9 Steps to Starting A New Habit or Practice

We all have aspects of our lives that we would like to change. We would like to engage in new habits. We would like to lose weight. We would like to be nicer to our friends. Without intentionality and mindfulness, however, the chances of us just doing something new are limited. We are not all of a sudden going to practice a new habit. We will rarely be able to suddenly lose weight.

So what does that process look like? Let’s look at the steps to starting or launching a new habit or a new practice with intentionality.

  1. Answer this question: “How did I get here?” We did not get where we are overnight. We have all taken a journey to this day. So take a moment to look back and process how you have gotten to this particular point in your life. Maybe you are overweight because you used food to deal with your loneliness. Maybe your anger is a reflection of the hurt that you experienced as a child. There are many reasons for the situation we find ourselves in. So take a moment to look back to look forward. And then remind yourself that you do not live in the past. You do not have to let the past control you.
  2. Deal with the brokenness that brought you to this point. If the words of others impacted you and brought about unhealthy behavior or thoughts, then make peace with them and the situation. This may mean offering forgiveness, working with a counselor or close friend, or writing a letter. If you don’t deal with the brokenness in your life, you will not be able to let go and move on. The emotional memory storage area within your brain will constantly remind you of the pain and you will never cognitively know why. 
  3. Make a list of specific changes you want to make. In this step, we are not just listing the changes but also prioritizing the changes you want to make in your life. That list should be very specific and challenging, but realistic. If you want to lose weight, that item on the list should say something like, “I want to lose 10lbs in 2 months.” It should not say, “I want to lose weight,” or “I want to lose 50 pounds in 2 months.” Make it a specific actionable goal with “Why?” Why do you want to lose weight? Why do you want to start that new habit? What will it do for you? How will it make you feel? When you put an emotional attachment to that something new, it will have more impact. Let’s be honest, emotions drive behavior, so find an emotional “Why?” to the new!
  4. Determine the first change you want to make. Listen to me carefully: you cannot change everything at once. It’s impossible. Don’t try it. You are setting yourself up for failure. Pick the most important change you want to make. Then…
  5. Determine the systems, processes, and requirements to achieve change. You may have to get up earlier. What kind of system or process will change or be added that will allow you to get up earlier? What kind of food will you need to purchase? Are you trying to learn a new skill? What books or classes will you need to invest in? Be specific and about the steps, the systems, or the changes that must be in place to succeed.
  6. Start. The more time you spend “planning,” you are more likely to simply be procrastinating. As Seth Godin says, sometimes you just have to ship. It will never be perfect. You can always tweak it. But you can’t change or learn if you don’t start!
  7. Analyze. Here is where we can learn greatly from Tim Ferris. His books are a description of how he experimented on himself to see what worked. He kept notes and analyzed the changes in his body, in his habits, and in his life. Take notes on what you ate and how that affected your body. Take notes on what you do and feel, not what you think or want. Analyze the effects of each small thing you do to understand the changes. 
  8. Tweak. If what you are doing isn’t having the effect you desired, tweak it. Don’t swing for the fences, make small changes. You could be achieving 80% of your goal, so changing everything would not make sense. Just change the 20% that isn’t working as you think it should. 
  9. Repeat steps 6-8. Changes happen with consistency over time, not by doing something a couple of times. Start, analyze, tweak, and repeat until you completely understand what is happening and you cannot make any more changes. 

This kind of intentionality when done consistently over time, will bring tremendous changes and allow you to learn and grow in the areas that you have identified.

David has been a systems thinker most of his life. He has started three businesses as well as designed and developed systems and processes in existing organizations. He has a Doctorate in Leadership and has also done additional post-graduate work in communications.

He has also pastored 3 churches and loves to think about, write about and podcast about scripture, theology, and leadership.

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