Habit forming: How to make lifestyle changes stick
How many times have you tried to make a change in your life for the better, whether through a new year’s resolution or simply trying to turn over a new leaf?
Chances are most people have promised themselves at one time or another that they will cut down on screen time, eat more vegetables, start an exercise routine, wash their face each night, get more sleep, take their vitamins or [insert some other healthy habit here].
Statistics show that most of those people also lose their motivation and fall back into their old ways in less than a year. That’s because changing your habits and making them stick is no small feat, whether you’re trying to adopt new healthy habits or stop bad ones.
We all know we’ll feel better and be healthier if we make these changes, but many of us just can’t keep them going. We’ve got some strategies to help break that cycle.
Examples of habits: What is a habit?
First, let’s learn a little bit about habits and routines. According to experts, habits are different from routines. What is a habit? It’s something you do without thinking, often triggered by a cue. Examples of habits are your morning coffee, brushing your teeth before bed or washing your hands after using the bathroom. Routines are a series of steps or behaviors done with intention and repeated frequently. They are the first step toward forming a habit.
If you’re wondering how to make exercise a habit, you first need to create a routine that allows that to happen – then you need to find a way to follow it regularly. Once your exercise routine becomes an indisputable part of your day or week, you’re well on your way to making a lasting change.
How long does it take to build a habit?
How long does it take to build a habit? It would be nice if there were a simple answer to that question. You may have heard 21 days or 30 days, but the truth is the answers are as varied as the people trying to make or break those habits.
One reason is because the obstacles to making something habit forming are different for each person. And some habits are easier to adopt than others, like starting to take daily vitamins or supplements versus waking up an hour early each day to exercise when sleeping in is one of your favorite things to do.
6 tips to make habits stick: Healthy eating, exercise and more
Whether you want to create healthy eating habits, adopt an exercise routine, practice mindfulness every day or improve your skin care regimen, there are some universal strategies that you can use to help you find success. Here are six tips to help you make your healthy habits stick.
1. Make a plan of action for desired habit
Whatever your goal, planning is the first step to getting it done. You can’t just jump out of bed one day and have healthy eating habits if your home is still filled with sweets and treats and devoid of healthy food.
Spend time outlining your new routine that will lead to a habit. Write it down in a notebook or keep it in your phone or computer. Putting it into words makes it real and shows you there is a path to success.
You could even try “if-then planning,” which is the simple act of framing your goal in a way that research shows is conducive to how your brain works: If X then Y. That may seem so simple it’s silly, but research shows that people who frame their goals in this way are up to 300% more likely to achieve them.
Do you want to adopt the habit of drinking more water each day? Start out with a full bottle each morning and tell yourself: If it’s 10 a.m. and there’s still water in my bottle, then I will finish it and refill it.
2. Make sure your habit is attainable
Setting your goals too high is setting yourself up for failure. Make sure the habits you want to form are realistic. If they are big, plot out incremental goals that can lead to that bigger end result. Smaller successes are a major incentive toward achieving larger ones.
If exercising regularly is not your thing – not even an after-dinner stroll – and you pledge to follow an exercise routine that has you at the gym every day, you may be overreaching. Aiming to get yourself moving 2-3 times a week while slowly building up to more is much more attainable.
3. Remove obstacles for adopting habits
You’ve got your plan and it’s a realistic one. Now take a look at the hurdles you’ll face when trying to establish your habits and come up with strategies to remove them. Sometimes making one simple little change clears the path to your success.
If you vowed to save more money but you can’t stop hitting the ATM, create an account with an automatic transfer that is not accessible with your money card. (Experts call this a commitment device, any sort of restriction or consequence to help you stick to your desired behavior.)
If you dislike the taste of the water at work, buy yourself a large, reusable water bottle and fill it with your preferred water from home that you know is clean and tastes good. If you always forget to take your vitamins and supplements, keep the containers in a place you can’t miss them, like next to the coffee pot or near your toothbrush.
4. Picture yourself already succeeding at your new habit
Practice some mindfulness. Think about why you want to develop this habit. What will the end result do for you? If another six months goes by and you haven’t succeeded, how will you feel? Can you handle that?
Now picture yourself as a complete success. What has it done for you? How do you feel? What can you do or achieve now that you’ve established this healthy habit that you couldn’t before? These mental exercises can be incredible motivators when you are honest with your answers, especially when adopting a new habit doesn’t provide instant gratification.
5. Try temptation bundling
One of the ways to make a new activity habit forming even when you don’t care for it is to pair with an indulgence. This is called temptation bundling and research shows that it works, at least in the beginning. (Mary Poppins was on to something!)
In one study, free audio books were the indulgence and exercising at the gym was the desired behavior. Participants could only listen to the audio book while exercising. Their gym attendance increased by initially increased by 51% before tapering off.
Do you love reading and want to develop a nighttime routine to improve your sleep habits? Put your phone down at night and limit yourself to reading actual books only at bedtime. This cuts down on the sleep-disrupting screen time and let’s you do something you enjoy.
6. Give yourself flexibility and grace when trying to adopt healthy habits
Adopting new healthy habits or kicking bad ones is not an all-or-nothing situation. If you slip up in your efforts once, that doesn’t mean you have to give up on everything. Experts actually refer to this as the what-the-hell effect.
An example: You want healthy eating habits and have been eating better each day, but one day you decide to indulge in a co-worker’s birthday cake. Then you say, “What the hell, the day is already a failure,” and continue to make poor food choices all day long and maybe the next day you give up on your efforts altogether.
Treats in moderation are fine and don’t negate all your other hard work! Enjoy it, give yourself some grace and get back on track.
Hopefully these strategies can help you make some real lifestyle changes that become true habits. Once you feel you’ve mastered one, it will be easier to focus on another to continue your efforts toward optimal health.
Looking for a little help getting started? Consider Nutrilite Reset 30, a 30-day program to help you develop healthy habits around nutrition, physical activity, mindset and hydration to help you reset and refresh your mind and body.
Take that first step, and then the next one, and then the next one, and before you know it, you’ll be living the new, healthy life you want for yourself.