By Lisa Caplan

Why are opening the blinds in the morning, brushing your teeth, not touching a hot pot, tying the same shoe first, or getting a cup of coffee when you get to work so automatic that we don’t even think about them? It’s because these behaviors are habits that you have developed. A habit is something that is done regularly because it has been cued by something in the environment or a situation and it occurs without thought. 

There is some controversy over how long it takes to develop a habit.  Some say it takes only 21 days to form a habit; some say years; while others say it  can take only seconds depending upon the emotion that goes along with the decision to  start  behaving in a certain way. For example, if you touch a hot pot or stove when you are young, you will experience pain and therefore you will develop the habit to not touch a hot pot or stove ever again. Another example might be that you have been wanting to lose weight and get fit for several years, but just haven’t been able to do it. Then your doctor tells you that if you don’t lose weight, change your eating habits, and start exercising you most likely will die early of heart disease. Now the emotional discomfort that comes from hearing that you will die early is enough to make you change your behavior.  Psychologists refer to this as a “significant emotional experience.” This is any experience that has intense happiness or pain, combined with a behavior,which causes a habitual behavior pattern that may last the rest of the individual’s life.

According to Aristotle, We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”  Developing new habits takes work. Here are some tips that may help:

  1. Identify  your ultimate goal. Make a decision that this is what you want to do with no exceptions.
  2. Develop a plan that  works for you and write it down.  Stick with it. Don’t allow yourself to not do it during the initial stages of habit development. At least the first 3 months.  Knowing what your endpoint is will help you develop the steps needed to reach your goal.  Research shows that having a plan will help you stick to your goal.  If you want to get up by 6:00am and you currently get up at 10 you will want to create a plan that may have you gradually getting up an hour earlier over a period of time until you have reached your goal.  
  3. Start with one small goal at a time.  If you want to eat healthier, start with one small change.  Maybe cut out soda or chips.  Meal prep ahead of time or meet with a nutritionist for a plan and to be accountable. Taking on too many changes at once can set you up to fail.
  4. Remind yourself frequently why you want to accomplish your goal.  Put it as your wallpaper on your phone, write it down or tape it to your mirror. Reminding yourself will help motivate you to accomplish your goal.
  5. Visualize yourself doing your new behavior. Visualizing your new habit is powerful and has been shown to accelerate the speed of adopting a new behavior.  It will take hold in your subconscious and become a habit.
  6. Look at and Prepare for all the bumps in the road that can get in your way. You are trying to eat healthier and you have a party coming up.  Make a plan with intent on how you will handle it.  Exercise that day, eat something before you go so you don’t stuff yourself, decide how much you want to drink.  Looking at all the obstacles ahead of time will help you figure out how to avoid them.
  7. Tell everyone in your support system.  When you share with other people you will become accountable for the habit you want to develop.  Find a friend or group to support each other on your new habits.
  8. Continue with your new behavior until not doing it feels uncomfortable.
  9. Small rewards go a long way. Immediate, small rewards reinforce the pleasure of doing your new habit. Maybe visit the coffee shop right next to the gym after your workout, eat a small snack that you only have after working out, meet up with friends, listen to music you don’t usually listen to. You start to associate the reward with the behavior and this helps to stick with it. The reward reinforces that behavior.
  10. Try starting a new habit while on vacation. When we are on vacation, our schedule is interrupted, which is a good time to introduce something new that hopefully will stick when you return home.


For more tips on wellness check out the Wellness Portal

For assistance, please contact the Lawyer Assistance Program for free, confidential counseling. We have a network of counselors that can assist you no matter what state you live in. Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C, Director, (443) 703-3042, Free 1(888) 388-5459.  We offer financial assistance for mental health and substance abuse treatment. Please feel free to reach out to our LAP Committee Members and Volunteers

Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C has over 25 years experience in her field, and extensive experience working with lawyers and judges in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and trauma. In her free time she enjoys spending time with family and friends, paddle boarding, sailing, rock climbing and doing triathlons.