – Is it the time of day? Boredom? Hunger? After work? Stress?
  • Identify the potential rewards – Happiness? Energy? Satisfaction?
  • Identify a new routine you’d like to establish that results in the same “reward” from the negative behavior…but in a more productive and healthy way.

I want you to leave a comment below: pick ONE habit that you’re going to build this month and identify the three portions of the habit you’re looking to build.

Good luck – now go build some momentum. And ONE habit.


PS: If your habit is getting healthier/stronger/weight loss focused, we have some premium resources here at Nerd Fitness that dig into the habit building psychology of this article:

  • Rising Heroes – Our monthly team based, story based habit-building adventure.
  • NF Academy – Our self-paced online course with workouts, boss battles, and nutrition levels.
  • NF Coaching – 1-on-1 customized instruction from our coaches.

photo source: mouse on wheel, homer fail whale, storm trooper ladder, level up club, lego R2D2, storm trooper mirror, start, jigsaw, victory, rubik’s cube, , fred_v Evolution – Alternative

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  • Tyson Brown

    I think this is such a great post whether you’re a beginner or someone who’s more experienced with their diet and training the fundamentals still apply.

    Being away of what your triggers are and what “pleasure/reward” you’re getting out from the habit is extremely key.

    I’ve also found that the reward your going to give yourself must be a combination of instant rewards and long term rewards because the brain seeks instant gratification.

    Even a small reward such as writing down your win can be that little instant dopamine hit your brain needs to keep on track.

    Once again great post!

  • Habits are the base how we perform in daily life, plus it’s not easy to form a habits. These tips are useful and can be help if used..

  • Jess Bishop

    Love this!

    This mindset is kind of what finally clicked for me in the middle of December. I used to be very in shape, and exercised myself to be in shape because I was in the military and had to be. Once I got out it was difficult to keep in shape. It had never clicked that it was a process, and that my mindset couldn’t be changed in an instant just because I wanted to lose weight. It took me several years to put on the weight, and it’s not going to come off just because I work out for a couple of weeks.

    For the past month and a half, I’ve taken it very slowly. Partially because of your articles. Part of it has been other groups like a binge support group. Meditation has helped as well. Just changing things slowly has helped so much. And not being a jerk to myself when I messed up once or twice. And thinking of it as a long-term change rather than being impatient has helped immensely.

    I’m only down 7 pounds. That’s not much. But it’s a start. I’ve also went from drinking several sodas a day, to drinking one per day, and then cutting out a day of soda during the week, now I’m down to three days a week without any soda. I also am feeling much better! As I cut down the soda, it’s easier to pass on the other sugary things.

    Getting rid of the excuses in my mind has helped. I have a 3 year old with Cystic Fibrosis. I don’t know if any of you have had experience with a kid with medical treatments, but outside of work that can be a full-time job in itself. After he goes to bed, I go to the gym. Yeah, it means some later nights. But it’s what I can do. It feels great! (Only frustrating thing is the free-weight and weight machine hogs seem to be in there that time of day. I don’t let them keep me from working out though.)

    It will be important for me to be a leader by example for my son as well. With Cystic Fibrosis, it’s very important to maintain an active lifestyle in order to keep the lungs free from mucous. If I’m not eating healthy and I’m not exercising, how will he learn that these things are important?

    Anyways, my novel is done. Thank you for your insights and articles. They’ve been very helpful in me developing my new mindset about how to get healthy.

  • Calluna

    Don’t reward yourself with cake. THE CAKE IS A LIE!

    I am using your few-minutes-a-day method to make a habit of cleaning. I set the alarm on my oven for ten minutes every day when I get home from work and start picking up. Sometimes I keep going after the alarm goes off, sometimes I quit at 9 minutes if I run out of things to do… but it’s been working really well.

  • Andy Miles

    I’ve been trying hard to build a few habits, but keeping up with them has been a huge, horrible issue. For example: Starting in about July I really worked hard to build up a habit of brushing my teeth, flossing, and using mouthwash every night before I went to sleep. This kept up well until about October, when I pulled out my mouthwash and was suddenly face-to-face with a huge cockroach. This soured me from using my mouthwash at all in the incoming months, but I managed to keep up with brushing & flossing. Just these past few weeks, however, have totally thrown that habit out of the window. The holidays had made my schedule so chaotic that I didn’t floss one night, and then the next, and suddenly it’s been weeks of morning brushing only. Every night I tell myself “if you brush & floss then you can go ahead to sleep!” and then proceed to just go to sleep anyway.

