How to Form Good Habits: 5 Simple Questions to Ask Yourself

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You’ve got a fire in your gut, you go out and get new sneakers, you just downloaded the newest fitness app and tomorrow is the big day, you’re going to start exercising. You want to run a marathon someday, and there is nothing that can stop you. Until two weeks later and you can’t recall the desire, you don’t have the energy, and running that someday marathon gets put on the “maybe next year” list. Sound familiar? Starting new, healthier habits is something we all think about from time to time. We all know that eating right once every so often or occasionally reading or randomly doing push-ups will not do much to improve the quality of your life. So how does a person get started on a new good habit, or stay stopped on that pesky bad one? Truth is we all know more or less WHAT to do (and what not to do) it’s not a big mystery. So then, what stops us from doing it? How do we get new habits that last?

The answer is once you have decided WHAT to do. You must ask, and answer a few, if not all of these simple questions. Who, When, Where, Why, and How.  We often never ask WHY, we don’t find out HOW, we don’t carve out a WHEN, we don’t know WHO we must become, or WHO to do it with and we don’t create a WHERE. We get better answers for life’s questions when we ask better questions. Simply deciding that you want to do “X” and going out and doing it a few times will not magically manifest a new habit. To paraphrase Sadhguru, a popular yogi, your life won’t be much different if you only change the CONTENT, for big change you need better CONTEXT. What to do is only the beginning, let’s explore Why, When, Where, Who, and How.


The Personal Development World is buzzing with this notion that you should know your Why. Nietczsche said,” He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Why matters because when something gets hard, and it will, Why can pull you through. A strong well defined Why will serve as fuel to drive you when will power fails. I like to use the image of the mother who normally strains to pick up large sacks of groceries but can somehow miraculously lift a car when her child is trapped underneath. The power of that Why( and some serious adrenaline) gave her the ability. Without a why most people will not continue their new behavior often enough and consistently enough to form a habit. If all else fails, and you’re dealing with a less serious issue, you can always fall back on Why Not. It works too!


So you’ve decided to get healthy, your doctor says its time or else and you’ve got kids, you want to see them get married and so on. You have your WHAT, and a pretty good WHY so let’s get started on your new habit, but WHEN? You might answer back, “Right Away!” and you’d be half right but then what. In talking about When I mean scheduling and time management. The weeds of our busy-ness in our stress filled lives leave no soil for the seeds of a new habit to take root.

When I trained for the Philadelphia Marathon in 2014 I created a calendar with all of the times clearly written on it to show when I would be running. I was working full-time, so was my wife, and we had our two year-old to care for so time was at a premium.  I shared the list of my running dates with my wife and secured her support. It was clearly understood that on the days and times indicated I was unavailable, I would be running. I didn’t have to wrestle with “should I run today?” Or “when will I ever find time?!”  I knew I wanted to run that marathon, I already paid the entry fee. I knew that not preparing physically for the event would be a disaster so off I went. Even though I was not a runner per se, I quickly and easily cultivated a habit of running because I scheduled it into my life. Make time for your new habit, keep the weeds away and watch it grow.


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Last year I decided I wanted to become a reader. After all, don’t the best and brightest (not to mention richest) people in the world all credit reading as being integral to their success? I wanted to be in that club. I began purchasing books faster than I could read them, mostly because I wasn’t really reading them. I was a book buyer, not a reader, we will talk more about that when we get to “WHO”. I piled books in my bedroom, near my nightstand, in boxes in the garage and anywhere else that I could find space. Then one day I was listening to Jim Rohn and he mentioned his “home library” and how he felt smarter just walking in there and he went on to say, “If you haven’t got a mansion with a spare room for your library, then get yourself a bookshelf, and start your library.” Made sense to me, I gathered up all those stray books, close to 300 titles, and built my “home library”. A quiet, comfortable, well-lit corner of my bedroom with a book shelf. I am now quite the avid reader, having a “Where” helped me develop the habit.


Who can take on two meanings in this exercise. First there is the Who that is you. If you want to start a new habit it is helpful to cultivate the “Who”, an identity of the person who does this thing you want to start doing. For example, in 2014 I began referring to myself as a runner, not just saying that I run, identifying myself as a Runner. Last year I became a Reader, not just someone who reads, I am a Reader. Cultivate an identity around the new behavior and it is more likely to stick. Tony Robbins says, “If you think you’re a smoker, you will never be able to quit.” You must identify on a personal level with the new behavior if you want to create lasting change.

The other aspect of Who is finding out Who else. Who else does this thing I want to do, or who doesn’t do this thing I want to stop doing. Support groups, Accountability Partners, Workout Buddies and so on, all of these peer support systems increase your chance for success. Get around people who are doing what you want to do and new habits will form organically.


By now you should probably know the answer. You get a good enough Why, carve out a When, make a Where, become the Who and How is bound to materialize. Les Brown goes so far as to say, “How is none of your business.”

If the first four questions haven’t shown you a How then it might be time to call in the experts. Never shy away from asking someone, from your “Who” group perhaps, “How did you do it?” Then maybe a light comes on, an inspiration, and before you know it your new habit is something you can’t even remember what life was like before you started it.



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