Building Lifelong Habits

Strategies To Build Positive Habits That Stick


6/18/202320 min read

white and black labeled books
white and black labeled books

People do not decide their future. They choose their habits and their habits decide their future. - F Matthias Alexander

Around 20 years ago, I began my aspiration to be a successful person, and to achieve that, I embarked on a journey of reading many productivity books like '7 Habits of Highly Effective People,' 'Atomic Habits,' 'The Power of Habits,' and 'Getting Things Done,' among others.

However, despite my efforts, I found myself unable to retain much from these books, and the habits I tried to adopt did not stick. This made me question whether the problem lay with the books or with myself.

After reflecting on my experiences, I began to connect the dots.

While these books offer valuable insights on effectiveness, they may not necessarily be applicable to every individual in the same way. They provide a general framework, but they don't guide you in discovering why you personally want to develop certain habits.

I realized that the reason these habits didn't stick for me was that many of them were recommended by others, without taking into account my unique circumstances.

Suggestions like waking up at a specific time, following a particular exercise routine, or tackling the most challenging task first might work for others, but they weren't aligned with who I am as an individual. We all have different backgrounds, philosophies, environments, physical health, and character traits that influence our habits.

In this article, I would like to share my insights on how I managed to make certain habits stick and explore the nature of habits that are more likely to stick for each individual.

By understanding ourselves better and aligning our habits with our personal values, we can create a more sustainable and meaningful approach to personal development.

Reframing the "No Pain, No Gain" Mindset

I used to wholeheartedly believe in the philosophy of "no pain, no gain," particularly when it came to physical endeavors.

However, over time, I've come to realize that this mindset has its flaws and can be detrimental in several ways.

Firstly, subscribing to the idea of embracing pain and extreme soreness as indicators of progress requires a level of masochism that not everyone possesses.

It can be challenging, both mentally and physically, to push oneself relentlessly, even when experiencing intense discomfort. Some of these discomfort can even linger for days and affect your day to day quality of life.

I for one especially dislike it when I can’t even laugh to my content without extreme ache in my stomach muscles after an intense abs workout. It doesn’t have to be that way.

It's important to recognize that individuals like David Goggins, who thrive in such conditions, are there to inspire us. However, it is perfectly acceptable for the rest of us to strive for an average yet healthy and fulfilling life.

Secondly, it's easy to misinterpret the difference between the pain associated with genuine progress and the pain that arises from bodily harm. I have made this mistake countless times, believing that the discomfort I felt was a sign of my efforts paying off.

Unfortunately, I later discovered that I had either sprained a body part or injured my muscles due to incorrect form resulting from overexertion or inadequate guidance.

This misunderstanding led to a loss of all the progress I had made, as I had to take an extended break to recover from these injuries. The momentum I had built through consistent activity was abruptly halted due to the need for a lengthy period of inactivity.

It is essential to reframe our approach to progress and recognize that sustained effort, rather than extreme pain, is the key to long-term success.

By finding a balance between challenging ourselves and listening to our bodies, we can avoid unnecessary injuries and setbacks while still making steady progress towards our goals.

Balancing Science and Intuition: Listening to Your Body

white microscope on top of black table
white microscope on top of black table

Over reliance on scientific research is a sure call to confusion and disempowerment.

In my personal journey, I've discovered habits that I know I can sustain for a lifetime and that bring me genuine joy. I've come to realize that while scientific knowledge is valuable, getting too caught up in its intricacies can sometimes lead to analysis paralysis and confusion.

Let's take running as an example. Initially, I held negative beliefs about running, considering it inefficient for fat loss and potentially harmful to the knees (although it's mostly detrimental for marathon runners).

The conflicting messages about the benefits and drawbacks of running only added to my uncertainty.

However, a recent wrist injury forced me to explore running as my only available form of exercise. Surprisingly, I found myself falling in love with it.

Not only did I feel more alert and energized after each run compared to intense HIIT workouts like Insanity, but I also experienced a significant weight loss of 3 kg (from 73 kg to 70 kg) within just two weeks.

Moreover, running provided me with an opportunity to connect with nature, which is essential for both physical and mental well-being. It's worth noting that approximately 42% of Americans are vitamin D deficient, and a 2010 study in Singapore revealed that 40% of Singaporeans suffer from vitamin D deficiency—a statistic that is likely even higher now due to the increased number of people working from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While it's important to be informed about scientific research and evidence, I've learned that it's equally vital to listen to our bodies and trust our intuition.