    All my life, building habits have been like this. I make some decent progress for months and months and one thing suddenly comes and ruins it. Being praised for my teeth cleaning at the dentist was a pretty good reward, but apparently not good enough to keep my momentum going. Making sleep my reward doesn’t work because there’s nothing to stop me from going to sleep anyway. Are there any tips out there for people whose habits tend to die off after 4-5 months of being done consistently?

  • Very helpful article!

    One of the things that I always tried to do was to sleep very early at night. Most of the times instead of sleeping early I’d stay awake watching YT videos.

    The goal of the new habit is to sleep 30 minutes earlier for the next 30 days.

    The Cue: Feeling bored

    The Routine: Automatic PC shutdown 1 hour before sleep. Read a book for 20 minutes. Prepare for sleep. Go to bed.

    The reward: Listen to music for 10-20 minutes as soon as I wake up.

  • Mortal

    You say most people will slip from “Workout and vegetables” to “Xbox and pizza” this week; I have no pretense. My intention today is workout and pizza! Already got the workout out of the way 🙂

  • Kayla Hunt

    I so needed this today. I’ve been struggling with how I eat. 6 years ago I discovered LCHF/Keto and I honestly think it’s it the best thing for me – I feel better in every possible way when I limit carbs drastically. However, I tend to be very all or nothing. Either I’m eating 20g of carbs a day, or I’m face down in a pile of chocolate chips with sweet potato fries waiting in the wings. In recent years I’ve struggled to maintain healthy eating for more than a couple weeks, and it shows in my weight. I’ve tried again and again to get “back on track”, but it seems to be taking less and less to push me towards the chocolate. So now I’m doing the work of failing and trying again, failing and trying again. Not giving up this time. Realizing that if I do what I’ve always done, I’ll get what I’ve always got. I’m not prepared to spend the rest of my life at this weight, sedentary, and unhappy with how I look. Add to the motivation a family history of diabetes, high blood pressure, and dementia, and I need to make a change. OK, I’m done. Any encouragement would be welcome.

  • Le

    I would like to know more strategies regarding the quitting smoking ..i wish there was a site like this to help me deal with it

  • Кристиан Яромирович Томала

    This is actually a REAAALLY great article that will help you with ANYTHING… Love it!

  • Mary McCullough

    I have read this before and yet this year I made my resolutions big and vague as usual. So good to read this again and go back and work on my resolutions and make them more specific and manageable. Great advice. Thanks so much for reminding me.

  • Laura Savage

    Wait, running around naked is a punishment? Crap, I’ve been doing this wrong …
    Great article, as always. I’m working hard to build a lunchtime walking habit right now, with Zombies, Run as my reward. Two days in, so far so good.

  • Charles

    Here’s what I’m gonna do. For every hour I walk or go to the gym cumulatively, I add $5 to a fund for me to buy “Art of” books with. $2 bonus each time I go to the gym. Most likely just gonna be doing walking for the next month though.

  • Daniel Morgan

    My habit is drinking Mountain Dew. CUE: Feeling tired/ fatigued in the early afternoon. REWARD: Energy to get through the rest of the day. NEW ROUTINE: Take a walk and eat an apple.

  • Jon Kunkler

    Great job going beyond the usual “self-help” listicles out there that so often regurgitate the same pap. This is well researched, practical, actionable, and filled with illustrative examples.

    I am working on getting up early consistently by adding a multitude of environmental hacks, a programming hack- marking the calendar, and short and longer-term rewards. Here we go!

    Thank you!

  • Awkward Penguin

    hmm, interesting article… I had this open ready for me to read for… a while before I really committed to reading it.

    I am currently following this habit building instruction at the moment (currently with drinking less caloric drinks) The next one I wanted to tackle after this is being more active.

    Also after fixing the liquid portion of my diet… my daily calories dropped from 2,500 – 3,500 a day to around 1,500… because I drink pop and want chips to go with it… but chips (or other snacks) aren’t the same with just water. I effectively killed 2 birds with one stone!

  • Wow! Great content. Love how you broke things down and didn’t just write about the “quick fix”. So much crap out there that it was refreshing to read :). Thanks

  • Jessica Cox

    All of this is SO true. Last year my motto was “This is my year.” I even found a shirt that said it, and I bought that shirt. And it did nothing. I truly believe that last year was the most health-conscious I’ve ever been…I just didn’t act on it. However, I learned what works for me, what to do, what not do. So this year I am much better equipped and am living those lessons. I am usually that person that tries to change too much at one time and you’re so right, it is crazy overwhelming and causes failure so much faster. I wrote down my Why’s, my goals, and tracked each day. It still didn’t work.

