4 Tips for Developing New Habits That Actually Work

4 Tips for Developing New Habits That Actually Work

For several decades now, since establishing The Happiness Institute, I’ve been saying that … “achieving happiness requires little more than practising a few simple habits, each and every day”.

Most of us know what we “should” do for more happiness and success; most of us struggle to do this regularly, and consistently.

So, knowing how to develop strong habits is a crucial life skill; one I’ve written about and talked about lots in my work.

But for a slightly different approach, check out this Psychology Today article by Valentina Stoycheva …


  • New research into unconscious processes helps us understand habit formation.
  • You can use successful strategies to form new habits, such as pairing a new habit with a behavior you already enjoy.
  • Focusing on strategies that generate positive feelings is more successful than shaming yourself.

New research suggesting that most of our daily functioning is unconscious and automatic (cf. Weinberger & Stoycheva, 2019) may help us better understand why it is so hard to develop new habits. Our bodies and minds are simply evolutionarily calibrated to operate under the guidance of well-rehearsed patterns of behavior—patterns that often remain outside of the realm of conscious awareness. This is adaptive: If we consciously processed and thoughtfully reacted to every stimulus in our environment, we would get quickly overwhelmed. Imagine being acutely aware, at the same time, of the itchy fabric of your sweater, the sound of the faucet dripping, the rumbling in your stomach, the multiple thoughts in your head, the nagging worry that a delivery package is running late, your partner’s foot tap-tap-tapping on the floor, the smell of a scented candle lingering in the air, the itch on the tip of your nose, the urge to check what the next item on your to-do list is, the sound of the TV as you read this post… you get the point. And this is just a discreet moment in time, free of more intense emotions or traumas. So, we process most of our sensory input and respond to much of it automatically. The same applies to more complex behavioral patterns as well.

However, while automatic processes allow us to function fluently in our lives, they also make it hard to uproot old habits (which, you guessed it, have become automatic) and form new ones. The latter requires a lot of conscious effort and monitoring of our behavior, as well as, oftentimes, actively regulating complex emotions and rearranging our daily lives to make room for changes. Luckily, as we are learning more about how our minds work, we now know how to leverage the role of normative unconscious processes to help us create new habits more easily.

1. Make it desirable

Oftentimes, when trying to develop a new habit, we make the mistake of approaching it through a limiting viewpoint. We tell ourselves that we “should” exercise more, write for an hour each morning, drink less coffee, or go to bed earlier. As a result, we start to unconsciously associate the new habit with negative emotions. Namely, not only is it the reason why we would be giving up something that requires no conscious effort (the old behavior that we are trying to change), but the benefits of the new habit are not yet felt.

A more effective strategy is to try to find something that is already positively charged about the behavior you are attempting to develop. For example, if you are trying to write more, find a writing group, so you can receive feedback on your writing on a regular basis. Feeling supported feels good and, therefore, it will help you want to write more. If you are trying to go to bed earlier, it may be helpful to identify a positive element to the desired bedtime routine so you look forward to it. Perhaps an earlier bedtime in and of itself is not that tempting, but having an hour to yourself in the morning is, so shifting your routine may allow for that. Try to identify something reinforcing that the new habit will result in…

… keep reading the full & original article HERE