How to build consistency with new habits, Part 1

[3 minute read] (ESL learners – click on the bolded words to see explanations and notes. Try the exercise at the bottom after! πŸ™‚ )

If you’re on this blog, you’re someone interested in personal development β€” which means you have tried building good habits in the past, which means you’ve for sure struggled with building good habits in the past.

I know this problem very well. My biggest problem has always been consistency, which is compounded by the fact I often try to take up a dozen different habits at once in a spurt of enthusiasm. Then I get overwhelmed by trying to fit too many new things into my daily life, and let all of them slip.

But over the last year, I’ve gotten much better at building good habits β€” and consistency. So much so that I feel confident in writing a blog post giving advice on it.

So here are a few simple tips to help you make more progress.

1. Take on 1 or max 2 habits at a time

One of my biggest mistakes in the past was trying to start exercising β€” and eating healthy β€” and studying Korean β€” all at the same time.

The beginning period of a new habit is always the hardest. It’s like trying to cook a new recipe in a brand new kitchen, without having much experience cooking. You’d first have to carefully read the instructions, find where all the tools are stored, and most definitely make a bunch of mistakes along the way.

Now imagine trying to cook 5 new recipes all at the same time! That would quite literally be a recipe for total disaster.

It’s the same with habits. You need to allow yourself some time to flounder until things start feeling more automated. When one habit becomes second nature, then you have the mental capacity to work on another one.

2. Set aside a specific time

If you want to do something daily, it helps to have a plan for when exactly you will get it done.

Choose a specific time that suits the particular habit. For example, I started doing my back exercises right before I sit down to work. It doubles as a reminder to sit with good posture, and I have this not-so-pleasant activity over with very early in the day.

I’ve also taken to exercising during my lunch break. This helps me take a break from sitting all day, and clear my mind so I can come back in the afternoon feeling more refreshed.

3. Compound it with a current habit

They say the power of habit is strong β€” so use that to your advantage when building new ones!

There are surely things you’re already used to doing on a regular basis. Brushing your teeth, for example.

See if you can combine that with the new habit you want to start. For example, I listen to a short Hungarian podcast episode while getting ready for bed.

This has the added benefit of creating reminders for yourself through association. Every time I reach for my toothbrush, I remember the podcast. If you find yourself forgetting, try placing a reminder somewhere you can’t miss it. For example, a sticky note that says “podcast” on your toothbrush holder.

Those are the first 3 tips for building consistency with new habits. I have a few more tips left, but I will save those for a future blog post, in the interest of keeping them relatively short.

What was your favourite tip from these three so far? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

ESL Notes (10 words / expressions)

Definitions written with reference to Cambridge Dictionary

Struggle with: to have difficulty with something. If you use a verb after this, the verb has to be in the -ing form. (Struggle with doing something). However, you can also say “struggle to do something”, without the word “with” and with an infinitive verb instead. (Back to the text)

Compounded by: to compound something means to make it more difficult. “(be) compounded by” is the passive form of this. For example, “the drought (dry period with no rain) was compounded by food shortages (not enough food)”. In other words, the food shortages made the drought problem even worse. (Back to the text)

Take up: to take up a habit or hobby means to start doing it. (Back to the text)

Spurt: A sudden short period of increased activity. For example, you can have a “spurt of anger” (a sudden and intense feeling of anger), or a teenager can have a “growth spurt” (a short period time when they grow a lot). (Back to the text)

So much so: to such a great degree. This phrase always connects to the previous one. For example, “He always worked really hard. So much so that he often slept at the office.” This is like saying, “He always worked really hard. In fact, he worked SO hard that he often slept at the office.” (Back to the text)

Flounder: to experience great difficulty with something, or to be unable to know what to do next. (Back to the text)

Double as: to be also used as something else. You probably also know “double” which means “twice” (Maria ran the race in 4 minutes, but I needed 8 minutes β€” double the time). In this case, it’s a verb, which means the same thing can be used for 2 purposes. For example, “my kitchen table doubles as my desk when I’m working” β€” meaning I use the kitchen table as a kitchen table, but also as a work desk. (Back to the text)

Have it over with: If you have something over with, it means it is done and you don’t have to worry about it anymore. This comes from the phrasal verb “get something over with”, which means you need to do something unpleasant so that you don’t have to think about it anymore. “get” is the transformation or action, and “have” is the result that you have afterwards. For example, if I need to go to the dentist, before I go, I can say “Okay, let’s get this over with.” Then when I leave the dentist with clean teeth, I can say “I’m so glad I have that over with.” (Back to the text)

Take to doing something: to start doing something often. In other words, to start a habit of something. (Back to the text)

Be used to doing something: to be familiar and comfortable with something because you do it often. For example, if I get up at 6am every morning, I can say I am used to getting up early. Note that it’s really important to use the -ing form of the verb here, otherwise it becomes very confusing as there are similar expressions with different grammar and meanings. (Back to the text)


Want to start using these words and make sure you don’t forget them? Try this exercise! Think about these questions (discuss them with someone) or write down your answers, using the word or expression in your discussion or answer.

  • What is a subject you struggled with at school?
  • Think about something difficult you or someone you know has experienced. Is there anything that made it more difficult, or compounded the problem?
  • What is a habit you’d like to take up? What habits have you recently already taken up?
  • Did you go through a growth spurt when you were growing up?
  • Did you ever have a spurt of laughter at an inappropriate or unsuitable moment?
  • Think about a person you know well, and a quality they strongly have. Comment on the quality using “so much so“. See the example in the definitions above for inspiration.
  • Have you ever seen someone flounder during a speech? What sort of impression did you have of the person?
  • Do you have a piece of furniture or object that doubles as something else?
  • What’s something you’ve done this week, or recently, and you’re glad you have it over with?
  • What’s a change you’ve seen in your family or friends, i.e. what have they taken to doing?
  • What’s something you don’t really enjoy doing, but that you’re used to doing?

Feel free to try writing some more sentences, or a text, of your own to practice some more.

Thank you for reading! These ESL notes, links and exercises each take several hours to make, so if you found this useful, the kindest thing you can do is to like the post, leave a comment, or share with anyone who needs it. Have questions about any other words? Leave a comment and I’ll be happy to reply!

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