cover art with ball entering basketball net new habits creating lasting change

At the start of the new year, it’s common to make resolutions to change our lives in some way. Whether it’s to exercise more, eat healthier, or learn a new skill, we often start off with the best of intentions, but it can be challenging to stick to these goals over time.

There are many different versions of this quote on the internet, attributed to Tony Robbins:

“People overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a year.”

Tony Robbins

Two months into the new year, this episode is a reminder to not give up. We still have over 10 months until the new year resolution season for 2024, so you can make a change. You can create a new habit that will stick.

The Science of Habits

To understand how to create habits that stick, it’s essential to understand the science behind habit formation. In short, habits are formed through repetition, reinforced by rewards, and strongly influenced by context. Understanding these factors can help you create and maintain new habits.

If you want to build a new habit, you must take some action and have a reward each time you complete the action. Each of us has a group of structures in the brain called the basal ganglia. When we do something for which we’re rewarded, the basal ganglia associates the reward with the action and creates a habit look to help make the behavior automatic. So how’s this useful? James Clear outlines the steps of a habit loop, which incorporates all the elements necessary to build a new habit:

  • Cue: A cue is a trigger that initiates a behavior. It can be something as simple as a specific time of day, a location, an emotional state, or an action from someone else.
  • Craving: The cue creates a sense of anticipation or desire for a reward. This is the moment when the brain starts to associate the behavior with a positive outcome, and the craving for that outcome becomes stronger.
  • Response: The response is the behavior itself, the action that you take in response to the cue and the craving.
  • Reward: The reward is the positive outcome that comes from completing the behavior. It reinforces the habit loop and makes it more likely that you’ll repeat the behavior in the future.

By understanding the habit loop, you can work to identify your own cues, cravings, responses, and rewards. Once you understand these elements, you can start to modify or replace them to create new habits that will help you achieve your goals.

I think that we often skip the reward but it’s a crucial part of the process. Give yourself a pat on the back, take a moment to feel pleasure in your accomplishment and savor it. Those are simple ways to reward yourself.

The action and the reward is important, but so is the context. Think about the habits that you have when you wake up at home. You may not do those things when traveling or when in a hotel room. As an example, if you always eat a piece of cheese or chocolate after dinner, it’s difficult to change that. You might be able to replace it with going for a walk.

Habits can be strongly associated with contexts, which make them hard to break. These old habits are deeply ingrained in the brain. However, studies have found that replacing an old habit with a new one, as in my example, can be an effective strategy. So if you want to get rid of an existing habit, what new helpful habit you replace it with?

Start Small

If you’ve been struggling with your new year’s resolution or any other goal, maybe it’s too big. Trying to make too many changes at once can be overwhelming, leading to burnout and giving up.

Start small. What’s the action you could take towards that goal that will only take you 5 minutes to do each time? How frequently can you do that activity? Start there. A 5 minutes walk may not seem like a lot if you want to get 10000 steps a day. But how about we create a ladder to get to 10000. How many steps are you getting right now? How about you increase your daily average by 500 or 1000? Pick something that feels doable. Do it. Keep doing it. Get to a place where it feels easy. Then challenge yourself to go up a rung.

Let me give another example. Let’s say you want to go out more this year. Maybe saying yes to every invite is overwhelming. How about you consistently say yes to one friend? Or perhaps you’ll say yes to activities that fall on Thursday each week, or to all dinner parties. Pick something that feels easy. Have fun doing it and reward yourself each time you do it. When it gets easy, challenge yourself to go up a rung, if you want to. Also, leave space to re-assess and change your goal if the old one is no longer serving you.

Other Strategies for Creating a New Habit

In addition to starting small, there are other strategies that you can use to build a new habit:

  1. Find a trigger: Habits are often triggered by something specific, such as a certain time of day or a particular situation. What trigger can you use for the habit you want to create? For example, if you want to start meditating every morning, maybe waking up is the trigger. This means that you would meditate as soon as you wake up.
  2. Make it enjoyable: I’m sure it’s no surprise to you that it’s easier to do things that you find fun. So for the habit that you want to create, how could you make it fun? For example, if you want to read more, choose books that you find interesting and engaging, and make sure you have a comfortable and inviting reading space. Or if you want to exercise, take up dancing if you enjoy that; it’s a great form of exercise.
  3. Use positive reinforcement: I’ve already talked about rewards. It’s worth repeating that rewards are essential to build a new habit. The reward can be anything that lets you experience joy right after you complete the desired behavior.
  4. Stay accountable: Consider finding an accountability partner or using an app that tracks your progress towards your habit goals. By keeping yourself accountable, you’re more likely to stay on track and create habits that last
  5. Focus on the long-term benefits: Think of your future self. Habits that have long-term benefits, such as exercising regularly or eating a healthy diet can be more difficult to maintain in the short term because the benefits may not be immediately visible. To stay motivated, do some time travelling where you imagine yourself in the future. What result did you create for the future you? Remind yourself of these benefits when you feel tempted to skip the behavior.

Overcoming Obstacles and Staying Motivated

You can create a new habit. You’ll likely have some obstacles along the way, some from your lizard brain, but that doesn’t have to stop you. Here are some tips for overcoming obstacles and staying motivated:

  1. Be kind to yourself: Remember that creating a new habit is a process, and it’s okay to stumble along the way. Be kind to yourself and recognize that setbacks are a natural part of the process. Use setbacks as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than as a reason to give up.
  2. Identify potential obstacles: Before you start working on a new habit, take some time to identify potential obstacles that may arise. For example, if you’re trying to establish a daily meditation practice, you might identify a lack of time or difficulty finding a quiet space to meditate as potential obstacles. By identifying potential obstacles in advance, you can come up with strategies to overcome them. My episode on WOOP is handy here.
  3. Use positive self-talk: The way you talk to yourself can have a big impact on your motivation and ability to create new habits. Use positive self-talk to encourage and motivate yourself along the way. For example, instead of saying “I can’t do this,” try saying “I’m learning and growing every day.”
  4. Get support: Creating new habits is often easier when you have support from others. Consider finding an accountability partner, joining a support group, or seeking the guidance of a coach or mentor. I’ve published several posts and podcasts on this topic, and you can find them at changesbigandsmall/habits.
  5. Track your progress: Keeping track of your progress can be a powerful motivator for creating new habits. Consider using a habit tracker app or journal to track your progress and celebrate your successes along the way.

Related Episodes


With the right strategies and mindset, you can create a new habit that sticks and experience the many benefits that come with it. If you would like some help, go to to sign up for a free 30-minute session. We’ll go through a model that helps you clarify your thinking so that you can create the results that you want in your life.

You can connect with Damianne on the Changes BIG and small website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube. You’re also invited to join the Changes BIG and small Facebook community.

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About the Author
I'm a curious problem solver.

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