Many times, our bodies have unique preferences and responses that may not align with what conventional scientific wisdom suggests. It's about finding the balance between understanding science and honoring our personal experiences and insights.

By combining scientific knowledge with an open-mindedness to explore what works best for us as individuals, we can create sustainable habits that bring us joy, align with our well-being, and support our overall health.

Discover Your Personal Motivation, Avoid Blindly Following Others

It's important to remember that you don't have to adopt habits for the same reasons as everyone else.

Each of us is unique, and our motivations may differ from the mainstream.

Here are a few examples of how I've found my own reasons for certain habits, rather than blindly following popular trends.

Intermittent fasting gained popularity, particularly among celebrities, for its weight loss benefits. However, while it didn't significantly contribute to my weight loss, I discovered that it helped reduce post-meal lethargy.

Nowadays, I prefer working out on an empty stomach because it allows me to perform at my best. Exercising with food in my stomach feels like a distraction from focusing on my training movements. Additionally, I've noticed that running feels more challenging after a full meal.

Another example is the commonly promoted idea of tackling the biggest task, or "eating the biggest frog," first thing in the morning for productivity.

However, I've found that focusing on smaller but meaningful tasks initially helps me create better momentum and motivation to tackle bigger projects later.

For instance, I prioritize running and exercising before sitting down to do my writing. Writing often takes several hours, while running and meditation require a maximum of two hours.

If I were to start with writing, I might end up neglecting my exercise and meditation because once I'm immersed in writing, it can be challenging for me to stop.

By finding your own reasons and understanding what works best for you, you can tailor your habits to suit your individual needs and preferences. Don't feel compelled to follow the crowd if it doesn't align with your unique circumstances or objectives.

Embrace your personal insights and motivations, and let them guide you toward a fulfilling and sustainable approach to habit formation.

Transcending Superficial Gains: Infuse Meaning into Your Endeavors


In the past, I approached writing solely as a means to generate content for my website and earn money.

However, after completing a hundred articles, I found myself losing all motivation to continue. It became apparent that this pursuit lacked true desire and authenticity on my part.

Interestingly, when my website ceased to generate income, I experienced a sense of relief because I felt undeserving of the money I earned in the health field.

I began to realize that writing holds a deeper purpose for me—it serves as a pathway for self-exploration, personal expression, and a means to process and digest the knowledge and insights I gain each day.

If my writing can also offer assistance to others along their journey, that's an added bonus.

Regardless of financial compensation, I have discovered that writing brings me profound joy, and that in itself is reason enough to continue.

Furthermore, writing has unexpectedly proven to be immensely beneficial for my personal growth. Through the process of writing for my website, I have engaged in extensive self-reflection, which has brought about heightened awareness of aspects of myself that I would have otherwise avoided or remained unaware of.

This newfound awareness has allowed me to recognize my regrets, uncover my blind spots, and understand the reasons behind my actions and choices.

It has provided me with the mental capacity to hold space for my loved ones, to genuinely listen to them without judgment or the need to offer solutions, and to simply be there for them in difficult times.

I have come to realize that the rewards I reap from my pursuits extend far beyond mere numerical measurements. The true value lies in the personal growth, self-discovery, and connection with others that these endeavors bring.

By infusing meaning into our pursuits, we can unlock a deeper sense of fulfillment and purpose in our lives.

Embrace the Process, Avoid Arbitrary Goals

Setting arbitrary goals can often hinder the formation of long-term habits, as it places undue pressure on adhering to a specific outcome without clear reasons behind it.

For instance, imagine setting a goal to run 4 kilometers every day with the aim of achieving a certain weight loss within a two-month period.

What happens if an injury occurs? Should you continue running despite the risk of further harm? What if you don't achieve your desired weight loss, perhaps due to muscle gain? Should you give up, continue as before, or increase your efforts?

As I mentioned earlier, my perspective on running changed over time.

It shifted from being solely about weight loss or improving cardio fitness to becoming an invaluable 'me' time and an opportunity for self-reflection. The health benefits became secondary to the joy and fulfillment I found in the activity itself.

