How to Form a New Habit (Even If You’ve Failed at It Before)

Friends, it can be so hard to form a new habit. There are some things that I have tried to integrate into my routine over and over again, just to fall away and fail each and every time. It can be absolutely maddening! 🙂

Recently, though, I was able to break through that roadblock and successfully establish a new routine that I had previously failed at time and again. Once I realized that I had finally been successful at it, I began to ask myself, “Why was this time different? What things did I have in place to help me form a new habit rather than falling back into old ones?”

And of course I thought I’d share my findings with you, because that’s what we do around here! 😀

Love this post about developing new habits! Her strategy makes so much sense-- I may actually be able to form those new habits using her steps! Click through to the post to read more!

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.

My Story

So what was this habit that I had tried and failed at many times? I bet it’s one that some of you may be working on too…

It’s exercise.

I wasn’t always bad at it. In fact, I used to be an exercise fanatic. In college I would wake up at 5:30 am so I could get to the gym right when it opened, even if I didn’t have any early morning classes. Even after I had Connor I was really disciplined about exercise and got into the best shape I had ever been in.

Love this post about developing new habits! Her strategy makes so much sense-- I may actually be able to form those new habits using her steps! Click through to the post to read more!

When I got pregnant with Caleb, though, I got tired. Really, really tired. And though exercise probably would have helped to combat this, I gave up on it and took lots of extra naps instead. 🙂

Love this post about developing new habits! Her strategy makes so much sense-- I may actually be able to form those new habits using her steps! Click through to the post to read more!

photo by elle and arre photography

After he arrived, with the busy-ness of two kids, I never got back into my routine. Then I started the blog, and fitness continued to take a back seat.

For the past five years, I have tried SO MANY TIMES to get into a successful exercise routine, failing every single time.

Then in October, I decided I was fed up. I wasn’t technically overweight, but I was heavier than I was comfortable with. And even more than not liking how my clothes fit, I just didn’t feel very good– I had no energy, would get winded easily, and I had a hard time focusing on anything. I needed to change. And this time, I wanted it to stick.

The strategies that I’m about to share are what finally helped me develop a consistent exercise routine, but the same methods can be used to develop almost any habit. Here’s what I did to make a lasting change:

1. I set a goal.

Always, always, always have a goal in mind, something you’re working toward! I love goal setting because I believe it really truly WORKS! If I take the time to think about and write down what I want my end result to be, whenever I feel like giving up, I just picture that end result and it motivates me to keep going.

Love this post about developing new habits! Her strategy makes so much sense-- I may actually be able to form those new habits using her steps! Click through to the post to read more!

(Grab a pretty goal setting printable in this post.)

When I decided that I was finally going to conquer this exercise thing, I had a weight in mind I wanted to reach, but my biggest goal was to get to the point where I actually enjoyed exercising again, where it didn’t feel like I was going to die every second of the workout and I looked forward to the endorphin high that came along with exercise.

I remembered what that was like, but it had been a LONG time since I had felt that way and I was on a mission to be back there again. Don’t skip the goal setting part– it’s so important to have something you’re shooting for!

2. I found someone to hold me accountable.

Now telling anyone about your plan to make a change is better than telling no one, but I have found that it is especially helpful if your accountability buddy is 1. someone you respect, 2. someone who is already consistent at the habit you want to develop, and 3. someone who will be intentional about checking in with you to see how it’s going.

When I was looking for someone to hold me accountable, I turned to my friend Mandy from House of Rose. I have always respected Mandy as a person, a mom, and a blogger and had been inspired by watching her own fitness journey over the past several months.

I knew she had already made a permanent change and would hold me accountable to do the same. I joined one of her fitness challenge groups, and she would check in with us daily to make sure we were staying on track.

Love this post about developing new habits! Her strategy makes so much sense-- I may actually be able to form those new habits using her steps! Click through to the post to read more!

Me, Mandy, and Natalie (of At Home with Natalie) when we were crazy enough to wrangle alllllll of our kiddos around the zoo together!

Because I knew I would have someone checking in on me, I was much more motivated to keep my habit going– I didn’t want to have to confess that I had fallen off the wagon!

3. I made a specific plan and wrote it down.

This was key! Yes, it’s great to have someone else to hold me accountable, but I am the one who had to actually put in the work and make the decision to follow through every day. If my plan would have consisted of just “exercise more,” I would have been a lot less likely to follow through than if I knew in advance exactly which workout I was going to do each day at a specific time.

