March 20, 2024 | Allison Robertson

The Science Behind New Routines—and How to Start


How To Start a New Routine—and Stick to It

Starting a new routine can be a daunting thought. Not only can it take a while, but outside pressures often make it even more challenging to follow through.

Whether you want to start a new exercise routine, read more books, or incorporate a new skincare routine, this guide will help point you in the right direction.

woman smiling and hand writing in calendar split image

Why are routines difficult to start?

Routines are challenging to start because they involve habits—not just starting new ones, but breaking old ones, too.

person choosing old habits or changeNatasa Adzic, Shutterstock

Forming Habits

Once you get used to not doing something, it becomes difficult to start actually doing it. Exercise is a perfect example of a routine that requires breaking a lot of old habits in order to begin.

woman  in blue sweatshirt working outGround Picture, Shutterstock

Why Forming New Habits is Important

According to market data reports, approximately 40% of your daily actions are powered by habits rather than conscious decisions.

Woman in white t-shirt starting the dayfizkes, Shutterstock

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Breaking Old Habits

Old habits you’ll want to quit will be the ones that make reaching your goal harder.

For example, if you want to be physically healthier, old habits to break could include: taking the elevator instead of the stairs, snacking before bed, drinking soda with dinner, etc.

Cut the old habits that work against your goal.

Woman in orange t-shirt climbing the stairsRicky Esquivel, Pexels

Expanding Your Comfort Zone

Starting a new routine can sometimes have you expanding your comfort zone a little.

Maybe you’re an introvert who would like to start going for a walk every day—but this might mean you have to be social with neighbors.

Sad woman in home clothes looking trough a windoweldar nurkovic, Shutterstock

One Leads to Another

As daunting as that can be, remind yourself that one good habit often leads to another, and having a social life could be a good thing too.

Two girls in winter clothes walkingLiza Summer, Pexels

How long do habits take to form?

There are some beliefs that it takes 21 days, but new studies have shown that it can take anywhere from 18-254 days to form a new habit. However, this greatly depends on the habit itself.

Image of athletic woman having good habitsJosep Suria, Shutterstock

Habit Attempts

In addition to length of time, forming habits can also take multiple attempts.

GitNux believes that, “people who successfully change a habit do so on an average of their sixth attempt.”

Woman running away from sweetsTijana Moraca, Shutterstock

Habit Forming Failure Rates

As previously mentioned, there are many failed attempts at starting a new habit before one actually sticks. In fact, the failure rate of changing a daily habit is as high as 88%, according to GitNux.

Sad woman in home clothes sitting on a couchevrymmnt, Shutterstock

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The Power of Mornings

Starting a new routine can be beneficial if you aim to include it at the start of your day. According to LinkedIn, 92% of highly successful people have a solid morning routine.

Happy woman in pajamas starting the daygpointstudio, Shutterstock

How Routines Help Achieve Goals

According to GitNux, “people who make very specific plans to reach their goals are 2 to 3 times more likely to succeed, indicating the impact of the habit-forming process.”

Now, let’s get specific. Here are 18 ways to help you stick to your new routine.

Man making a planGaudiLab, Shutterstock

1. Make it Personal

Creating a new routine simply because you feel the pressure to follow others, or to show off on social media is a surefire way to fail. Starting a new routine is challenging enough without doing it to please others.

man using smart phone with Social mediaLookerStudio, Shutterstock

Example

Your goal should be for you, and only you. Get yourself a journal and write down your personal goals for yourself to reference to as you go.

Woman writing personal goals in diaryYuri A, Shutterstock

2. Set a Realistic Timeline

Don’t expect to pick up a new routine in a matter of days, or even weeks. Routines require consistency, which takes time to master.

timeline in JanuaryFernando Avendano, Shutterstock

Example

If you want to start exercising regularly, start slow and set a realistic goal that you can work up to. Start with 1-2 workouts per week and increase from there if you can.

Work out equipmentZOLDATOFF, Shutterstock

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3. Create a Feelings Goal

The best way to be successful at a new routine is to identify the emotional feeling that motivates it. Write it down so you can refer back to it when you feel it.

young brunette in bed  writing down a planiona didishvili, Shutterstock

Example

For example, a feelings goal associated with reading more books could be to quiet your mind and feel more peaceful before bed.

Feelings goals often helps people stay more motivated to the end result.

Pretty African American girl in white pajamas reading a bookAndrii Kobryn, Shutterstock

4. Write Down Your Goals

Routines help you get to your end goal. Start by writing down the end goal, and then how you will get to it.

woman is  writing  Goals on a notebookTiko Aramyan, Shutterstock

Example

If your goal is to have clearer skin, your routine will likely include a new skincare regime. Write down the steps of the skincare routine, including when you’ll do it, how you’ll do it, and what is needed to do it.

Woman in white tank top doing her skincare routineProstock-studio, Shutterstock

5. Use Your Free Time

Another helpful way to stay consistent is to find ways to fit your new routine into already open slots of your schedule.

Daily HabitsGustavo Frazao, Shutterstock

Example

If your goal is to spend more time with your friend, but you don’t care for going out on a Friday night, find a different time in your schedule that would work. Maybe an after-dinner walk on Wednesdays, or a Sunday morning breakfast date.

Friends having dinnerAdrienn, Pexels

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6. Put It in Your Schedule

Your new habits need a set time in your schedule if you want to keep consistent with them. Decide which days you plan to make it work and write it down.

Woman in white t-shirt writing in her  ScheduleSvitlana Denysiuk, Shutterstock

Example

Whether your habit it is to go for an evening walk, or wash your face each morning—simply write it in your calendar, “wash face”.

