"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."--Aristotle

The best way to make long-lasting changes in the way you work or manage each day is by creating exceptional habits. By forming and sticking to these habits, you can move closer to our big-picture goals in life. Here are 6 ways to create these exceptional habits, and ultimately create an exceptional life.

1. Define the goal

Before you can even begin to create your exceptional habits, you must define what your ultimate goal is. Once you figure out where you want to end up, you can devise a plan--a system of habits--to get you there. For example, if your ultimate goal is to become a better manager for your employees, you might begin with the daily habits of getting to know your employees better, taking the time each day to listen and problem-solve with them, and work alongside one each day.

2. Be specific about next steps

Come up with specific steps for your new habit. What time of the day, what is it that you will be doing, and how long you will dedicate to your new habit each day. For example, if your ultimate goal is to increase your response time to client inquiries, set very specific guidelines for your new habit to get you there. You can say to yourself, "I will respond to 10 client inquiries between 10:30 a.m. and noon each day." By creating specific guidelines--or a step-by-step habit--to achieve your goal, you are making it much more likely that you will stick to it and, in the end, make it to your final goal.

3. Just get started!

Sometimes just getting started is the hardest part of a new habit. Even if it means beginning with one paragraph or sending only one email by noon, just get moving. By setting up extremely reachable habits that you are not likely to put off because they won't take up much of your time and are easy to do, you are setting yourself up for achieving more. Chances are good that you won't stop at that one paragraph or only one email--once you get the ball rolling, you will be surprised at how much more you accomplish. By setting up small chunks of work, you are getting yourself out of the "I have too much to do and can't function" mode, and saying instead, "I can achieve this one small part of the big picture, and if I do more, great!" 

4. Change your environment

You've heard the advice before--if you want to become healthier, simply fill your refrigerator and pantry with only healthy food. The same goes for your work environment. In order to create better habits in the workplace, you have to set the scene. Before you leave each night, organize your desk. Create stacks of work with the hottest items at the top or create a list of priorities to get to as soon as you walk in the next morning. Create a work environment that is work-friendly and won't distract you from reaching your goals.

5. Don't be hard on yourself

When that day comes that for whatever reason you don't practice one of your daily habits, don't let it send you off spiraling away from your original goal permanently. Instead focus on all the days you have had success and realize that this is just a hiccup and that you will have another opportunity later in the day or tomorrow. Remind yourself of your ultimate goal, visualize your success, and then plan the when, what, and how to get you back into your habit as soon as possible. Remember: the oft-cited 21 days to make a new habit is a myth. According to researchers, it may actually take you 60 days or more to create a new habit--especially for one that is particularly difficult.

6. And finally, re-evaluate

Make sure the habits you are trying to form will result in the outcome you are anticipating. For example, if your ultimate goal is to add 10 new clients within six weeks, make sure that your plan will take you in the right direction. Make sure that spending an hour on social media advertising your services is helping you reach the clientele you are hoping to reach. Adjusting your habits to fit your ultimate goals may be needed--keep re-evaluating. If you're really having a hard time accomplishing your new habit, then break it down into easier to achieve, bite-sized pieces.

Published on: Sep 17, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.