Weight training is another activity that brings me great enjoyment, as it not only enhances my physical appearance but also increases my strength.

The satisfaction of having well-defined arm and chest muscles is undeniable. Additionally, it equips me to handle everyday tasks with ease, such as carrying objects, playing with my children, and even engaging in the occasional wrestling match.

Learning about the scientific research that emphasizes how resistance training helps maintain mobility in old age has further solidified my commitment to engage in daily weight training.

By focusing on the process and finding intrinsic enjoyment in the activities we pursue, we can create sustainable habits that bring us fulfillment beyond arbitrary goals.

It's essential to prioritize the experiences, personal growth, and well-being that stem from engaging in these activities, rather than fixating solely on specific outcomes.

Creating Habits That Last: 7 Strategies for Long-Term Success

wind turbine surrounded by grass
wind turbine surrounded by grass

When it comes to setting goals or habits, sustainability is key.

Instead of solely focusing on short-term goals, it is advisable to cultivate habits that can be maintained over a lifetime, ensuring a sense of direction even after achieving specific milestones.

For example, setting a goal to lose 10 kg may initially appear specific, but it's important to consider whether it promotes healthy weight loss practices. While following a restrictive diet like keto may lead to weight loss, it can be challenging to sustain in the long run, potentially leading to a cycle of weight fluctuations or even detrimental effects on overall health.

Similarly, aiming to exercise for four hours daily, as some celebrities might do, is not feasible for most people who have full-time jobs and other responsibilities like caring for children.

It's crucial to acknowledge and work with the constraints of our unique circumstances to create habits that are realistic and adaptable to our lifestyles.

Here are seven strategies to make the habit more sustainable.

1. Prioritize One Habit at a Time

One of the major mistakes I made initially was attempting to adopt multiple habits simultaneously.

Driven by a desire to transform my life quickly, I believed that the more bad habits I could change at once, the faster I would see results.

Consequently, I found myself juggling an overwhelming number of new habits, such as waking up early, exercising, intermittent fasting (IF), learning the guitar, writing, and journaling.

The mental strain of managing all these new habits, coupled with the need to constantly catch myself and avoid falling back into old habits, proved draining and unsustainable.

What's worse is that the failure to maintain one habit had a domino effect on the others. It undermined my efforts in building the other new habits and eroded both my momentum and motivation to continue with the rest.

For instance, during my first attempt at NoFap, breaking the streak led me to give up on all the other habits I was trying to incorporate, including meditation, guitar and exercising. It felt as if there was no point in pursuing the other habits if I couldn't achieve success with NoFap alone.

To avoid this pitfall and ensure lasting change, it is essential to focus on one habit at a time.

By channeling your energy, attention, and willpower into a single habit, you increase the likelihood of success and build a solid foundation for further growth. Once the habit has become ingrained and feels natural, you can then move on to incorporating the next one.

By prioritizing one habit, you conserve mental resources, maintain focus, and increase the chances of sustaining positive change. It allows you to fully commit to the habit, experience its benefits, and build the confidence and motivation to tackle additional habits in the future.

Lasting change is a journey that requires patience and dedication.

By taking it one step at a time, you set yourself up for success and increase the likelihood of achieving meaningful and lasting transformation in your life.

2. 30-Day Trials But Aim Long Term

minimalist photography of hanged 30 balloons
minimalist photography of hanged 30 balloons

Embarking on a new routine can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially if it involves a significant commitment like running every day.

In such cases, it can be helpful to approach it with a 30-day trial mindset while keeping the long-term benefits in mind.

Instead of diving into a habit indefinitely, give yourself a fixed period to try it out and assess its suitability for your lifestyle and goals.

During this 30-day trial, it's important to explore routines and habits that genuinely interest you and have the potential to benefit you in the long run.

By committing to a 30-day trial, you give yourself a chance to fully immerse in the habit without feeling overwhelmed by the idea of doing it indefinitely. This approach allows you to evaluate its impact on your life, well-being, and overall satisfaction.

When I decided to incorporate intermittent fasting (IF) into my life, I faced significant challenges during the initial stages.

The intense hunger pangs, episodes of hangry and the societal belief that breakfast is the most important meal of the day added to the difficulty.

