Developing a New Habit: 12 Steps

“I really need to study organic chemistry daily.”

“I want to clean my room once a week.”

“I want to go to the library for two hours every afternoon to get my homework done.”

“I want to exercise three times a week.”

Whether or not you have ADHD, developing a new habit can be challenging. I recently tried to develop a new habit doing some knee exercises a physical therapist (PT) had given me. It was a bit of a challenge!

Knowing what you might encounter, and how to overcome potential challenges involved, can be helpful.  Take a look at these 12 tips to support your efforts:

1) Know why you want to develop the new habit, and the consequences of not doing so. I am an avid hiker and was experiencing knee pain. When my physical therapist sold me I would have to tape my knees daily for 4-6 weeks, I was a bit taken aback, but I really wanted to keep hiking, so I was motivated!

2) Hook a new habit to something you already do. The only way I was going to remember to do the taping was to do it right after my morning shower before anything else. Shower, taping. Shower, taping. I created a link in my mind – an anchor – that helped me remember to do the taping.

3) Expect frustration. Some mornings I was eager to get going on things, or I got up a bit late and felt hurried before an appointment. The taping aggravated me, and the time it took was frustrating, grrrrr, but recognizin gthat frustration is part of the change process, I pressed on with it.

3) Don’t be surprised by complications. My PT decided I needed to add in some knee exercises. Aargh – when would I do those? Going back to tip number two (hook a new habit to somethigin you already do) I decided to do them while I watched the evening news.

4) Ask for accountability. The news would come and go, and I would forget to do the exercises.  But, at my next appointment, when the PT asked how the exercises were going, I re-committed myself to doing them, knowing she’d ask again! (If only she would check in daily!!)

5) Set yourself up for success. I realized I could not find the sheet of exercises my PT had given me. But, I couldn’t do the exercises without it! So, I looked for it and designated one spot to keep it in – on the table in my home office.

6) Troubleshoot as needed. Many days, I would be watching the news, and I still felt reluctant to get up to get the sheet of exercises. What might help? I decided to keep the sheet in the living room near the TV.

7) Expect some confusion, and ask for help. After trying the exercises for a few days, I realized I was uncertain if I was doing some of them properly, so at my next appointment, I asked for clarification… and I took notes on what the PT said.

8) Sometimes is better than never. Although I didn’t do the exercises daily at first, I didn’t let that frustrate me. Change is challenging at first. Then, the more I did them, the easier it became to do them again.

9) Reward step-wise progress. Each time I went to the PT feeling badly because I wasn’t doing the exercises daily, she congratulated me for taking them seriously. OK, I thought, maybe I am making progress – step by step! That recognition felt better than focusing on my failure to be totally compliant with the plan. It was much more motivating! Don’t focus on failures… Instead, celebrate successes, no matter how small!

10) Get back on the horse! I went away for several days and didn’t do the exercises while I was gone. Darn! It was hard to start up again, but I had worked so hard, I didn’t want to lose my momentum, so I kept my goal in mind (step #1 again!!) and was able to start back up.

11) Be patient. Developing a new habit is not an over-night project. Keep your goal in mind, give yourself time, allow for mistakes, and hang in with the process. If it’s important to you, you can make it happen!

12) If needed, get help! If you are having trouble moving forward on your own, add in more accountability and support. Consider hiring a coach to help you plan and trouble-shoot and, most importantly, to cheer you on!

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