I’ve struggled with adopting new healthy habits, and you’ve probably struggled, too.
I used to start with big, ambitious plans and goals. Think big or go home, right?
I would go to the gym for intense workouts, or stop eating sweet treats for a while. Only to go back to my previous habits within a few weeks (ok, sometimes within a few days!).
There must be something specific we can do about it, right? We all want to build healthy habits for life.
Well, I have learned a thing or two about building new healthy habits, and learned I was doing it all wrong. What has worked for me has been building moderate, but consistent new habits. I try to work on one new healthy habit until it truly becomes a habit and I hardly have to think about it anymore. Then, I move on to another habit. And I’ve become much better at building new healthy habits for life: over the last few years, I’ve improved my strength, weight, and nutrition through small changes at a time.
My 6 Favorite Tips to Build Healthy Habits For Life
Below are my six favorite tactics you can use to build habits that stick for life. These tactics truly make it so much easier to adopt and keep your new habits:
So let’s go:
1. Change Your Home to Make Your New Habits Very Visible
You might be surprised to learn that we often make choices in our daily lives simply based on their accessibility. For example, if you buy a box of cookies and leave it on the kitchen table, you are pretty much guaranteed to snack on them pretty quickly, right?
The great news is that it works the other way around: if you make these foods less accessible and instead fill your home with whole and nutritious foods, you are a lot more likely to start eating those!
And it will be sooooo much easier for you to build consistent new healthy habits if your home is designed to promote these new healthy choices.
Keep your home full of healthy options: a bowl of fruit on the kitchen table, oatmeal in the pantry, and healthy foods positioned front and center in your fridge. I like to have plenty of baby carrots and hummus in my fridge because I can easily snack on them (and avoid other had choices).
This applies to other aspects of health and self-improvement, too:
- If you want to read more, have a book on your nightstand
- If you want to watch less TV before bed, get the television out of your bedroom
- If you want to exercise at home, clear some space and lay out your fitness equipment
- If you want to drink more water, leave a few bottles in key places where you’re likely to see them often
2. Change Your Home to Avoid Poor Choices
Just like you want to promote new healthy habits and choices, you want to make it just a little harder to make poor choices. We should do what we can to avoid dealing with temptations and bad habits.
The name of the game is this: try to minimize temptations as much as possible. We human beings are just not good at dealing with temptations.
Forcing ourselves to resist the temptation doesn’t work for a long time because willpower only lasts for so long. Sure, we can fight it for a few hours, days, or weeks. But eventually, we will give in. We will eat a few cookies if the cookie jar is on our countertop.
People with seemingly superior self-control aren’t necessarily more disciplined. They might just have organized their lives better. In other words, they might not put themselves in situations that test their willpower as much.
For example, if you struggle with a specific trigger food, make it difficult to access. Stash it away where you don’t get to see it all the time or place it somewhere difficult to reach. If that doesn’t work, don’t buy that food in the first place.
More often than not, these extra hurdles are enough to prevent you from making poor choices.
3. Pick New Habits You Actually Enjoy
I used to think that health and fitness are dull but necessary aspects of life. Yep, that’s it, you need to suffer and go to the gym regularly if you want to be fit. Or you have to eat these awful vegetables if you want to be healthy.
The truth is, we need to find a routine and habits that we enjoy. Enjoying your new habit is a cornerstone of consistency and long-term results.
For example, you’ve probably come across statements like, “Do this training program to burn fat and get healthy.” A lot of people believe that these programs need to become an essential part of their journey, regardless of how it makes them feel. They accept the pain as part of the deal.
But ask yourself this:
If you don’t enjoy the process, how likely are you to stick with it? How well can you motivate yourself over and over again? Sure, you can do it for a bit, but once the excitement of the novelty wears off, you will give up. So find habits that you enjoy. Perhaps it’s a jog in the park with a friend. Or making sure that you have a full bowl of these apples that you love on your kitchen countertop.
