Building healthy habits is essential to living a healthy life, but if you’re like millions of other people you’ve discovered that building new, healthy habits can be very challenging despite the actions the habits themselves being relatively easy. Luckily, we’ve got some great tips for how to build healthy habits that will actually stick! Get ready to learn how to build healthy habits in an easy, fun, and motivating way…
| WHAT IS A HABIT?
A habit is a routine or practice performed regularly; an automatic response to a specific situation. We build habits to make life easier to live. Imagine if we have to think and make a decision about every. single. thing. we do, say, think, and act on. We would be exhausted and have no energy to learn or adapt to new situations in life, at work, at school, on the freeway, or anywhere else you might find yourself. Think about it… by now driving a car is a habit for you. When you were first learning you had to remember to check your mirror, flick on your turn signal, make sure you’re driving the speed limit, check you aren’t tail-gating, look over your shoulder and check your mirrors before switching lanes, and so on… now it all happens without you needing to think extra hard about it. Let’s also remember how long it took to build that habit of being comfortable behind the wheel of a car. It didn’t happen over night, and neither will new habits you are trying to build… but we can make the process much more manageable, easy, and ultimately successful.
| HOW TO BUILD HEALTHY HABITS: KEEP IT SIMPLE
All too often when we start to build healthy habits we think “go big or go home” is the best way to get results. Unfortunately, that mindset doesn’t work that well for the majority of people. In fact, it’s the opposite that works the best for almost everyone… start small. Keep it simple. Make the habit easy, manageable, and doable every single day. We live in a world where we’re told that to have massive success, we need to make massive, drastic changes. In reality, making small, subtle changes that we can stick with over time carry bigger, better results. Think about it this way: If you’re goal is to get fit and keep a healthy habit of going to the gym, but you barely exercise at all right now… you can’t make a goal of “going to the gym 5x/week” and expect to be successful. That is a HUGE shift in your daily habit routine, and it would be quite a large new habit to build right away. Instead, a goal of going to the gym once a week after work is something you can easily do, is manageable, and you can no doubt be successful at. It’s all about making changes that boost your performance 1% at a time. Just do 1% better than you did last time, and you’re making progress that’s manageable, obtainable, and keeps you motivated to come back for more! So… start out with a small change, then build on that change once it’s turned into a habit: something you do without thinking about it.
Food for thought: Every Olympian wants to win their sport, and when they do the losers tend to think something along the lines of “wow… they must have been training so hard and had such crazy to goals to win! I didn’t work and enough.” In reality, those winners are the people who are focusing on pushing themselves 1% further as often as they can and building healthy habits that make achieving those goals that much easier. It can be as simple as holding a plank for 1 more second than last time, driving to the gym after work for two days a week instead of one, Meditations for 3 minutes instead of 2. Small changes delivered big results over time. Small hinges swing large doors.
| HOW TO BUILD HEALTHY HABITS: WHY THEY MATTER
There are three levels of change that occurs when we build habits the right way: Outcome Change , Process Change, and Identity Change. Our habits shape our behavior, and our behavior becomes part of our identity. The most effective way to build healthy habits not to focus on the result you want (lose weight, job promotion, start a new business), but to focus and imagine the kind of person you want to be. Who do you wish to become? You don’t want to lose weight, you want to be someone is healthy and habitually works out. You don’t want a job promotion, you want to be someone who is confident in the work the produce and earns more money and a higher status at work because of the habits that have built that confidence in their work. You don’t want to start a new business, you want to be someone who successfully built and runs their own business. Imagine that person-imagine yourself exactly as you want to be. If you can have that vision to hold on to you are much more likely to be able to work towards becoming them… in fact, you are that person! They simply exist in the future… that vision is your future self who has built new, healthy habits that support your dreams, goals and desires.
Your identity emerges out of your habits, and every action you take throughout the day is a vote for the type of person you want to become. Now, it makes sense that to become the best version of yourself you need to continually vote in favor of that version of you. If you are able to continually cast those healthy votes, you will eventually evolve your beliefs and habits to reflect the new version of yourself. Why habits really matter is, while they can get you results you are seeking, what they really do is change your beliefs about yourself. Those beliefs become reality.
| HOW TO BUILD HEALTHY HABITS: 4 SIMPLE STEPS
For an action to become a habit it needs to be repeated enough to become automatic… something you don’t even need to think about, like holding a pen. The ultimate, most simplified purpose of habits is to solve the problems of life with as little energy as possible. They less you need to consciously make choices, the more energy you store. This is why so many successful people wear the same thing every day-they never have to think about what to wear. They just put on their “uniform” and get to work. No effort lost in picking out a shirt that matches with a new pair of pants or shoes.
