Athlete Mental Training Articles

5 Steps to Develop a New Habit

Eli Straw
5 Steps to Develop a New Habit

As a sport psychology coach, I work with a lot of athletes on developing new habits. It's habits that create their success, just as it's habits that create your success whether you're also an athlete or not.

I use habits in my coaching to help change old patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. For example, if an athlete is struggling with a lot of fear, the current habit they have is to focus on fear and everything that could go wrong. To counteract this, we work on building the habit of focusing on their strengths and by building more positive self-talk.

It's all about habits. And the coolest thing I've found in terms of habits is that bad habits are best undone through the development of positive habits.

To stop an athlete's bad habit of pointing out everything they did wrong during practices or games (which lowers confidence and leads to perfectionism), we work on building the habit of properly evaluating their game.

So what you're going to learn in this article are five steps that I use when I work with an athlete on building a new habit. By applying them to your life, you can begin working towards developing more positive habits for yourself.

What is a Habit?

Habits are the routines that shape our lives. They are the things we do repeatedly at an almost subconscious level. From sun-up to sun-down our lives are controlled by our habits.

Some are good and some are not so good. Successful people know how to get themselves into good habits that will propel them towards their goals.

A lot of individuals look for ways to break bad habits, which I believe is a very important thing to do. If there are habits that you are aware of that may be counterproductive to your goals, then you should work towards getting rid of them.

However, to get rid of bad habits, you actually want to focus on building more positive habits. It is through these new good habits that the old bad habits begin to fade away.

Why do Habits Lead to Success?

Habits shape your life and personality. As a result, they have a direct impact on your future successes. Due to the dedication needed to achieve most goals, it is important to have daily activities that are performed.

It could be draining to constantly be monitoring and thinking about what you are doing. This is where habits come into play. Creating a habit that you trust will set yourself on the right path for success, meaning you have taken a large amount of the guess work away.

Okay, so now that the importance of habits has been established it is time to jump right into the five steps to develop a new habit for yourself.

Five Steps to Develop a New Habit

Step #1: Commit to a time period

The first step is for you to commit to a certain time period. The time frame to create a new habit has been widely debated, with some saying 21 days, while others claim it could take up to 200 days. I personally believe it is different for every person.

That is why it is important for you to understand yourself and be honest. It may take you longer than others to get a habit to stick, and that’s okay. Just have that in mind going into it and prepare to stay with it for a certain amount of time.

From my experience, I need about a week for a habit to form. I am the type of person who really enjoys a routine, and once I find an activity, I believe is beneficial to me I can stick with it very well.

But there are times where it’s more difficult and I need to consciously make sure I perform the activity for at least a month to ensure it will become a habitual act.

Step #2: Start Small

The second step in the process of creating a new habit is to start small. You do not want to overwhelm yourself from the beginning, because it will increase the chances of you quitting. Use the concept of compounding as your friend.

By beginning small, you allow yourself time to become accustomed to the activity. Then you can begin to slowly increase whatever it is you are doing.

A good example of this is to think of someone who would like to begin going to the gym every day. Unless the person has incredible self-discipline, it may not be the best idea to start by going to the gym for an hour every single day.

They would possibly get burnt out very quickly. Instead, a wise move would be to begin by exercising for a few minutes a day, say 5-10.

Then increase it to 15 minutes, and so on. Eventually the individual will keep wanting more and more until they are habitually going to the gym every day for their desired amount of time.

"By beginning small, you allow yourself time to become accustomed to the activity. Then you can begin to slowly increase whatever it is you are doing."

Step #3: Make it Daily

The third step in developing a new habit is to make it daily. You want to make sure you begin performing your habit every day, because that will allow it to really sink in as being part of your routine. While this concept may seem daunting, it is important to remember the previous step, start small.

Just because you are doing something every day does not mean it has to take up a large amount of your time, or even be the same amount of time each day.

Some days you may be feeling more motivated than others, and that’s okay. Just be sure to do a little bit to ensure the habit becomes routine for you.

This was incredibly important for me when beginning to write. Thinking about writing a blog post seemed really scary when I first began. I was unsure how I would find time, or all the information to sit down and write a beneficial post.

However, I stuck to the concept of making the habit daily. So, no matter if I wrote five words or five hundred that day, I made sure I would write. Now, the process of writing has become easier for me since it is a habit that I do daily.

Step #4: Never Miss Twice

Step four is honestly one of the most powerful ideas I have discovered in both developing habits and strong self-discipline. The way it works is that whenever you miss doing the activity that you would like to turn into a habit, you force yourself not to miss twice in a row.

Once you miss a couple of times it is much easier to allow the activity to slowly fade into another failed attempt at creating a habit.

A prime example of this is with nutrition. Let’s say you are trying to get yourself into the habit of eating healthier, which entails cooking all your meals at home. This is a very admirable goal, but the reality is life can sometimes get into the way.

One night you have to stay at work really late. By the time you would get home cooking dinner is the last thing you want to do. Instead, you grab yourself a meal from chipotle on your way home.

There is nothing wrong with this due to the circumstances, however, under the rule of never miss twice you must be sure that you then cook at home the following day to continue with your habit.

Step #5: Have an Accountability Partner

The final step in creating a new habit involves finding someone you trust to hold you accountable.

Scott Young lists this as one of his tips on how to build new habits and make them stick on lifehack.org

This is a powerful tool because it plays into the human tendency to not want to let others down. You’ll see this a lot with people who are going to the gym.

If they have a partner to go with them, they are much more likely to show up.

Your accountability partner can be anyone really. A parent, a coach, a personal trainer, a friend, but the important part is they will not be afraid to let you know when you are slacking.

Being held accountable by someone else is important during the beginning stages of creating a habit because they make sure you do what needs to be done.

Final Thoughts

Habits truly are what shape our lives. That is why it is so important to make sure the habits that are controlling your life are positive, healthy, and beneficial to your long-term success. Knowing how to create a new habit will be of great value to you moving forward in your life.

Just like anything, the more you train yourself to take on a new habit and stick with it, the quicker you will be able to do it in the future.

Take the five steps and put them into practice to help yourself develop a new habit! Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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