Women waking up to an early sunrise forming a new habit

Forming new habits

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It is easy to fall into bad habits and trying to give them up can be hard (see our article on Why behaviour change is hard). A study by the University of Scranton published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, suggests that only 8% of people who make New Year’s resolutions are likely to succeed. However, all is not lost as there are ways to form and stick to a new habit. We’ve compiled some advice to help you along your way.


Be specific when forming a new habit

This year you want to spend more time with your family. It sounds great, but it isn’t very specific. If something isn’t well-defined, it will be difficult to measure and achieve. Think instead about how you can spend more time with the family. For example, you will leave work on time three days a week or eat dinner with the family every weeknight.


Forming a new habit? Be realistic

You want to form a new habit where you go to the gym four times a week, but right now you don’t go to the gym at all. Sometimes called the ‘false hope syndrome’, we are more likely to fail when we have unrealistic expectations about the ease, effort and speed to make the change. In this case, it is better to start off with going once a week and then building it up over time.


One thing at a time

You want to exercise more, drink less, read more books, watch less TV, and quit smoking. That is a lot to achieve all in one go. Instead, focus on one and when that becomes a habit you move on to the next goal.


Ask why

To keep motivated, figure out why you are doing it and make sure it is something you want to do (not something you think you should do).


Ask for support

Ask your friends and family for support. It is hard to break an old bad habit and start a new one if you are doing it by yourself. If you want to eat healthy meals, see if you can encourage your partner to join you. If you want to cut back on alcohol, go to a museum with a friend instead of heading to the bar where the temptation may be too great.



You can reward yourself as you go along to reinforce your new habit. Rewards can be small and they don’t need to be expensive, but it should be something you don’t normally do.


There are different schools of thought about how long it will take to develop a new habit. Some experts say six weeks while others say 90 days. A recent study from the University College London suggested that depending on the circumstances, it takes 66 days on average to form a new habit.

The longer you stick with your new habit, the more likely it will become natural, and you won’t even have to think about it.


If you or someone you know needs support, please reach out to one of our counselling services.

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