How to start a healthy habit – and make it stick
We constantly hear how important it is to get enough sleep, exercise and eat well. So why can it feel so hard sometimes?
Integrating healthy habits into our lives takes a few important ingredients, but one major one – repetition. Here are some tips for setting yourself up for success and making healthy habits stay around for good.
Define your goals – and your blockers
Research suggests understanding why you’re starting a new habit is important motivation.1
For example, you might want to start feeling more energised throughout the day and as such need more sleep. From there, you can ask what’s holding you back. It could be that you’re getting stuck scrolling on your phone as you simply go to set your morning alarm. After identifying the ‘why’ and the barriers, you can problem-solve.
You don’t need to start too big
Small steps can be the best way to ease into a new habit.2 If you want to start exercising more, online or app-based classes can be a great way of easing into things. Maybe you commit to two in-person classes a week. Look at your schedule and be realistic about what’s achievable, as opposed to going overboard too early. This will help in sustaining your habit.
Stack your habits
To kick off new, simple habits, ‘stack’ them with existing ones. Look at your routine and think about how you can add new habits to things you already do. It could be journaling for five minutes as you drink your morning coffee or doing night-time stretches during your skincare routine.
Use temptation to your advantage
For the habits you don’t enjoy but you really want to stick, be a little more strategic. Combine something you enjoy doing, like listening to a podcast, with something you don’t necessarily like doing, like meal-prepping for the week. Experts call this ‘temptation bundling’3 . Pairing the fun things with not-so-fun things might help move things along!
Allow for some flexibility
It’s important to be compassionate with yourself. There will be days when you don’t stick with your habit – life simply gets in the way. Don’t be too hard on yourself when this happens. Equally, try to stay disciplined and don’t allow for too many concessions. Long-term change will take time and dedication.
Shifting habits can take a lot of commitment, so it’s worth tracking your progress and celebrating. This could be recording new personal bests at the gym or getting a healthy snack with a workout partner that helps keep you accountable. This can help with motivation, confidence and the desire to start other healthy habits.
- Rothman, Alexander J., Peter M. Gollwitzer, Adam M. Grant, David T. Neal, Paschal Sheeran, and Wendy Wood. 2015. “Hale and Hearty Policies.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 10 (6): 701–5. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691615598515.
- Huang, Szu-chi, Liyin Jin, and Ying Zhang. 2017. “Step by Step: Sub-Goals as a Source of Motivation.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 141 (July): 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.obhdp.2017.05.001.
- Milkman, Katherine L., Julia A. Minson, and Kevin G. M. Volpp. 2014. “Holding the Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym: An Evaluation of Temptation Bundling.” Management Science 60 (2): 283–99. https://doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2013.1784.
Last updated: January 23, 2024 at: 12:45 pm