how to build a habit

How to Build Habits That Stick for the Long Haul

Very few goals have an “easy button." (Although, if you struggle with eating vegetables, LADDER Greens is a super easy way to boost your intake.) If you're looking to add new rituals to your life, there are three steps you can take to make anything stick and become a habit:

  • Recognize that goals are not enough.
  • Bulletproof your intentions.
  • Create strong cues, behaviors, and rewards.

The first two steps set the ritual, and the last step reinforces the process to ensure that it becomes automatic. Once you apply the three steps to any process, making your habits stick becomes more of a formula and less of a frustration. Here's a quick guide to this three-step process to help you learn how to build a habit that'll really stick.

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1. Why Is It Hard to Build New Habits?

Personal trainer Courtney McWaine is notorious for helping people crush their goals. Her top tip? "Go back to your why and remember why you started your personal wellness journey." From there, she says, you can "establish a realistic plan for yourself that you will enjoy and that moves you toward where you want to be (your goal)."

And once you have those pieces in place, it's time to create a system of rituals to serve as the foundation of your habit.

Your goal might be: “I will exercise four times per week to get stronger and fitter." To make it a habit, you need to make fitness a part of your lifestyle, explains Master Trainer Rosie Cowen. Plan workouts in your calendar, day after day, and show up.

Having that system or structure will make it easier for your goal to become a reality.

2. Why Do Some Habits Fail?

We're taught to “go big or go home" or “swing for the fences," but this is the opposite of how successful habits are built. Start by breaking your goals into simple steps — and remove any barriers you can — then build up to more audacious goals.

That means that along the way, says McWaine, "celebrate each and every win that you accomplish" to keep yourself motivated and feeling like you're on track. Break that big goal into smaller ones, give yourself a pat on the back each time you show up for yourself, and you might find that it's harder to fail. One day and one workout at a time, you build momentum, remove barriers, and strengthen habits!

If you're working on that habit of exercising four times a week, you might encounter barriers, like a lack of child care, the time it takes to drive to the gym, or the know-how of what to do once you get there. All those details can easily undercut your success.

Remove your barriers, and increase your chances for success.

"Planning out your week is key," says Cowen, so you can spot barriers before they throw you off your game.

3. How to Master Any Habit

When it comes to building effective habits and rituals, it's important to include all three pieces of the habit loop. MIT researchers found that you want to create a new habit, you must make sure it includes:

  • The cue
  • The routine
  • A reward

If you can attach a habit to an action or behavior to your routine, then it's easier to make your new habits automatic. That's why rituals are so powerful and used by so many high-performing individuals in sports and business.

Going back to the workout example, if you want to become more consistent with daily workouts, a popular ritual is to pull out your workout clothes the night before and put them in an area where you'll see them.

Whatever ritual you choose, make sure it's followed by behavior, and then reward or recognize that you successfully completed the task. That type of reinforcement will help you stay consistent, and eventually — without even realizing it — your rituals and behaviors will stick.

And, despite all that, if you still have an off day (or two), don't sweat it.

"Give yourself grace and permission to simply be," explains McWaine. "Sit with yourself and reflect on the awesome qualities that make you, you. We all have extremely high days, and we all have days that are tough. Reaction is everything, so how will you choose to react and respond to your situation?"


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