However, I reminded myself that it was only a one-month commitment and encouraged myself to persevere. I have written an article on 17 tips to make intermittent fasting easier. It can help you if you want to adopt IF quickly.

Anyway for any type of new habit trial period, please pay attention to these factors:

1. Interest and enjoyment: Assess if the habit resonates with you and brings a sense of joy or fulfillment. If you genuinely enjoy the routine, it increases the likelihood of sustaining it over the long term.

2. Benefits and progress: Observe the positive effects the habit has on your physical, mental, or emotional well-being. Look for signs of progress or improvement that motivate you to continue beyond the initial trial. You can start journaling your experience with every trial. Like I journaled a lot in my Quitting Porn journey. It helps with solidifying my determination to continue the process.

3. Sustainability and fit: Consider if the habit is realistic and compatible with your lifestyle, commitments, and personal circumstances. Ensure it is something you can feasibly incorporate into your daily routine in the long run.

4. Educate yourself: Conduct research on the habit you're cultivating, including common experiences or potential withdrawal symptoms associated with it. Understanding what to expect can help you prepare mentally and emotionally for any challenges that might arise during the habit formation process. This knowledge equips you with the resilience and determination needed to overcome obstacles along the way. For me, learning what causes hunger had helped me a lot with handling my episodes of hangry. Nowadays, I rarely get hangry anymore.

After the 30-day trial, reflect on your experience and make an informed decision about whether to continue with the habit. If it has proven to be beneficial, enjoyable, and sustainable, you can transition from a trial mindset to a lifelong commitment.

If not, it's perfectly okay to explore other options and find habits that resonate better with your needs and preferences.

Remember, the ultimate goal is to cultivate habits that align with your individuality, bring fulfillment, and contribute positively to your well-being.

By approaching habits with a 30-day trial mindset, you can discover what truly works for you and build a foundation for lifelong habits that enhance your life in meaningful ways.

3. Take It Slow and Keep It Short

a yellow and black turtle sitting on the ground
a yellow and black turtle sitting on the ground

When adopting a new habit, it's often beneficial to start slow and keep the initial sessions short. This approach allows you to build momentum gradually and increases the likelihood of long-term success.

For example, when I began learning piano, my goal was to dedicate just 10 minutes before bed each day. Surprisingly, most of the time, I found myself extending the practice beyond the initial timeframe.

The same principle applies to running, where I initially started with a modest goal of running just 1 kilometer, eventually progressing to 5-6 kilometers per day. If it is still too hard for you, just make it a goal to change into your sport attire and shoes.

Here are some reasons why going slow and keeping it short can be advantageous:

1. Overcoming resistance: By setting a short duration, you lower the psychological barrier to starting the habit. It feels more manageable and less intimidating. Once you begin, you'll often find yourself naturally inclined to continue, as you've already taken the initial step.

2. Building consistency: Consistency is key when forming a habit. By starting with a short duration, you increase the likelihood of successfully completing the habit each day. It's better to accomplish a short session consistently than to struggle with a longer session inconsistently. As you build confidence and establish the habit, you can gradually increase the duration over time.

3. Avoiding burnout: Setting overly ambitious goals at the beginning can lead to burnout or loss of motivation. By keeping the sessions short, you prevent exhaustion and maintain enthusiasm for the habit. As you progress and feel comfortable, you can gradually extend the duration to challenge yourself further.

4. Creating a positive experience: Short sessions allow you to focus on the quality of your practice or activity. You're more likely to enjoy the process and experience small wins along the way. These positive experiences reinforce your motivation and make the habit more enjoyable and sustainable in the long run. Like for me, on days when I felt really tired, I would not try to learn new songs. I would play songs that I knew well just to enjoy the bliss of music.

The goal here is not to achieve perfection or immediate mastery, but to establish a consistent routine that gradually expands.

By starting slow and keeping the sessions short, you give yourself the opportunity to build a solid foundation and grow at a pace that suits your comfort level.

4. The Power of Habit Stacking and Anchoring

One effective technique for forming new habits is habit stacking—anchoring a new habit to an existing routine that you've been doing for years.

It's a powerful strategy that leverages the momentum of an established habit to make it easier to incorporate a new one. Here are some examples of my habit stacking in action:

1. Duolingo during morning routine: I play Duolingo during my time in the bathroom right after waking up. This helps me establish a consistent language learning practice without needing to find additional time in my day.