I took a blank calendar and wrote everything out so I wouldn’t have any decisions to make each day. I knew what I had to do, so there was no question. I just woke up, put on my workout clothes, and did it.

It’s amazing what a simple calendar can do! I’ve provided a blank one here for you. Print it out, and write down your plan for developing your new habit. Decide in advance what you’re going to do each day, and be sure to add a specific time. Make that appointment immovable!

Love this post about developing new habits! Her strategy makes so much sense-- I may actually be able to form those new habits using her steps! Click through to the post to read more!

{Click here to download your FREE blank calendar page, and start making that plan!}

4. I found someone that I could hold accountable.

After I had been in my new exercise routine for about three weeks, I convinced Donnie that he should join me. Not only did this make working out more fun, but now I felt like I was not only responsible for me but for him as well.

That added responsibility kept me going and got me out of bed when I didn’t feel like waking up to do a workout. And Donnie and I could spur each other on and keep each other going if either of us felt like quitting.

Love this post about developing new habits! Her strategy makes so much sense-- I may actually be able to form those new habits using her steps! Click through to the post to read more!

photo by elle and arre photography

5. I challenged myself.

With exercise and other habits, it’s easy to get bored and want to quit. Once I had accomplished one level of my goal, I needed to challenge myself to continue to get better and try harder things so that I wasn’t tempted to quit.

I had started my new exercise habit by doing the 21 Day Fix program, then Donnie and I completed the same program together. After two rounds, I was ready for something new, so Donnie and I moved on to Hammer and Chisel, a more advanced program. Having a new challenge helped me to renew my effort and kept me motivated to keep going and keep developing my new habit.

Love this post about developing new habits! Her strategy makes so much sense-- I may actually be able to form those new habits using her steps! Click through to the post to read more!

If health and fitness are habits you’re trying to build too, snag my free printable fitness tracker in this post.

Whatever habit you’re trying to work on, if you begin to feel bored, give yourself an extra challenge and a reason to be excited about it again.

6. If I messed up, I kept going.

Our brains are funny. I have often found that if I miss a workout or eat something unhealthy, my mind wants to say, “Well, the day/week is ruined. You might as well skip the rest of the week or eat whatever you want for the rest of the day.” Why do we do that?! It makes no sense, but that’s what my mind seems to tell me every time.

I’ve found, though, that with fitness and with other habits that I’m trying to develop, that the sooner I can get back on track, the more likely I am to continue with my habit.

Yes, I’m going to fail sometimes, but it’s not the end of the world, and it is much better to get right back on it and keep going than find an excuse to take more time off.

7. I tracked my results.

This is hugely motivating. When we’re in the midst of developing habits and it’s hard and we feel like quitting, it’s so helpful to have a reminder of how far we’ve come. With fitness, I am able to do this with measurements and photos.

On a day when I was questioning whether all of my work was paying off and whether it was worth it to keep it up, I happened to have Donnie take a few photos of me for an upcoming blog project. When I looked at the new photos compared with a similar photo of me right before I started working out again, I could definitely see some differences, and it was just the encouragement I needed to keep going.

Love this post about developing new habits! Her strategy makes so much sense-- I may actually be able to form those new habits using her steps! Click through to the post to read more!

(Okay, so maybe I’m the only one that can tell a difference, but I was excited about it! 🙂 )

Since my biggest goal was to change the way I felt about myself and about exercise, I also kept a log on my phone of how I felt after workouts, what changes I was noticing, etc. It’s fun to look back and see the notes change from “I hate this and it hurts” to “Maybe I saw some small changes today” to “I’m actually looking forward to working out! Who is this girl?!” 🙂

After learning how important it was to write down and track my progress, I created a pretty printable Fitness Journal as another tool to help hold myself accountable!

Deluxe Fitness Journal Printables | https://www.abbylawson.com/deluxe-fitness-journal-printables

The “journal” method works for countless other habits too. When you have a written record of how you felt and how you’ve progressed, it’s really amazing to see how much can change in just a few weeks or months!

So those are the things that have worked for me over the past five-ish months! I was truly at a point where I didn’t know if I would ever feel motivated to exercise again, but the combination of the strategies listed above worked wonders for me.

If there is a habit or routine that you just can’t seem to get into, I encourage you to try them out and see if they work for you!