Any habit can be directed and broken down into what is known as a feedback loop- how our brain learns! The loop involves four steps: cue, craving, response, and reward. Now… sometimes cues can be something we’re not even aware of. Maybe you saw a commercial on TV for fast food, then all of sudden you find yourself eating a bag of potato chips! This is very common, so recognizing cues can help us to break bad habits as well as build new ones. When building new habits, each part of the habit loop has a question paired with it to help you stay on track. When choosing your cue, ask yourself “How can I make it obvious?” When choosing your craving, ask yourself “How can I make it attractive?” When choosing your response, ask yourself “How can I make it easy?” When choosing your reward, ask yourself “How can I make it satisfying?”
So, let’s say you’re trying to build a habit to do 10 push-ups every week day. How can you make this happen? First, you need to pick an obvious cue. The cue needs to be something you will do everyday around the same time. Maybe taking your lunch break? When you get up from your desk to begin lunch, get down on the ground and perform 10 push ups immediately. That’s your cue… now, how do we make it attractive? Maybe you have a motivational saying on your desk you read beforehand, you envision yourself becoming stronger with every push, or maybe you have a nice yoga mat you lay out in order to make this new habit more fun! Next comes response, you need to make it easy. Once you’re down on that mat, busting out those 10 push ups is easy. That’s all you have to do before getting to lunch! Your reward (remember to make it satisfying)… well, for one, you get to go eat your lunch! Second, you could start a reward fund. Maybe you stick a few dollars in a jar designated for a new shirt or pair of pants every time you complete this new habit. Seeing that money pile up in that jar, knowing soon you’ll be able to treat yourself is a great way to make the habit rewarding, satisfying, and stay motivated to continue. Now, we want to be as specific as possible with time, place, and action. This way, you can’t skimp out and say “oh… I’ll just do it later.” We all know how that works out (it usually doesn’t!). So for this habit building example, you would with down “Every week day after I log off my computer for lunch, I will immediately lay down my mat and perform 10 push ups. Once I complete my push ups I will put $2 in my reward jar.” Now… don’t just write this down. Schedule the 5 minutes it takes to perform the 10 push ups into your calendar every day so you can check it off your list (which is a reward in itself), and never forget to complete it.
| HOW TO BUILD HEALTHY HABITS: BREAK BAD HABITS
Everything we just discussing in building healthy habits can be used in the exact opposite way to break bad habits! Step one: Make the cue invisible. Let’s stick with the TV commercial cuing you to eat a bag of chips. How do we make this cue invisible? Any time there is a commercial get up and walk away from your seat. You can even mute the TV. Do what you can to make sure that cue doesn’t pop up and sabotage your efforts towards building a new healthy habit. Step two: make it unattractive. Here, we want to highlight the benefits of following through on your GOOD habit while avoiding your bad habit. So, instead of focusing on how you would like to eat a ton of chips, focus on how good you will feel in 10 minutes when you’ve honored your goals, you don’t feel guilty, your don’t feel bloated, and you haven’t spoiled your next meal! Remember, each time you stick with a good habit you are casting a vote for the person you want to become. For the third part of the habit loop, you want to make that old habit difficult. Remember those chips you guzzled down after seeing that TV commercial? Well… make the chips difficult to reach. Keep them out of site on the highest shelf, or better yet, don’t keep chips in your home! That way, if the craving hits, you would have to put in a TON of effort to walk to your car, drive to they store, buy chips, drive home, sit on the couch, turn on the TV, open the bag, and start eating. It’s too much effort for a habit where the reward falls short and leaves you feeling worse once you realized you just ate an entire bag of chips when your goal is to start working out 3x/week. Step four is to make this old habit unsatisfying. There are many ways you can make an old habit unsatisfying, but some one the best are to either have a dedicated accountability partner. This is someone who knows your new habit goal and is willing to call you out and keep you accountable when needed. This is a person you can contact when you’re feeling the pull to act in your unwanted, bad habit manner. Having a support system is crucial for breaking the old, and building the new habits. A second, more intense way to do this is to create a habit contract. Draft up a simple contract with someone you know and trust, and every time you perform your bad habit your approved penalty is enacted. This could Venmoing your spouse $10 every time you cave, or having to post an embarrassing photo of yourself on social media. Pick a penalty that isn’t going to scar you, but sill keep you motivated to stay on track.
| HOW TO BUILD HEALTHY HABITS: HABIT STACK
Habit stacking is a well known, very effective way to build new, healthy habits. You pick one habit you already perform everyday- for instance brushing your teeth, or making a cup of coffee. Then you pick our new habit you would like to build and perform it immediately after your established habit. For example: After brushing your teeth you perform 10 squats. After making a cup of coffee you journal or meditate for 5 minutes. You still want to keep the new habit simple. Perhaps your goal is to eventually meditate for 20 minuets a day… But if you haven’t started you meditation practice, 2-5 minutes would be a better mini goal to establish first. Then, once making a cup of coffee and meditating for 5 minutes is a habit, you can increase your time to 7 minutes, then 12, and eventually up to 20! To learn more about habit stacking, check out this blog: How To Become A Morning Person.
This blog is based off the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. To read the book and learn more about building healthy habits, click here: Atomic Habits, James Clear