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How to make healthy habits stick

Creating (and maintaining!) healthy habits can take some time. Establishing new habits uses a lot of brain power and energy, so sometimes if we are feeling tired or stressed, it can be easy to revert back to an unhelpful habit. Here is a guide on how to make healthy habits stick.

Before you starting making big lofty goals, it's important to realise that small steps make for big victories.

Start really small

Contrary to everything you might hear in flashy advertisements, slow and steady wins the race. Small, incremental steps are the best way to move towards your goals with success. If you're trying to get more physically active, start with a 10-minute walk around your block a few times a week. If you want to reduce stress, try meditating for 5 minutes once a week. You may think this sounds too easy, but that's the point. Over time, you can increase your efforts and enjoy the benefit of these healthy activities without feeling that the journey was such a struggle.

Here are some strategies you can start with to help you maintain small & achievable habits and progress toward your goals.

1. Change your environment to make your habit easier. Seek positive support.

Who you associate with and things in your environment can add positive and negative inputs into your subconscious. It’s time to be selective and plan ahead.

Set up your environment to make it as easy as possible to perform your habit. If your healthy habit is to go for a morning walk, set an alarm on your phone, have your shoes and workout gear next to your bed, and ensure you fill your water bottle and put it in the fridge the day before. Establish the morning walk peer group or friend(s) who will be there to support you.

Build up an armoury of inspiration. This could mean making a pump-up playlist in iTunes, bookmarking uplifting websites, buying a few great books, or sticky-noting powerful quotes above your desk. Seek out diverse sources to inflame your passion.

By thinking a few steps ahead of what you might need, you can change your environment to positively support and reduce challenges, making it as easy as possible for you to perform your habit.

More ideas to inspire you

  • RUN EVERY MORNING: Go to sleep with your running shoes at the foot of your bed, with your running uniform laid out already. Hell, you can sleep in your running/workout clothes. Put your alarm clock on the other side of the room so you HAVE to get out of bed to turn it off.

  • GO TO THE GYM AFTER WORK: Pack your gym bag BEFORE going to sleep the night before. That way, every morning you already have a bag to throw in your car or bring with you. As soon as 5pm hits, you are in your car on your way to the gym. (Don’t want to head to the gym? Here’s how to build a gym in your home). Set up a weekly schedule to go to the gym with your friend.

  • EAT HEALTHIER: Don’t give yourself the option of not eating healthy – throw out the junk food in your house and start preparing meals the night before. Put a lock on your web browser from ordering pizza online (yes, you can do that now), and don’t drive down the street full of fast food places.

  • HEALTHY EATING: Consider batch cooking! If cooking healthy meals every night sounds like way too much work (I hear you on that), consider doing it all on ONE day – it’s a significant time-saver, and it also will reduce the steps between you and healthy eating because the meal is already cooked and in the fridge!

2. Piggyback your new habit with an existing habit

One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behaviour on top. This is called habit stacking.

Trying to create a habit to drink more water? Think of a habit you already perform each day without thinking about it (putting the kettle on, or brushing your teeth), and link your new desired habit to this existing habit. So every time you put the kettle on, or brush your teeth it will act as a trigger to drink a glass of water or do a morning strength workout for 4 minutes.

The key to making this work for you is finding the right trigger for your habit stack. Brainstorm a list of your current habits that you do without fail and then write a list of things that happen to you without fail. Armed with these two lists, you can begin searching for the best place to layer your new habit into your lifestyle. See example below.

Example of habit stacking

To improve "Healthy Eating", think "When I serve myself a meal, I will always put veggies on my plate first."

​Habits I already do

Things that happen to me without fail

​Get out of bed

The sun rises

Take a shower

You get a text message

Brush your teeth

The song you are listening to ends

Get dressed

The sun sets

Brew a cup of coffee

Finishing brushing your teeth

Eat breakfast

Finish your cup of coffee

3. Find joy. Make it fun!

A healthy life shouldn't feel like so much damned work. If it does, then you'll likely not stick with your new behaviours for too long.

Rather than taking some generic route to health, figure out what you can do to support a healthy life that also fits your personality, and empowers and excites you. When you design your life around things you love to do - activities that are uplifting and fun - it will stop requiring so much effort. Once you find the joy in living healthy, that's when the lifestyle will stick.

Some new habits might not feel too exciting at first (getting up for early morning walks might be difficult when we are warm in bed!). Think about ways you can make your new habit feel more exciting and rewarding.

More ideas to inspire you

  • Could you listen to an audiobook or podcast during your walk?

  • Speak to a friend on the phone while you prepare meals?

  • Enjoy a delicious barista coffee after a big hike?

Focus on giving yourself a reward system. Think of a loyalty system for yourself. For example, imagine you want to give up alcohol, or ice cream. On its own there is no satisfaction in simply abstaining, but what if you transferred $10 or 25 to your holiday or me-time bank account every week you went without the ice cream or alcohol? You’d be immediately rewarding yourself for your new habit!


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