Imagine you’ve decided to quit sugar completely. To kick off your new changing habit, you’ve decided to do a Whole30 and reset your body’s cravings by denying it sugar and anything related to sugar for 30 days.

Now imagine that on day one you open up your cupboard and have to reach past your husband’s Milanos to get to your Seaweed Snax. That first day was fine, you just pushed those cookies out of the way.

But on day 10 you were just so tired. You woke up to a ten emails about a crisis at work, your nanny was 40 minutes late, and you spilled coffee on your one clean shirt. You’re hungry and just want a break for Pete’s sake! Do you think you’ll be able to push past those cookies now?

Here’s the thing. Habit change is far more susceptible to environmental factors than internal motivation or drive. In other words, it’s not you, it’s them.

No matter how determined you are to avoid sugar, exercise, meditate, lose weight, go to bed early, etc., if the world in which you are changing habits doesn’t change, the new habit won’t stick.

To create healthy habits that stick, we need to create a world in which there is no other option than to stick to that habit.


The unfortunate reality is that we can’t just change one thing in order to create a healthy habit.

Habits depend on a whole chain of behaviors that needs to adjust when something new is thrown into the mix. That’s why we need to take a waterfall approach to changing habits, focusing on the whole chain, not just the desired behavior.

Say you want to create the habit of healthy sleep. First, identify all the behaviors that would support that healthy habit: regular exercise, regular bedtime and wake up time, no alcohol, no sugar, no devices after 8pm, setting the mood for sleep 30m-1hr before bedtime.

Now put them in causal order. Basically, identify your waterfall chain reaction. For our sleep example, that would probably be:

(1) regular wake up time,

(2) regular exercise,

(3) avoiding sugar,

(4) avoiding alcohol (particularly before bed),

(5) avoiding caffeine,

(6) no devices (including TV!) before bed and,

(6) good “sleep hygiene” setting the mood for bed 30m-1hr before.

The reason I say this is the causal order is because if you don’t have a regular wake up time, your day starts out in chaos and in chaos it is much harder to do any of the other healthy habits.

The next one is exercise because if you don’t exercise, your body won’t be tired when it’s supposed to be.

After that, even if you do exercise, if you pile sugar or alcohol on before bed, your sleep will be disturbed. And so on.

Once you identify the chain, start at the beginning and focus on the first behavior for 5 days. Then add the next behavior for 5 days, and so on. This is waterfalling.

If you need some help visualizing this waterfall download my free printable using the link below. A visual tracker like this is very helpful for keeping yourself accountable and feeling a sense of accomplishment as you maintain your streak.

By the end of 30 days, you should have the healthy habit of sleep dialed in, and will have created a healthy environment for other habits too!

If you create a world in which your new healthy habits can’t help but take root, you will be successful. The key is to stop pretending we can just drop new behaviors in the middle of unhealthy environments and expect them to thrive.

Change the environment and your new habits won’t feel like work. They’ll just feel like a natural progression of your day.

Author's Bio: 

As a former criminal defense attorney turned wellness blogger, Ashley Rupp provides practical tips for personal growth to overwhelmed moms on her blog Reining in Mom. Her well-researched and easy to implement tips, backed by her own decade-long personal growth journey inspire moms to make themselves a priority. Read more articles on healthy habits, goal setting, and getting brave, over on where she also has a FREE habits waterfall printable!