If you have other tips and tricks for conquering those hard-to-keep habits, I’d love to hear about them in the comments! You can do this, friend!

Just a Girl and Her Blog Sign Off

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.

28 Comments

  1. I started to exercise and failed soooo many times. A couple of weeks ago I joined a gym again and then got the flu. I was supposed to go back yesterday but found milion excuses not to. Today was shapeing up to be much the same so this post is just what I needed. Thank you for the motivation to go to the gym today.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      You can do it! So glad the post was timely for you! 🙂 Have a great day, Kay!

      ~Abby =)

  2. Christene Holder says:

    This was such a timely post for me. I was doing so well working out last year. I started with a goal in mind – losing some weight by the time we moved into our new townhome. I was happy with how I was progressing and it was going well. Then we moved in, and things got extra crazy and other personal life things happened. Then we hit the holidays and winter (ugh). Then I started a blog (with the help of your book!!) and that’s taken up even more of my time. I totally fell off my routine. I need to figure out how to make time for my day job, my blog, and also working out. A lot of the time the working out part gets pushed to the side. Part of the issue was that we had a free gym to use when we lived in our apartment but once we moved into the house that was gone. We are supposed to have a free gym for our community but it got delayed and hasn’t been built yet. I need to take your advice and get myself on track to doing “in-home” workouts. Thanks for sharing your journey! You look great in both pictures by the way – but I totally understand you wanting to workout to feel good again! 🙂

  3. Great tips and motivation here. I am wondering what your actual routine is? You mentioned morning workouts. Do you get going right out of bed or coffee first? I seem to have my coffee first then before I know it time has run out for my workout! ? Oh how I love my coffee though! Just wondering what worked for you.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Hi, Sarah! I’m not a coffee drinker, so no coffee for me! I just get up, change into my workout clothes and go downstairs to work out. Donnie and I have a standing workout date at 6:45 am, so I make sure I’m down there by then. He, on the other hand, is an early riser and a major coffee drinker, so he wakes up at 5, has coffee, does some work, then meets me at 6:45 to work out. So really, whatever works for you is fine as long as you’re consistent!

      ~Abby =)

  4. Ann @ The Clumsy Wife says:

    Abby, you look amazing!! Congrats on your successful journey and your new haircut is so cute 🙂

  5. I love your blog(s). This particular post was very timely and apropos for my current situation. I am going to institute these ideas into my goalsetting.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      So glad it was helpful for you, Maria! Have a wonderful weekend!

      ~Abby =)

  6. Sierra @ Happy Curious Life says:

    This post came at such a great time for me. I am the worst at keeping disciplined and forming habits. I love all the tips you gave, especially about making goals and writing all your logs and feelings down! I find that linking habits to thins I already do also help. For example, I wanted to start eating breakfast in the mornings; so I made a goal tracker in my bullet journal and told myself, “After I brush my teeth, I will eat yogurt and fruits.” This helped me know exactly when I would eat and what I was going to eat.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      So glad it was helpful for you Sierra! Have a great weekend!

      ~Abby =)

  7. Emily @ Small Stuff Counts says:

    Thank you for this post, Abby! I’ve really been feeling down with my lack of exercise for the last month, but I know I just haven’t really made a great effort to get myself back on track. It’s funny how quickly one can fall out of a habit! Even though I’ve written several blog posts myself about forming habits, it’s still a struggle for me to form them sometimes! By reading your story here, you’re helped me realize that I haven’t taken the time to write out a good plan to really set myself up for success from the beginning. I also love the idea of doing some different challenges – I get bored of the same thing pretty quickly! This is just what I needed to read on this rainy day. I’m going to print out a calendar and write out my workout plan tonight. Keep up the healthy habits!

  8. Mandy Hank says:

    Congrats girlie- I know that is a tough one! You look great and I am glad you are feeling better about yourself!

  9. Karen @ a house full of sunshine says:

    Looking great, Abby! Loved this post, and that’s as someone who’s currently in the “heavily pregnant and would rather take a nap” stage right now. 😉 In fact I’m about to quit my gym membership because I’m totally not using it, and won’t be able to for a while after baby arrives either as I’m having a C-section. Scares me a little because I used to be a gym junkie, but this past year I’ve completely fallen off the wagon. Hoarding your tips for when I’m ready and decide to lose that baby weight! 🙂 xo

  10. Denise Greenwood (frazzled JOY) says:

    Thanks for this post! I went dress shopping yesterday and was so annoyed by the way things weren’t fitting. I have known for a while that I am really out of shape, but now it’s starting to show too, which is not okay. I hate working out, but i am beginning to understand it is a necessary evil. This was a good word for me that it’s going to take commitment. Great job by the way!

