The 5 stages of habit formation
Forming a new habit is a difficult, but not impossible challenge.
When attempting to form a new habit, most people make the mistake of only looking at their results, rather than the whole journey it took to get there.
Forming a new habit involves 5 distinct stages: Select, Sample, Start, Stick, and Stretch.
Three of these stages form the actual Habit Formation sequence: Start, Stick, and Stretch. Without this sequence, we often enter into the Relapse Loop, where we keep falling back into our old behavior patterns, attempting to start again, failing over and over, which ultimately leads to frustration and despair.
Before we even get to the habit sequence, we need to take a step back and set ourselves up for success by really understanding the first two stages of Habit Formation: Select and Sample:
Select: half the battle when making the decision to form a new habit is to just start. But before we can start, we need to make sure we are selecting the right habits that will set us up for success. Each of us is a unique individual with different capacities and abilities, so there isn’t a one size fits all solution. This means that we need to consider our own personal circumstances in choosing small actions we can try to incorporate into our lives. By selecting the right habits – we are choosing the path we actually want to take.
Sample: You may start to think to yourself, how do I make sure I’m on the right path? That’s where sampling comes into play. By sampling new ways of doing things, we give ourselves the chance to test out different methods that may or may not work for us. Sampling lets you get to know yourself better as you figure out what works best for you. This opens up the spirit of possibility, instead of getting stuck down a path that’s wrong for you, and that you ultimately won’t stick with.
When you’re ready to commit, that’s when your Start begins.
Stick comes next, and this is when things can get a bit tricky. A lot of us find commitment to be a bit scary. Over time, we lose that initial spark that comes with high levels of motivation, and we get scared of failure. This is when many of us fall off of the new habit we are trying to form.
Instead of giving up, this is where we keep going. As you go through the stick process, over time you will develop a deeper connection with your habit that will gradually make it a natural part of your life.
Stretch is the stage we all aim to get to. By this time, we’ve reached our initial targets and have formed a new habit that has improved our life in some way. Now is the time to grow our habit, deepen our connection with it by adding to it so that you can level up. In a sense, when we reach Stretch, we are starting again, building ourselves up in a new way.
Forming a new habit is like going on a thousand mile journey. Sometimes we’ll walk, other times we’ll run. We’ll think about giving up along the way, or even calling someone to pick us up. But when you keep going and get to the finish line, you will have succeeded in forming a habit you may have once thought was impossible. By living a healthy life we deliberately design, we are setting ourselves up for a more joyful and hopeful future. And isn’t that what we all want for ourselves?