Forming New Habits - What I Learned in 2018



  • In this blog, I’ll share with you my journey of breaking old habits, forming new habits and investing in myself in 2018.

  • To successfully build a new habit, be knowledgeable on why it’s important, learn the skills on how to form the habit, and find the right motivation to keep your goal.

  • If you feel stuck, ask yourself: What one thing could I do that if I did it on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in my personal and/or professional life?


I still remember my high school mentor Mrs. Maxwell saying multiple times throughout secondary school, “Jessica, you need to slow down and smell the roses.’

I didn’t take her advice. I had tunnel vision and brushed off any unsolicited remarks that suggested me to slow down. I believed my diligence and toughness would take me to places, and I proved her wrong for the next 15 years.

I functioned on auto-pilot for most of my life--60-hour work weeks were the norm, a non-stop schedule meant I was important, and fatigue was a signal to push harder. I continuously challenged myself because I saw results.

As a by-product of not being mindful of the effects of my behaviors, I’ve accumulated bad habits and a feeling of mental dullness over the years. I worked longer hours but didn’t get promoted. I took on more projects but didn’t get a raise. I played more volleyball but wasn’t getting any better. I was building up stress and a hopeless paradigm that didn’t reap what I sowed.

So I pushed the reset button in 2018.

2018 was the year I rebuilt and rebranded myself. It was the year I started to feel more comfortable and less guilty about investing in the “slow down” signs Mrs. Maxwell once suggested. I realized what got me here today won’t necessarily get me there tomorrow, so I had to change my old ways, pause...and form new habits.

According to Stephen Covey, “a habit is the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire. Knowledge is the what to do and the why. Skill is how to do. And desire is the motivation, the want to do. In order to make something a habit in our lives, we must have all three.”

It wasn’t easy.

It’s rare that we’re able to perfectly align all three components of a habit, but when we do, it feels damn good. I’d like to share with you a couple of my winning moments this past year.


Habit #1: Healthy Eating


I know my daily Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and King Size Kit Kat cravings were not helping my sluggishness, so I had to change my eating habits to a healthier and more nutritious diet.


My husband and I agreed to follow the Whole30 meal plan together and be each other’s accountability partners. Through this journey, we identified foods that were causing us certain negative reactions and alternatives that helped us feel better. Nowadays, before I eat something potentially bad, I ask myself “Would I feel bad after eating it?” If the answer is yes, I ask “Is it worth it?”


My aunt Co Khuong once told me “If you don’t have your health, you have nothing else.” I understood that as I need to take care of my well-being first and foremost via better eating, more exercising, meditating and self-care. Once I take care of myself, I can better take care of those around me.


I incorporate more leafy greens in my diet and feel more in control of my mood and energy level. Though I still eat sweets, chips, and processed foods, I don’t eat bad food when I have a big presentation or need to stay focused.


Habit #2: Saying “no” to my boss


I was the employee who would do everything my manager assigned to me, but the more I did, the more burnout I felt. I had to learn how to tactfully say “no” to my boss in order to give my best performance.


Any time a manager or colleague asked me to help with a project or task, I asked myself:

a) Does it align with my goals and responsibilities?
b) Is it worth my time?

If “no” was an answer to either question, I would:

  • Provide an alternative solution that involved me to a lesser extent (Remove myself)

  • Ask my boss to reprioritize my workload, “I want to be able to work on these projects without compromising our quality. How would you like me to reprioritize my current workload?” (Something needs to give)

  • Suggest to my boss, “Working on X doesn’t align with our current goals” or “I believe XYZ are current priorities for our team. I won’t be able to do ABC without compromising the quality of our output.” (Straight up “no”)


I was motivated to have a job I loved and not build resentment for my boss.


When I was working in corporate earlier in 2018, I declined several requests from my manager and head of HR. It has taken me so many years to muster up the confidence to say “no” to a leader, but at the end of the day, I did it. I feel more in control of my attitude towards work when I speak my mind.

I still struggle to have all three components in some habits, but I’ve found that the following tips have made the process a little easier.


5 things that made it easier for me to form new habits

  1. Practice mindfulness to pull yourself out of auto-pilot. Pay more attention to your surroundings, your sensations, and the details all around you by asking yourself every day “Am I awake? Am I aware? Is this what I want?”

  2. Have an accountability partner. If you’re starting a diet, get the whole household involved. If you’re trying to improve your conflict resolution skills, ask a colleague to call you out each time you interrupt the speaker. Sharing your journey with someone else will keep you honest and feeling motivated and supported throughout the journey.

  3. Share your goals publicly. Similar to the previous tip, don’t keep your goals and resolutions hidden on a piece of paper in your drawer--you’ll either forget about it or won’t accomplish it because you know no one is watching you. The more people who know about your goal, the more you’ll hold yourself accountable (to save yourself from embarrassment).

  4. Make it easily accessible. If you want to drink more water, put bottles of water on your desk. If you need to floss more often, place floss picks on your dining table so it’s right in front of you when you need it. The less effort it takes, the more likely you’ll do it.

  5. Read about your new habit.  I recently read, “Someone who doesn’t read is no better than someone who can’t read.” I find this so true. The more you learn or hear about your habit in other forms, the better equipped you’ll be to tackle it.


I hope you found these tips helpful and would love to hear what you’re doing to form new habits. Message me at!

I’ll leave you with one question: What one thing could you do (something you aren’t doing now), that if you did it on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal or professional life?

Happy learning and Happy New Year!


Jessica O'Connor