    I’m not Catholic, but like a lot of people I decided I’m going to participate in Lent anyway. If everyone else is giving up something for 6 weeks so can I. I personally prefer a Ketogenic diet. Not because I think it is the best out there but because it is the most realistic for me to follow. I committed to eating Keto for the whole 6 weeks except for two intentionally planned cheat meals that i wrote on my calendar. So far I have been perfect except for one tiny slip up. I went to nerdy lengths and told my closest friends that it will not affect me going to dinner or getting a drink with them, but that I need them to question me if they think I’m not following my plan, or don’t pressure me to cheat “just this once, it won’t kill me.” I even wrote dorky encouraging notes to myself in my calendar on any day that I know we’ll have food in the office or I have an event to go to. “Don’t go crazy. Be responsible. Stay strong!”

    I’m not trying to force myself to work out. I’m not keeping a journal. I’m not focusing on what I’m going to do after this 6 weeks. I know that I will feel great and will want to keep it up. That I will have emotionally built up my ability to keep going further and to add in routine workouts. I can honestly say I have barely struggled at all. It’s only been a couple days past two weeks but it’s better than I’ve ever done. I know my big why, I know what I have to do to achieve it, and one of my favorite parts of the day is coming into work and putting a red check mark in the corner of the previous day on my calendar indicating that I succeeded THAT day.

  • TherapeuticPros

    Glad to see people here giving it all they have!! so inspiring!

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  • This is a truly inspiring article, and as a coach really helps me identify some limiting things with my clients and how to help them spur new change. I really like all the examples you gave and it really breaks it down in user friendly steps.

    Well done!

  • Jazz

    I’m going to go to the gym everyday, whether it’s being on the stationary bike for 20 minutes or doing my planned workout.

    The cue seems to be after work. The routine is actually going to the gym on a daily basis to workout or do some conditioning on my off-days. The reward is listening to my favorite podcasts during the action and feeling the “feel good” feelings afterwards.

  • Rachel Lucci

    Hi Kayla, I see that you posted this three months ago but I’m just reading your comment now. I am in exactly the same boat. I did the Whole 30 (basically a very strict LCHF regimen) and I stuck to it perfectly. I dropped a significant amount of weight and was feeling more energy than I have in years. My clear head was the thing that amazed me the most. After the strict 30 days was over, I found myself slipping further and further from the habits I had worked hard to establish. I tend to be great with abstinence but have a very hard time with moderation. My weight has fluctuated wildly and I have had difficulty in finding the right balance and sustaining it. I have been a member of the Rebellion for a couple of years now but have never really engaged up until a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been following the quests for the first 12 weeks and very slowly and mindfully adopting new habits and it seems to be working! I get the urge to go “all or nothing” and completely eliminate this or that food but I’m resisting that urge and it feels like the right thing to do. Anyway, if you happen to be looking for an accountability buddy, I think we might be a good pair. Enjoy the day!

  • Kayla Hunt

    Hi Rachel! In those three mon justths I started keto and stopped after 2 weeks, but then I started up again 6 weeks ago and I’ve somehow been more consistent. As much as I would like to be able to moderate my diet, I really can’t, at least at this point. I recently read The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung, which sounds like it’s only about extreme weights, but really applies to any degree of excess. It really comes down to not eating sugar, then decreasing or eliminating refined carbs, then eating only 3 meals a day, then implementing some intermittent fasting. I’ve done a couple 24 hour fasts and it’s so empowering. It works wonders on cravings and brain fog. Yesterday my brain was so clear and calm I felt like a different person. The fasting decreases insulin resistance and allows excess glucose to be cleared from body tissues. So my diet is like level 9 right now, but my physical activity is around 1.5 😮
    Having an accountability partner sounds great! Are you on Facebook? Or is there another platform you prefer?

  • Rachel Lucci

    Hi Kayla, I think my response was getting blocked because I added my Facebook and Instagram URL. You should be able to find me on Facebook as Rachel Lucci.

  • Nicely put together. Great the community has people like you.

  • Rajneesh Verma

    Nice Blog

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  • Emilie

    Write my notes on the computer (10 min/day).
    Cue: last thing I do before stoppobg work (end of work routine)
    Action: transfer hand notes to computer
    Reward: seeing my random pile of notes getting smaller (less clutter)