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The 3 Best Ways to Start A New Healthy Habit & Make It Stick (Scientifically Proven)

how to start a healthy habit

Let me ask you this:

How many times have you tried to start a healthy habit in the past, only to give up a week or two later?

Perhaps you wanted to start exercising consistently, eat better, read more, or something else.

And you probably did well initially. You were able to push through and achieve some results. But once the motivation faded, you were left asking yourself, “Why am I even bothering?”

Indeed, building better habits seems complicated, even impossible at times. I’ve struggled with it, and you’ve probably had trouble, too. Luckily, with the right tactics, you can make the process a whole lot easier 😊

Here is How to Start a New Healthy Habit

Below, we’ll examine three actionable and effective tactics to increase your chances of success. Let’s have a look!

1. Write your new habit down, even if it is just one sentence (What, How long, Where, When)

Before we dive into this tactic, I’d first like to give you some food for thought:

How clear were you on the objectives when you’ve tried to establish good habits in the past? Did you consider each detail, or did you go about it vaguely: “I want to exercise more” or “I need to stop eating so many cookies or deserts”.

Research shows that having concrete plans significantly increases our chances of success.  A study featured in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that 91% of participants who wrote down a plan, including “when” and “where” they would exercise, followed through  with their exercise habits (versus only 35% for those who did not). Other research also finds this to be true (2, 3, 4).

Every time participants get clear on their objectives and have a written plan, rates of success skyrocket. The great news is, this works great for starting new healthy habits.

So try writing down the following to start a new healthy habit successfully: 

  • What the habit is
  • How long it will take
  • Where it will take place
  • When it will take place

Here is how it would look like if you want to start a new daily fitness routine:

Do a Youtube workout (What) for twenty minutes (How long) in my living room (Where) at 6 PM (When).

2. Start your new habit with something you are already doing regularly

Take advantage of actions or habits you’ve already established successfully.

For example, say that you always make your bed in the morning. You can use this simple habit to start other habits like stretching or meditating.

For instance:

  • After I make my bed, I will stretch for two minutes.
  • After I get back home, I will immediately put my workout clothes on.
  • After I get in bed for the night, I will read for ten minutes.

As you can see, these are all common things we do each day, and it’s just easier to use these established habits to start new habits. You can even bundle several actions together. For example:

Make your bed -> Stretch -> Do 20 push-ups -> Eat a healthy breakfast

James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits”, called this “Habit stacking”. It’s a tip that BJ Foggs also described in his book “Tiny Habits”. Both excellent books on building habits.

3. Design your home to support your new habit

Anne Thorndike from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston came up with an interesting theory (5). She designed a six-month experiment where drink options in a hospital cafeteria were changed. Specifically, they added water bottles in the refrigerators, next to the sodas. They also added water bottles at several key places, next to food in the cafeteria.

Within three months, the results were impressive:

Soda sales dropped 11 percent

Water sales increased 25 percent

This experiment is fantastic because it tells us something about the way we behave and make healthy or unhealthy choices. We sometimes make unhealthy choices not because we necessarily crave a given food or drink but because it is convenient (6).

So, what does this mean for you?

Well, if you want to eat healthier foods, make them more obvious and abundant in your home. For example, put a bowl full of fruit on the kitchen table. That way, each time you enter the kitchen, you’re presented with a reminder: There is fresh fruit right there.

If you want to consume less of certain foods and drinks, make them a little more challenging to get. The best thing you can do would be not to buy them altogether. But, if they happen to make their way to your home (somehow!!), hide them somewhere you don’t see them often. For example, stash them near the back of the fridge, in the pantry, or in a kitchen drawer you don’t check often.

Designing your home to support your new habit will help you follow-through.

Check out these related posts:

Healthy Habits for a Happier Life

5 Healthy Food Habits You Can Start Adopting Immediately

How to Build Healthy Fitness Habits to Elevate Your Health and Happiness

The 3 Best Ways to Start A New Healthy Habit & Make It Stick (Scientifically Proven)

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Erika @ In Search of Better

Wednesday 24th of February 2021

These are great tips!! I really like the idea of habit stacking, that's brilliant.

I talk a lot too about being very specific in your goals, and I also use that technique for chores! For example, instead of writing "laundry" on my to-do list I write "do 1 load of laundry" and then "fold laundry" as a separate task. This works great, especially when you're easily overwhelmed, because you spell out exactly what has to be done which somehow makes it easier to do, and you also get the dopamine rush of crossing off more boxes! :)


Friday 26th of February 2021

Thanks Erika!

After completing a few tasks that were not on my to-do list, I also like to add them to my list just for the pleasure of crossing off more boxes :)