5 ways to adopt a healthy habit and stick to it
Habits are, unsurprisingly, habitual. But how do we make sure these everyday tasks are meaningful? Vitality finds out
Building good habits in our life takes time and patience. But knowing where to begin and what to do can often be the most difficult part.
Did you know that habits account for around 40% of our behaviours on any given day? That’s without us even knowing.
So, what is a habit? James Clear, author of New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits, explains “habits are the small decisions you make and actions you perform every day”.
Adopting new, positive habits not only makes you feel good but may protect you from health problems and encourage you to live a healthier lifestyle, the NIH (National Institute of Health) tells us.
And, according to Clear, we can fully integrate a new habit in your day-to-day life in an average of 66 days (around two months).
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to successfully adopt a healthy habit.
“There are a number of reasons why people find it difficult to stick to their resolutions, and many of these are founded in behavioural science,” says Dr Katie Tryon, Behaviour Change Expert and Director of Health Strategy at Vitality.
“Many of us are overconfident, which means we overestimate our ability to achieve certain resolutions and do not anticipate challenges we may face along the way, so we eventually give up.”
But by reframing how we take on resolutions can make the goals we set ourselves much more, not only manageable, but achievable. One way to overcome this is to start small and set ourselves "micro-resolutions", says Dr Katie.
By definition a micro, or ‘mini’, resolution is a behaviour that we commit to for four weeks. Not done in isolation, however, these can ladder up to a macro-resolution, such as eating healthier or exercising more.
She adds: “With micro-resolutions, it is far easier to estimate the effort required to achieve them and easier to plan for in our normal day-to-day life, so this overcomes any issues of overconfidence and poor planning.”
Dr Katie acknowledges, though, that in order to achieve our goals, we must also overcome something known as hyperbolic discounting.
This is when we choose smaller, more immediate rewards over those that come later and require more effort.
If the end-goal achieved through making a change is far in the future (like health improvement), it is helpful to give yourself small things - like little rewards - to keep you motivated along the way, she adds.
“Rome wasn't built in a day”
“Rome wasn't built in a day”
“Small and consistent short-term changes can result in habit formation, which is the key to long term behavioural change.”
You can also make it easier to stick to your micro-resolution by being realistic about how you will fit your new challenge into your day, depending on your personality.
“For example, if you are not a morning person, it may be better to do physical activity later in the day otherwise you will always dread it.”
Remove what doesn’t support you
To avoid getting into situations that can steer you towards bad habits, it can be worth removing the activities that can trigger this type of behaviour.
For example, if you tend to hit snooze every morning, placing your alarm away from reach will trigger you to get out of bed in order to turn it off, this way you’re already out of bed and you can begin your day.
Drinking a glass of water after you wake up can also help you rise on a morning as your body starts to activate itself.
Establish a routine
Rebecca Patterson, Personal Growth and Acquisition Mentor at Forbes explains: “It's an absolute fact that if you can learn to do something consistently, you will discover much greater strengths and opportunities within yourself than you could have ever imagined.”
Having consistency with your new habits is a powerful tool to support changing your behaviour.
Once you’ve defined your healthy habits consider what time of day to do them and commit to them. And, what a better time to kick off new habits than the New Year. Research shows that more people are likely to visit the gym around fresh-start dates, such as the beginning of the year.
Set a checkpoint to review your progress
Tracking your progress and celebrating the small wins are important.
These help to keep you motivated.
Journaling or using a habit-tracker app, such as Habitica, can support you in measuring your success.
And, if you find yourself wandering off track, that’s ok, too.
It would be nice to be able to skip the hard work and experience the benefits straight away, but by being patient and dealing with the unexpected can often be the most rewarding part of the journey.
Keep reminding yourself why you’re investing time and effort into that habit. A good way to do this is by leaving post-it notes around your house, or on your bathroom mirror, so you can be reminded of your why you are committing to this habit.
Have a partner in crime
Finding a support network around you encourages, not only you to continue to form new habits, but motivates you to exceed them.
For example, if you choose to increase the number of times you do physical activity a week having someone to do it with has been found to up the intensity of your workout by 200%, according to findings from Kansas State University.
Alongside forming meaningful habits, having someone to talk to and seeking support can be incredibly beneficial for your mental health and improves your mood.
Ready for more?
If you’re feeling ready to take on more than one habit(otherwise known as ‘habit stacking’), remember to follow this process above and keep it simple so that you avoid feeling overwhelmed, stressed and burnt out with too much on your plate.
A final word from Dr Katie: “Small and consistent short term changes can result in habit formation, which is the key to long term behaviour change.
"We are all creatures of habit, and once changes are embedded in our habits, we are far more likely to stick to them.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day. The best thing is to develop micro resolutions, that can really become habits going forwards, as then you will stick to it.”
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