How to start a habit in the first place.


If you have read many of the posts here on this blog or are reading my book or are taking part in my 90 Day Program, you’ll know I advocate Habits.

Habits are a key tool in getting you from A – B in any part of your life. But, how do you create a habit in the first place?

There are many ways, but here are just two:

#1 Create an incentive

#2 Create a reward

You’d be forgiven for thinking they are one and the same thing but they’re not.

Let’s say you want to go to the gym on a regular basis to get your fitness levels back up or to lose weight or to generally buff yourself up. If you’re like me you might find the gym is boring. Β If that was the case I’d probably advise you do something else, but for the example let’s continue with the gym analogy.

You sign up for a 6 month term and decide you want to go every other day and for the first couple of weeks you stick with it – it’s new after all, and that in itself can be the incentive and reward. After a while though you may find yourself too busy or too tired or too stressed to go as often. Before long you’re down to once a week then once a fortnight.

Sound familiar?

Here’s what you can do, start with your incentive. (If you can’t get yourself to even go, you’ll not qualify for your reward, right.) So take your iPod and load it with the music that really gets you pumped up – this is going to get you into the right state of mind. Alternatively, if you like audio books or other audio products load it with them. Do NOT allow yourself to listen to those things unless you are at the gym. Not in the car, not at work, not lounging around the house. ONLY at the gym. My other half Em had a good idea on this too, most gyms have the TV on the running machines which you hook your earphones into. Simply time your gym visit with something you love to watch on the TV – again make it a rule you cannot watch that programme anywhere else. This is not a new suggestion, but the key here is – exclusivity! That way you look forward to the gym because you look forward to the other activity you do whilst at the gym.

Now you have an incentive.

Every time you go to the gym from then on take time afterwards to go to the cafΓ© and have a relaxed drink, or spend half an hour reading your favourite magazine or newspaper. Try to save that treat for post gym visits too so you associate that pleasurable passtime with working out. Again, only do that after you’ve been to the gym, in order to create the association.

Now you have your reward.

Of course this will take some thought depending on what you want to make a habit out of. Whatever it is, look to see what could be your incentive, then look to see what your reward could be. Once your habit is embedded, you can gradually reduce the reward and continue without your incentive if you want or need to.

So the point of the post is – you don’t need to rely on your willpower alone to create a positive habit, you just need to understand what drives you and turn that into your incentive and reward to help you through the tough few weeks of creating that habit.

Hope that makes sense – be sure to leave a comment if you agree/disagree or want some help figuring out your own habit making.





Filed under Goals, Life changing, Relationships, Self help, Success

34 responses to “How to start a habit in the first place.

  1. Here’s hoping that eating that cream doughnut on the running machine later will be incentive enough for me….! πŸ™‚ Just kidding, great post.

  2. Hi Stu, great ideas. My reward for working out is time in the hot tub to sit quietly and just think….it is wonderful! My incentive is meeting my only daughter at 5 a.m. At the gym, it is very special, we have been doing this for 10 years.

  3. Oh I so needed this..Stu loved the ideas

  4. Pingback: Go to the Gym? « David's GT Fitness Blog

  5. Sounds like a great plan to me…

  6. I’m with you Stu – incentives and reward systems surely do work. Usually it all boils down to self love – how much do we love ourselves that we would dedicate time to getting fit or whatever other program to improve us.

    Thank you for this wonderful post,

  7. dianabletter

    When I first started running, my husband, Jonny, would buy me a bar of chocolate that I could eat when I finished my run. I felt like one of Pavlov’s dogs panting after my treat! But that worked although I would NOT recommend using chocolate to encourage a good habit. Because then I had to break this habit and what could I tell myself? “There’s a crunchy…carrot waiting for you when you finish your run!”
    I agree that incentives and rewards are great ways to encourage ourselves to do things we don’t want to do. I’ll do a chore I don’t particularly enjoy with upbeat music and see how many songs it takes for me to finish.
    Thanks again for this post!

  8. Incentives, rewards, self love… ACTION! Until we act in our own best interest the rest wont come together… Great post Stuart. πŸ˜‰

  9. I totally do this, the music was a great example. As a busy mom I don’t get to listen to my music in the car anyway, so it’s easy enough to save it for my daily walks, and it is totally worth the wait. It’s a great incentive to get me out the door, pounding the pavement.

    • Sometimes we do stuff and don’t realise we’re doing it ie: we don’t realise the effect it’s having. When we become aware of positive habits we already have we can use that formula in other areas of our lives. Erm, if you’re writing at 4am – what time are you pounding the streets!!?? πŸ™‚

  10. 2 steps that so simple…but a great reminder here (as there are a few goals that must be set in my own life asap :)) Thanks for sharing!

  11. Gina's Professions for PEACE

    I love this post! Brilliantly simple. Even these comments are thought-provoking. I like Diana’s comment of putting on upbeat music and seeing how many songs it takes to get the housework done, a modification to my own ‘How much can I get done in 15 minutes’ fast blitz thing I like to do. With your incentive & reward plan I am excited to use them to develop new good habits! So glad I found your blog, with warmest gratitude for you finding me and helping make it easy!

  12. Thanks for useful article. I cannot continue any thing because of my sickness and compelled to discontinue.Really need some help.

    • Hi Indira, in what way do you most need help?

      • Starting from getting up in the morning and going for a walk to sketch and write something. Can’t make a habit due to some draw backs( health problem). Thanks for your concern.

    • I’d love to help if I can, you don’t need to tell me anything personal, and we could discuss privately via email. Alternatively, I could enroll you in my 90 Day Program which many people are finding really helpful and thought provoking. The doors to the ‘no cost’ offer are closed although it can still be accessed as a bonus with a copy of my book. But I’d make an exception for you (ie: you wouldn’t have to buy anything.) ?

      • Thanks a lot, I would not want you to go for a loss. I read a lot of books by Osho, Deepak Chopra, Robin Sharma, Brian Tracy,Paolo Coelho etc, I am 65. I think chronic illness has lowered my will power. Thanks for the reply.

      • It’ll be no loss Indira. One of my students was 62 when she took the program, this is what she said: β€œ[The Program]… has been the catalyst for relaunching myself on my chosen path. It has really made me think hard about what is going on in my life, …the things I tolerate, the things I detest and the things which are so important to me. I have been able to look at all of these things and recognise the importance which I’ve given to each one of them – negative or positive.” Let me know, or let me know what your biggest obstacle is and I’ll try and help if I can. x

      • As I said before my health, I try hard but can’t make anything a habit for long. Thanks for your reply.

    • If you are physically unable to do certain things maybe there are some other activities you can become involved in?

      • Yes and that I do. I think all this is my fault,perhaps I am not focused, so unable to form habits and do regularly. Something wrong with me perhaps.

    • It’s a common problem – especially in our modern society with so many distractions. Many of my students are having some great results from the 90 Day Program that comes as a bonus with the book: The program comes straight to your email and you work on it at your own pace, although it’ll nudge you to get on with it! πŸ™‚

  13. Pingback: A Good Day « The Curse Of The Single Parent

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