2. Meditation after running: After my daily run and completing my cool down stretches, I will sit down and seamlessly transit into a meditation practice. Somehow, the physical exertion and increased mindfulness from running create an ideal state for meditation. It also helps to let me sweat it out. This stacking technique allows me to reap the benefits of both activities while optimizing my time.

3. Watching/listen to podcasts while eating/cooking: One of my favorite activities while eating or cooking alone is to watch or listen to podcasts. I thoroughly enjoy immersing myself in the captivating interviews of YouTube podcast channels like Tim Ferriss, The Diary of a CEO, and Andrew Huberman. It's a fantastic way for me to gain valuable insights and knowledge without needing to set aside dedicated time for it. These interviews offer a wealth of information, and I find it incredibly rewarding to engage with them while indulging in a meal or preparing food.

4. Counting blessings before sleep: Numerous studies have consistently shown that cultivating gratitude is one of the most significant predictors of personal happiness. Personally, I find immense joy in practicing gratitude before I drift off to sleep. As I lie on my bed, I take a moment to count my blessings, ensuring that I express gratitude for the many things I am thankful for. This practice not only allows me to acknowledge and appreciate the positives in my life but also creates a profound sense of positivity as I ease into a peaceful slumber.

When implementing habit stacking and anchoring, keep the following tips in mind:

Choose habits that complement each other: Look for habits that naturally flow from one to the other, enhancing the overall benefit or experience. This synergy helps create a seamless transition and reinforces the connection between the habits. For example, going for a run before you sleep is not a good idea as it takes a long time for your body to cool down and let you rest comfortably.

Start small: Begin with one or two habit stacks to avoid overwhelming yourself. Once you've successfully integrated those, you can gradually add more as you feel comfortable.

Be consistent: Consistency is key to habit formation. Aim to practice your habit stack every day at the same time and in the same order. This repetition reinforces the association between the existing routine and the new habit, making it more automatic over time.

By leveraging the routines you already have, you can effortlessly introduce positive changes and maximize the efficiency of your daily activities.

5. The Power of Habit Chaining

black chain
black chain

One effective technique for maintaining and reinforcing habits is habit chaining.

It involves tracking and celebrating your progress by creating a visual representation of your consistent efforts. Here's how you can implement habit chaining:

1. Create a habit chain: Use a calendar or a habit tracker to mark each day you successfully complete your desired habit. For example, if you want to establish a daily exercise routine, put a cross or a checkmark on the calendar for each day you work out.

2. Visualize your progress: As you continue to mark off consecutive days, a chain of crosses or checkmarks will start to form. This visual representation serves as a powerful reminder of your commitment and progress. Seeing the unbroken chain can be motivating and instill a sense of accomplishment.

3. Celebrate milestones: Set milestones along the way, such as completing one week, one month, or any significant period for your habit. When you reach these milestones, take a moment to acknowledge your achievements and reward yourself. Celebrating milestones reinforces the positive association with your habit and encourages you to keep going.

4. Stay consistent: The key to habit chaining is consistency. Aim to maintain your habit every day to build a strong chain. Even if you encounter obstacles or have a challenging day, do your best to keep the chain intact. The longer your chain grows, the more motivated you'll be to preserve it.

5. Be gentle with yourself: If you break the chain, it’s ok. Just start a new chain. It is not all about how long the chain is. What’s more important is how fast you get on your feet and start building the chain again. Just keep going.

Habit chaining is not only a visual representation of your progress, but also a powerful tool for building momentum and reinforcing your commitment to a habit.

By visually tracking your consistency and celebrating your milestones, you'll be motivated to continue your positive habits and create a chain of success.

6. Anticipating and Overcoming Challenges

In the journey of forming new habits, it's important to plan for potential challenges that may arise along the way.

By proactively addressing these obstacles, you increase your chances of staying on track and successfully maintaining your habits. Here's how you can plan for challenges:

1. Identify potential obstacles: Take some time to reflect on the possible challenges you may encounter while establishing your habits. It could be external factors like bad weather, unexpected events, or internal factors such as lack of motivation or fatigue.

2. Develop contingency plans: Once you've identified potential challenges, brainstorm possible solutions or alternative approaches to overcome them. For instance, if it rains, I can either climb the stairs or skip ropes at home. Plan ahead and make your plans flexible.