Eating for weight loss is rarely a pleasurable feeling, but you can make it sustainable through sound tactics revolving around calorie tracking and flexible eating choices. You shouldn’t feel like your nutrition is prison.
The same goes for fitness. You should look forward to your upcoming workout. If you dread it, you’re doing something wrong.
4. Track How Well You Are Doing!
I love tracking my performance and seeing improvements. It keeps me going, maintains my motivation, and pushes me to do even more. Seeing progress is fantastic because it creates a positive feedback loop:
Work leads to results, which motivate us and push us to do even more work that delivers even more outstanding results.
You can use different tools to track your progress. What matters most is that you monitor your habits and stay consistent. In doing so, the data has more value and accuracy.
A great way to go about it is to make progress tracking automatic. For example, if you want to become more active and walk more each day, a great way to get started is to install a step-tracking app on your phone. Once installed, it tracks your activity and gives you actionable data every hour of the day. It’s easy because you don’t have to do anything. All you need to do is check it regularly, set actionable goals for each week, and go about your day.
Another thing you can do is track your consistency through a calendar, journal, or phone application. The goal is to log your work before or after completing it and make sure to do so each day.
Famous comedian Jerry Seinfeld used this strategy of never missing twice in a row. His goal was to write jokes every day, and he would have this rule of never missing twice in a row. In other words, if he didn’t write jokes one day, he would absolutely write the day after. In doing so, he never allowed himself to break the chain of consistency.
5. Share Your Healthy Habit with a Friend
One of the best ways to develop and stick with better habits is to make friends who share similar goals. The truth is, we are social creatures, and we tend to mimic the behaviors and habits of the people we surround ourselves with.
An interesting study illustrates this perfectly: The study observed more than 12,000 people for over thirty years. Researchers stated, “A person’s chances of becoming obese increased by 57% if he or she had a friend who became obese in a given interval. Among pairs of adult siblings, if one sibling became obese, the chance that the other would become obese increased by 40%. If one spouse became obese, the likelihood that the other spouse would become obese increased by 37%.”
For example, if you want to take up jogging, develop a friendship with a person who does this regularly. That way, you can keep each other accountable, stay motivated, and improve together. Alternatively, you can join groups where your desired actions or outcomes are the norm.
We need to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals who push us toward our desired actions that shape our desired outcomes. The question is, how? One way I’ve outlined in my article (4 ways to keep in touch with friends and family when you’re in lockdown – The (mostly) Simple Life) is to join a fitness class together.
6. Stack Your Habits
Whether you realize it or not, many of the things you do each day follow a trigger or cue. For example, if your phone buzzes (trigger), you pick it up and check the notification (habit).
This can be good and bad, depending on the context. For example, if a trigger leads to unhealthy behavior, that’s not good. Luckily, we can leverage our psychology to establish healthy habits for life.
Habit stacking is the act of bundling together different behaviors. For example, after a given action, you do something else.
“After getting back home, I will put on my workout clothes.”
In this example, going back home is the trigger, and putting your workout clothes on is the habit. You can also stack putting your workout clothes on with a warm-up routine for your workout. It would look like this:
Get back home -> Put workout clothes on -> Start warming up -> Exercise for half an hour
In this case, you would be using things you’re already doing as a trigger for other positive behaviors.
If you’re already good at doing something, use it as a trigger to follow up with another positive behavior in a similar category. For example, if you tend to make your bed as you wake up each morning, use it as a trigger to follow up with five minutes of meditation.
So… there you have it. I hope these strategies work for you. I know it’s a lot to digest, but get started in a small way. Pick one or two strategies that can help build great new healhy habits.
Here are the 6 strategies in summary to help build new healthy habits for life:
1. Design Your Home to Make Your New Healthy Habits Very Visible
2. Design Your Home to Avoid Poor Choices
3. Pick New Habits You Actually Enjoy
4. Track How Well You Are Doing!
5. Share the Healthy Habit with a Friend
6. Stack Your Habits