Woman in sports clothes going on an evening runSkolkokrasok, Shutterstock

7. Be Detailed

Getting specific about the time you’d like to incorporate your new habits can be a detail that helps maintain consistency.

Woman using calendar app on her phoneKaspars Grinvalds, Shutterstock

Example

For example, if your goal is to get healthy and your new supporting habit is to exercise, scheduling it in your daily calendar for 7:00AM will allow you to focus only on that at that time.

Exercise written on a calendar pageZerbor, Shutterstock

8. Be Flexible

The worst thing about routines is the pressure to uphold them. Be flexible if things have to change one day.

Calm woman relaxing meditatingBagus Production, Shutterstock

Example

Maybe you get sick, or take an unexpected trip, which puts a dent in your new routine. Don’t stress about missing the gym, or leaving your book at home.

As soon as your routine becomes inconvenient you will fail.

Man using phone on a planeBongkarnGraphic, Shutterstock

9. Test & Tweak

Don’t think your routine has to be carved in stone. Always allow yourself to tweak your habits if they don’t seem to be working.

good daily habits conceptLinaimages, Shutterstock

Example

As yourself, how does your new routine feel? Did you schedule your tasks at times that make sense?

If you don’t love the outcome, make some changes that will work better.

Developing habits and set up routine.Just dance, Shutterstock

10. Structure Your Day According to Your Needs

If you want to start reading more books but find yourself exhausted at bedtime, then pick a different time of day to read.

Millennial Indian woman reading a bookProstock-studio, Shutterstock

Example

Maybe you can fit in a few chapters on your lunch break, or maybe you can squeeze in some time to read in the morning before work.

It’s okay to change it up. This avoids not doing it at all.

Young pretty woman sitting at opened window drinking coffee and reading a bookASTA Concept, Shutterstock

11. Be Flexible About Your Approach

Although a routine is something that is typically the same every time, it is important to remember that the habits are what matter most.

Woman in yellow t-shirt remembering something after looking at her phoneCast Of Thousands, Shutterstock

Example

If your goal is be physically healthier, and your new habits include exercising, remind yourself that exercise doesn’t only happen in the gym.

Being active outside, or going dancing with friends can also be habits that will work toward your goal.

Happy friends dancing outsideloreanto, Shutterstock

12. Lean On Your People

New routines require consistency, which is the hardest part. Similar to how you get up and go to work because you’re expected to be there, having someone else rooting for you can help keep you motivated to continue.

Woman getting up of bedAndrea Piacquadio, Pexels

Example

Telling a friend about your new routine and giving them permission to check in once in a while can make a world of difference when it comes to staying accountable.

two friends speaking to each otherKATRIN BOLOVTSOVA, Pexels

13. Celebrate the Small Stuff

Discipline doesn’t mean punishing yourself when you slip up. Let go of the pressure and celebrate the wins, no matter how small.

Woman celebratingLuke Webb, Pexels

Example

Use a journal to write out your wins, especially the good ones. For example, “Read four chapters today”, or “went for a two-hour hike,” will remind yourself of the progress you’re making when you feel discouraged.

Woman writing in journalsutadimages, Shutterstock

14. Reward Yourself

Don’t forget to reward yourself when you follow through with your routine and start meeting your goals.

Notes on action plansmypokcik, Shutterstock

Example

This can include buying yourself something special, allowing yourself extra free-time, or even just picking up a specialty coffee.

Recognizing your own hard work will motivate you to keep going.

woman in white sweater drinking latteKryvenok Anastasiia, Shutterstock

15. Be Gentle With Yourself

Remind yourself that habits and routines take a fairly long time to stick—and you’re human. Not everyone will succeed the first time they try, in fact, most don’t.

Happy womanAndrea Piacquadio, Pexels

Example

Allow yourself to lose sometimes and not feel badly about it. Try verbally reminding yourself that “it’s okay to take a break,” whether you meant to or not.

man in beige t-shirt with grateful gesture on faceKrakenimages.com, Shutterstock

16. Find Motivation

Finding others that have a similar goal to you will certainly help keep you motivated.

group feeling motivatedJacob Lund, Shutterstock

Example

Follow like-minded people on social media, or join online groups where people share their progress.

Even if you don’t share your own progress, reading or seeing others crushing their goals will motivate you to do the same.

woman reading good newsvoronaman, Shutterstock

17. Use Visual Reminders

Sometimes, being consistent with a completely new routine can be difficult—especially if you’re busy or forgetful.

Girl in dark blue long sleeve t-shirt remembered somethingfile404, Shutterstock

Example

Leaving yourself little notes on the whiteboard, or sticky notes on your desk—like “drink your water” can be helpful.

don't forget on post ittomertu, Shutterstock

18. Splurge for Support

Don’t feel bad about splurging on things that can help support your goal. There are no rules to setting yourself up for success.

Woman in yellow sweater holding a credit cardBagus Production, Shutterstock

Example

If buying yourself a new pair of yoga pants will motivate you to work out more, then do it. If adding lemons to your water helps you drink more of it, then go for it.

sport clothes storeTHINK A, Shutterstock

Final Thoughts

Starting a new routine is only challenging when you set unrealistic goals and put unnecessary pressure on yourself.

By setting a realistic goal, knowing which habits to start and which to break, and knowing when and how to be flexible, starting a new routine can be both successful and enjoyable.

Set Smart goalshafizi, Shutterstock

Bonus Point

One last important point: if sticking with your routine is too stressful and you are not effective, allow yourself to say, “maybe this isn’t for me,” and try something else.

Routines should make our lives easier, not harder.

happy womanfizkes, Shutterstock

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