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5 Tips To Create Effective Habits

Published By Janet Gershen-Siegel at May 15th, 2018

Effective Habits are not Out of Reach

Written by Janet Gershen-Siegel

Most of us are constantly on the lookout for how to create effective habits and make them stick. Good habits can be everything from eating right and exercising, to setting aside retirement funds, or contacting our loved ones more frequently.

We know, intellectually, that we should do any or all of these things. Yet we seem to have so much trouble getting down to them, right? It can be maddeningly difficult to start or keep up with any or all of these. What to do?

Without further ado, here are five tips/suggestions on how to create effective habits.

5. One at a Time

It can be tempting to look in the mirror or at our checkbooks or anything else and declare that everything’s wrong, and it’s all going to hell in a hand cart.

However, that does not do any good. And neither does multitasking five different new habits.

So, how do you handle this?

I’m a big fan of lists. Lists are specific and they record what you want to do that you do not have to wrack your brains. They also help to eliminate excuses. Oh, I forgot. Well, no; you can’t if it’s all written down, now, can you?

An Example

Let’s start with setting aside retirement funds. This one, fortunately, is pretty easy in the abstract. You will need to contact Payroll or Human Resources at work (this depends on which department handles retirement funding) and ask for retirement withholding for a 401(k) plan.

Or your company might not have a 401(k) plan but you can get a certain chunk of your funds diverted to a second account via direct deposit. If that’s the case, then maybe set aside a chunk to a retirement fund.

Not working right now? Then contact your bank. You may be able to get a regular transfer going, even if it’s for something as small as $5 – 10 per week.

4. Triage

The whole truth is that this method works beautifully with the previous one. Just like we might divide a list of tasks up, we can also do so with intended new habits.

Let’s take our list, above:

  • Eating right
  • Exercising
  • Saving for retirement
  • Contacting our loved ones more often

Consider This

So of that simple list of four effective habits, consider the following:

  1. Which one will take the least amount of time? Also, which one takes the most?
  2. Which one(s) is ‘set it and forget it’? Which one(s) have to be redone periodically? Regularly?
  3. Also, which one(s) will have the most immediate impact? Which one(s) will have long term impact?
  4. Which one(s) have a time limit on them, or have to be done immediately?


On our list, saving for retirement and contacting perhaps one loved one probably take the least amount of time. The other two probably take the most. Saving is ‘set it and forget it’ while the others have to be redone repeatedly.

Immediate impact comes from contacting our loved ones; the others (and even that one) have long term impact. Possibly all of them need to be done or at least started immediately, particularly if a loved one is elderly or ill (or both).

Perhaps the best way to start is with two things which can be done quickly – such as starting the process of saving for retirement, and contacting one person. Even if they talk your ear off for two hours, it won’t be forever.

3. Consider Failure, and How to Eliminate It

We can never account for every single contingency, but we can at least plan a little bit. We don’t have to throw our hands up and declare, “It is what it is.” Or, “I give up.”

Let’s consider our four.

What would derail or good eating habits? One obvious way is by keeping unhealthy foods in the home. So don’t buy them in the first place. Despite the myriad of diets and studies, some things are obvious.

One of them is that cake is never going to be good for you (sorry!). When you don’t keep unhealthy foods around, you only have to say ‘no’ to them once – at the checkout counter.

Derailed? You Don’t Have to Be

What could derail our exercise plans? Maybe bad weather would, so let’s build in a contingency plan in case of lousy weather. This can be joining a gym, or doing mall walking. Also it could be getting our exercise by cleaning or even shoveling snow.

So how about contacting the family? Not connecting might derail things, so why not set up a regular time for contact if it’s someone close to us? “Mom, I’ll call you at 6 every Sunday night and I’ll let you know in advance if I can’t make it.” And then set it as a calendar reminder, on your phone or computer. There you go.

What about retirement savings? We could fail if we don’t set aside the money, so the best way to assure that is by having it taken out automatically via a payroll deduction.

2. Consider Success, and How to Enhance and Encourage and Duplicate it

Could a new pair of sneakers make it easier to exercise regularly? Then get them. Would creating a family group on Facebook make it easier to keep in touch? Then make the group. Can a slow cooker or an insta-pot make it easier to eat right? Does a retirement vision board give you the incentive to save? Then you know the drill – just do it!

1.  Stay With It

Much like Rome, good habits aren’t built in a day. Be patient! Give yourself some time, and that includes time for setbacks.

Imperfect execution of effective habits is better than no execution of them, so if your healthy eating plan means not having a second piece of cake one day, then accept that that is how you’ll bolster that habit on that particular day – but also vow to do better the following day.

Usually it takes a few months before we stop seeing effective habits as chores or something on our list of things to remember. You brush your teeth every day, right? You don’t even think about it most of the time, right? That same automatic feeling can be a part of any habit – if you give it enough time. Share this and tell your friends what you think of how to live your best life.

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