Forming a new habit in the best of times can be difficult, let alone trying to make changes when you’re already spent. The last couple of years have stretched almost everyone. And you may find yourself exhausted and feeling doubtful that you can really turn your situation around — or simply confused about where to begin.


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So what do you do when you’re trapped in the vicious cycle of needing to improve your habits so you can feel refreshed but struggling to muster the willpower and motivation to even try? If you find yourself utterly exhausted but longing for a change, here is the pathway to sustainably building new habits.

START WITH SLEEP

If you’re super tired, the key to greater productivity is not to push harder, but push less. Once you start getting enough sleep habitually, your body will support you in accomplishing your daily goals instead of dragging you down. Get the hang of heading to bed earlier, then start to work on your pre-bedtime routine so that once you’re in bed, you can actually fall asleep. Next, focus on getting up at a consistent time.

THINK ABOUT NUTRITION

I’ve found the next most effective habits for rebuilding energy involve simple nutrition strategies. One effective habit is to start drinking more water. Greater water intake improves energy, aids concentration and reduces fatigue and anxiety. Then think about whether you’re getting enough nourishment. Some of my coaching clients get so engrossed in their work or have so many back-to-back meetings that they don’t feel like they have time to eat — or they simply forget to.

GET MOVING

Exercise gives you energy throughout the day. It also improves mood, sleep quality and focus. Some of my coaching clients with ADHD find that exercise is a key to being able to concentrate throughout the day. If you do at least 25 minutes of vigorous cardio exercise three times a week, you can improve your overall health. To motivate yourself, dictate specifically where and when you’ll do this exercise.

PICK A NEW HABIT

Choose other new habits to fold into your life. I advise choosing just one to work on at a time. For example, you may decide to focus on being on time, planning your week, breaking down projects, keeping up on email or some other habit that you would like to master. Then focus on incremental change. For instance, with being on time, you could pick one type of meeting in which you focus on arriving a few minutes early and then gradually expand the scope to other activities in your professional and personal life.

The key to habit change, especially when you’re truly exhausted, is to take it slowly and steadily: moving forward but not putting too much pressure on yourself at any one time. You won’t be able to change all of your habits in a day. But with time, you can develop new habits that will help you regain energy, stave off fatigue and build momentum for ongoing growth and development.

c.2022 Harvard Business Review. Distributed by The New York Times Licensing Group.

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