  11. Carol Palmer says:

    Have you read Gretchen Rubin’s book “Better than Before”? Instead of a one size fits all plan, she has broken people down into 4 tendencies – Questioner, Upholder, Obliger, and Rebel. Then once you know your tendency, you can figure out how to make a habit stick for you.

    1. Jess Spinner says:

      Carol! I was just going to comment on the exact same book, I just read it! As a coach I found it so amazing and eye opening. I think it’s really going to change the way I work with clients now that I can help them identify which of the tendencies they fit into and how this effects their habit forming mojo!

  12. Kristine Hart says:

    Of course more than yourself noticed. You look fantastic! Not that you didn’t look fantastic before. I understand not be over weight but not comfortable with where you are on the scale.
    btw- You look great with blond hair!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Aw, thank you Kristine! You are TOO sweet! Have a great week!

      ~Abby =)

  13. Mandy Rose says:

    You did so awesome girl!! So proud of you for sticking it out! You need to share those real before and after photos…. BOOM! 🙂

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Eek– befores and afters are scary, lol! Thank you so much for your vote of confidence and for holding me accountable! Hope you’re having a great week!

      ~Abby =)

  14. I can tell a difference in your arms and possibly your waist but MOSTLY in you smile. Your face says “self-confidence”. This last is possibly the biggest difference in the picture as well as in your life. Great job, Abbey!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      You are SO sweet, Barbara! Thanks so much! Have a wonderful week!

      ~Abby =)

  15. pastryandprimer says:

    One thing that I think can help some people with making healthy habits is when you give yourself a reward once you meet your goal. Ofcourse that isn’t always necessary if perhaps you want to lose a dress size, I suppose the smaller waistline would be a reward in itself! It works well for things like making your bed every morning and let’s say you want to do that for 66 days straight (that’s supposedly how long it takes to make a habit) once you get to your goal you can treat yourself with your reward, perhaps some new fun pillows for the bed! It gives added incentive and helps to make you want to concur your next goal. I would recommend deciding on the reward when you first start though so you can keep it in mind.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Yes! Totally agree. Works well for both kids and adults! Hope you have a great week!

      ~Abby =)

  16. Kristina Ogrins says:

    I like the additional tip of getting someone else to be accountable for, not just someone to be accountable to. I agree that it’s a great way to keep yourself going if you feel like you can be a help to someone else as well. I think I would be less focused on my shortcomings and complain less about getting whatever it is done if I was to focus on someone else’s progress.

  17. Samantha Katherine Bender says:

    This could not have come at a better time. I start the 21 day fix today, and I’m dreading the exercise because I’m 1) super out of shape and 2) scared that I won’t commit to it. I’m going to try some of these techniques, and hopefully it’ll push me towards staying with it! Thanks for sharing! And good for you for getting yourself back into an exercise routine and pushing yourself. You can definitely tell a difference in your arms, although you look great before and after! Thanks again for the Monday motivation and the boost to succeed!

  18. You look great Abby! Good for you! Have you read Gretchen Rubin’s “Better Than Before?” It’s all about habit change. She says finding someone to be accountable to is very important for obligers-which is what I am. These are great tips! Thanks!

  19. Heather Alexander says:

    You go girl! I have been struggling for about 8 months to stay on track with nutrition – it’s really hard with kids, hubs, businesses, church events, etc. to stay focused on eating the right thing, especially if healthy options aren’t available. When I do the Clean Eating Challenge (Arbonne) I ALWAYS am reminded that it’s about preparation! PLAN to not have healthy options around you and pack a baggie of something yummy + pure in your bag. This is, of course, easier said than done – if we’re running late preparing a healthy snack to go is the last thing on my mind… I literally have to PLAN to prepare! lol… Make the snacks when I have 15 mins.

    I think people believe it’s supposed to be easy, but nothing worth having is ever easy, including health and fitness and nutrition. And there are so many different plans it can get overwhelming. I’m glad you found something that works for you and your family! Awesomesauce!

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