A Powerful Habit

The biggest reason people fail at creating and sticking to new habits is that they don’t keep doing it.

That seems obvious: if you don’t keep doing a habit, it won’t really become a habit. So what’s the solution to this obvious problem? Find a way to keep doing it.

When you look at it this way, the key to forming a habit is not how much you do of the habit each day (exercise for 30 minutes, write 1,000 words, etc.), but whether you do it at all. So the key is just getting started.

Let me emphasize that: the key to forming a habit is starting each day.

What do I mean by starting? If you want to form the habit of meditation, just get your butt on the cushion each day. If you want to form the habit of running, just lace up your shoes and get out the door. If you want to form the habit of writing, just sit down, close everything else on your computer, and start typing.

Form the habit of starting, and you’ll get good at forming habits.

How to Start When You Face Resistance

Form the habit of starting — easier said than done, right? What happens when you wake up and don’t feel like doing yoga or your 60-minute workout DVD?

Let’s first take a look at why you don’t feel like starting. It’s usually for one or both of these reasons:

  1. You are comfortable with what you’re doing (reading online, probably), and the habit is less comfortable (it’s too hard). We cling to the comfortable.
  2. It’s too difficult to get started — to do the habit, you have to get a bunch of equipment out of your garage, or drive 20 minutes to the gym, or go get a bunch of ingredients, etc.

Those are the main two reasons, and really they’re the same thing.

So the solution is to make it easier and more comfortable to do the habit, and easier to get started. Some ways to do that:

  • Focus on the smallest thing — just getting started. You don’t have to do even 5 minutes — just start. That’s so easy it’s hard to say no.
  • Prepare everything you need to get started earlier. So if you need some equipment, get it ready well before you have to start, like the evening before, or in the morning if you have to do it in the afternoon, or at least an hour before. Then when it’s time to start, there is no barrier.
  • Make the habit something you can do where you are, instead of having to drive there.
  • If you have to drive or walk somewhere, have someone meet you there. Then you’re less likely to stay home (or at work), and more likely to go — and going there is the same thing as getting started. This works because you’re making it less comfortable to not start — the idea of leaving a friend waiting for you at the gym or park is not a comfortable one.
  • Tell people you’re going to do the habit of starting your habit every day for 30 days. Having this kind of accountability motivates you to get started, and makes it less comfortable not to start.
  • Start with the easiest version of the habit, so that it’s easy to start. For example, if you want to form the habit of reading, don’t start with Joyce, but with Grisham or Stephen King or whoever you find fun and easy to read. If you want to start yoga, don’t start with a really challenging routine, but an easy series of sun salutations.
  • Make it as easy as possible to start, and hard to not start. Tell yourself that all you have to do is lace up your shoes and get out the door, and you’ll have a hard time saying no. Once you’ve started, you’ll feel good and probably want to continue (though that’s not a necessity).

The start is a sunrise: a moment of brilliance that signals something joyful has arrived. Learn to love that moment of brilliance, and your habit troubles fade like the night.

[Ed. Note. Leo Babauta is the owner of ZenHabits.net, a website devoted to providing clear and concise wisdom on how to simplify your life. He’s also the author of, The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential, in Business and in Life.]
  • awad

    The problem is not starting a habit. That’s like drinking water to me. The question is how to stop one, like putting a kind of tobacco under your lip every 10 minutes.

  • salam

    Thank u very much, am from 2moro going to start a habit, and will follow ur good counsul

  • Edward H. Tran

    Great advice. So easy and so simple: just get started. I wonder why I didn’t think of that, or hear anyone else said so. Brilliant idea. Thanks so much for sharing. I’ll put it to use immediately.

  • Tanu uniyal

    This whole site is just ubersome….
    the articles are just unique and almost always different.

    I’m LOVING IT.
    very refreshing indeed.

  • Adrian

    I have started a gym programme that has me enthused for the first time in…well ever, and seeing results makes me more excited. Last friday when everyone went home early to avoid the snow I was left alone in the office, because I was not going to let snow get in the way of my progress.

    I no know that I can act and follow through, which was always my problem, promises and plans, all fart and no… well you know the rest.

    I will put this application to my business idea, all the research in the world won’t help if I don’t get started. I’ve got over my unwillingness to try lest I fail. Small steps but vital ones.

  • Michelle, NYC

    Excellent!! This is just the encouragement I needed to continue on. For the last 3 weeks, I have made it my business that during office hours (9:30 am – 5:30 pm), I will walk around the floor one time, to keep my blood circulating. I sit all day long, and since I’ve been walking, every 30 minutes, the stiffness in my joints have lessen. I feel so much better. Also, a couple of my co-workers have picked up the habit. After reading this article I am going to commit to a few more Powerful Habits.

    Thank you for the encouragement!

  • priyabrat

    Thank you very much..Really it’s a very good motivational article..