3. Seek support and accountability: Share your goals and challenges with a supportive friend, family member, or accountability partner. They can provide encouragement, offer solutions, or simply be there to listen when you face difficulties. Their support can help you stay motivated and provide fresh perspectives when obstacles arise.

4. Learn from setbacks: Even with the best planning, setbacks may still occur. Instead of viewing them as failures, see them as learning opportunities. Reflect on what went wrong, why it happened, and how you can better prepare for similar situations in the future. Use setbacks as opportunities for growth and refinement of your strategies.

By proactively planning for challenges, developing contingency plans, seeking support, and practicing adaptability, you'll be better equipped to navigate unexpected obstacles and stay committed to your habits.

Remember, it's not about avoiding challenges altogether but about building resilience and finding creative solutions to keep moving forward.

7. Embrace Simplicity for Lasting Change

person walking on snowfield
person walking on snowfield

Incorporating simplicity into your habits can make them more sustainable and easier to maintain.

By focusing on straightforward strategies, you can avoid unnecessary complexity and increase your chances of long-term success.

Here are some ways to keep it simple:

1. Prioritize simple actions: Instead of getting caught up in complex diets or elaborate routines, choose simple actions that align with your goals. For example, rather than following a restrictive diet, prioritize eating vegetables first during your meals. This small change can have a significant impact on your nutrition (reduce glucose spike by 73%) without overwhelming you with complicated meal plans.

2. Opt for easy-to-implement habits: Look for habits that are easy to incorporate into your daily life. Like cold showers can be a simple habit that provides multiple benefits. It doesn't require additional time or resources, and the positive effects, such as increased alertness and improved circulation, can be experienced immediately.

3. Minimize decision-making: Simplify your habits by reducing the number of decisions you need to make. Create a consistent routine or structure around your habits, so you don't have to waste mental energy on deciding when or how to perform them. Like establishing a designated time and place for reading, such as reading for 15 minutes before bedtime in a cozy corner of your home.

4. Focus on small, incremental changes: Instead of attempting drastic transformations overnight, focus on making small, gradual changes. This approach allows you to build momentum and adapt to new habits more easily. For instance, replace sugary drinks with water or herbal tea instead of removing sugar from your diet completely.

5. Eliminate unnecessary complexities: Identify any unnecessary complexities or barriers that may hinder your habits. Simplify your environment by removing distractions or organizing your space in a way that supports your desired behaviors. For example, to cultivate healthier eating habits, one effective strategy is to eliminate junk foods from your home environment. This can help reduce the constant mental battle of deciding whether to indulge in them or not.

Simplicity doesn't mean sacrificing effectiveness.

By focusing on simple actions, easy-to-implement habits, minimizing decision-making, embracing small changes, and eliminating unnecessary complexities, you can create a sustainable foundation for lasting habits.

Keeping it simple allows you to build momentum, experience consistent progress, and enjoy the journey towards your goals.


Our habits play a crucial role in shaping our future.

However, adopting habits recommended by others without considering our unique circumstances may lead to their failure to stick. To create habits that truly last and drive personal growth, it is essential to understand ourselves better and align our habits with our personal values.

We should reframe the "no pain, no gain" mindset and find a balance between challenging ourselves and listening to our bodies. Embracing both scientific knowledge and our intuition can help us create sustainable habits that bring us joy and support our overall well-being.

Instead of blindly following popular trends, we should discover our personal motivations and reasons for adopting certain habits. By tailoring our habits to suit our individual needs and preferences, we can create a more fulfilling and sustainable approach to personal development.

Infusing meaning into our pursuits can unlock a deeper sense of fulfillment and purpose. By embracing the process and avoiding arbitrary goals, we prioritize the experiences, personal growth, and well-being that stem from engaging in activities we truly enjoy.

To ensure long-term success, it is important to prioritize one habit at a time and focus our energy on building it before moving on to the next. Approaching habits with a 30-day trial mindset allows us to fully immerse ourselves in the habit without feeling overwhelmed, while also assessing its suitability for our lifestyle and goals.

By understanding ourselves, aligning our habits with our values, and prioritizing sustainable practices, we can create habits that not only shape our future but also bring us joy, fulfillment, and personal growth along the way.