How do you form a new, effective habit?

You may have a big goal that you want to achieve but are afraid. What if you fail? What if you fail again? Easy to just opt to not try than take the risk. But what if a new habit will serve you well. What if it’s worth the risk? How can you make sure you are successful? How do you form a new habit that is sustainable and you don’t let yourself or others down?

I hear these questions in a wide array of circumstances including in my virtual program, Your Great Year. The folks in this program are in action. They’re ready for movement and momentum. With a bit of support they’re creating powerful goals in their work and personal circumstances, from fitness to mindfulness, from productivity and balance, from business milestones to major personal life shifts. In other words, they are incredibly committed to being successful and yet there is that negative inner voice that says, “but will you really be, weren’t you unsuccessful the last time?” 

I hear this frequently when people approach me following a keynote presentation too.  They will tell me they want to take action but aren’t sure where to start. That they want to recognize their own or others’ greatness, but what if it comes off wrong? What is going to be different this time?

A new habit. 

Habits is merely changing a behaviour until it becomes the new norm. Tricky thing about habit (on top of our self-doubt and past stories of “lack of success” in changing habits) is that there’s a lot of misunderstanding about habits.  That’s why I, someone who normally talks about recognition, has a bit of a vested interest in making sure that people get the habits thing right!

Habit Tip #1: Forget about Time

How many days does it take to form a new habit?

I have a feeling the number that came into your head was 21.  No matter which audience I speak for, no matter how many people are in the audience, no matter what the education level is in the room, the magic number I heard is 21 days. [Confession time: in my co-authored book, Forever Recognize Others’ Greatness, I didn’t know this at the time when we published it…we reference 21 days!] Where did 21 days come from then? It was actually based on one study from years ago that studied how long it took patients to adjust to plastic surgery; there was never any intention of that research going mainstream for all things habits!

Habit Tip #2: Prime your Brain

The new neuroscience of habits notes that it takes up to 66 days to form a new habit. Good news is that it may take you even less if you also use visualization. I don’t mean they are one and the same, but rather visualization helps in the process of creating new neuropathways that don’t exist so your brain can lock down these new lovely neural connections from a new habit.  In trying something for the first time and you haven’t visualized it, you haven’t primed your brain.  It’s like making sure you have all the right ingredients before you start cooking – you will be more successful and enjoy yourself more!

Habit Tip #3: Just Start

Instead of going out and jumping in to your biggest possible goal, come up with the smallest increment of change that you can make toward your goal and begin with that.  For example, you want to run a half marathon. Instead consider your habit running every day. The smallest increment of your new habit might be setting your alarm early enough to get a run in. Well, if you’re up you might as well get up. The next day, put your shoes beside your bed. If you’re up early and your shoes are beside your bed, you might as well put them on. And if they’re on you might as well walk around. And if you’re walking around with your shoes in the house, how silly do you feel? You might as well go outside. Before week’s end, you’re briskly walking. The next week you’re interspersing it with a light jog. See where I’m going with this? Start small and gain the motivation to get you going further. Don’t believe me? All of this is from amazing research out of Stanford University. Check out the Tiny Habits website for a wealth of information.

Habit Tip #4: Enjoy Yourself

Personal and organizational change expert, Sandeep Aujla notes, pick a goal.  Something that you want to change in a way you can practice and enjoy it. Imagine enjoying something that you’re doing!  If I decided that I was going to run, I know I’m a social person. I would find it so much more enjoyable if someone ran with me and helped me stay motivated with positive comments.  If you are a competitive person, motivate yourself by running to an objective or goal, record your scores.   Find a way for you to enjoy it!

So, what habit do you need to form? And which of the four tips are you going to use starting now?

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

Deb Rakonjac

Organizational Development, Purolator Inc.

"Sarah nailed it!  She worked with the planning group to learn about the organization, the audience, the desired key messages and integrated it seamlessly into her keynote. Her energy was contagious! We received rave reviews of this portion of our event and Sarah was able to speak to all members of our organization in a way that motivated them to recognize others everyday. Our executives were extraordinarily pleased and integrated FROGging into their recent board meeting. Purolator is grateful to Sarah for dropping the pebble and we continue to see the ripples from this session across the organization. Working with Tami was phenomenal and the supports were easy to integrate to ensure the session went well. Thanks to you both!!"
Douglas D Swift

President & CEO, Swiftco Inc.

"I have had the Sarah experience in numerous settings: As a keynote, around a table with several other business owners, one on one over coffee, chatting with others at a conference reception, dining with a small group of colleagues. No matter the setting you always get the same Sarah: engaging, attentive, interested, inspiring, motivational, genuine. And always with an infectious smile. Do yourself, your company, your association a favour. Get the Greatness Magnified (Sarah) experience. The payback is priceless."
Judy Kucharuk

Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

"Funny, full of energy and incredibly motivating – all words to use when describing Sarah and her passionate stage presence. We were fortunate to have Sarah join us as a speaker for Spark Women’s Leadership Conferences and her presentations about leveraging greatness hit the core of our objective at SPARK: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. I would not hesitate to recommend Sarah to other organizations that are searching for a well-prepared, well-organized, thoughtful and passionate storyteller."
Shelley VanVeen

Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

"Sarah brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our International Women’s Day event at Libro! Her message was uplifting, thought-provoking and truly appreciated by our team. Dealing with Sarah was wonderful – she was open, professional and willing to work with us to customize her message to incorporate our culture and connect to our topic and participants. During the session, she was a pro with a powerful message and a fantastic delivery. We had wonderful feedback from all that attended and can’t wait to have Sarah back for another session in the future!"
Sylvia D’Intino

Executive Director, Community Living Hamilton

"THANK YOU so very much for leading the engagement activities today! You’re a constant professional, with an amazing attitude and always seeing the great in everyone. I am grateful for how you have helped us this year to transform our in-person staff recognition events into virtual and on-location events. Our staff feel more inspired, appreciated and motivated after they hear you speak, and I know our amazing in-house team here looks forward to designing engaging appreciation events with your support."
Melissa Chaulk

Manager of Professional Development

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

"We work hard at CDHA to give our members a wonderful conference experience, so we were thrilled to have received resoundingly positive feedback on Sarah's opening plenary keynote. It was the highest attended of the entire conference for both dates!"
Jamie Campbell

Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

"Smart, challenging, innovative, committed, dependable, and reliable, I highly recommend her for all your recognition needs. I have brought Sarah into my last two organizations to help build a culture of recognition and celebration. The focus on appreciation is more important now than ever."

Some of the Great Organizations We Serve