If you’re setting resolutions or goals this year, they need to be done right. Otherwise, they might not stick past January (yeah, we’ve been there). The key to behavior and lifestyle change is to create a habit — something that starts out as a choice but eventually becomes second nature. When you create a new habit, the behavior is repeated regularly until it becomes automatic, even on a subconscious level.
But building new habits is tough, especially health-related ones. When life gets busy, our default behavior kicks in and our healthy habits get left behind. And this is where most people give up. We hit a bump in the road and get totally off track. We feel like we’ve failed and that’s the end of it. But it doesn’t have to be this way!
Here’s how to create new habits that stick:
In order to build a new habit, you need to do some mental training. There are three steps involved. First, identify the healthy behavior and then the trigger or cue to start it. Finally, create a reward for the behavior. Here’s how this actually works:
1. Routine Behavior
This is the action itself. If your goal is to exercise consistently, then the action is exercising. Depending on what you enjoy, this could be going to the gym 3 days a week or pounding the pavement with a daily run.
The cue is what reminds you of the behavior. For your daily run, the cue may be an alert in your calendar that goes off daily as a reminder to do your activity. Your cue could also be waking up, or getting home from work, which triggers you to head to the gym or go for a run.
The final part of building a new habit is the reward. This is basically bribery but it actually works! With each healthy behavior, if you associate it with a positive reward, you’re more likely to repeat the behavior which is how a new healthy habit is formed. Make sure to reward your behavior with a healthy reward. If you start with a walk every morning, reward yourself by purchasing a new audiobook to listen to while you walk. Or, save your favorite Netflix show to watch while you ride the stationary bike. You can even set mini-goals, and build up to better rewards with each goal achieved. For example, buy yourself new running shoes or new workout clothes once you’ve met your weekly goals for an entire month.
A few extra life hacks to help you achieve your goals:
Don’t pick a healthy habit you hate. If you hate running, don’t force yourself to do it. Choose a different activity you enjoy. Hiking, swimming, dancing, hot yoga, or a 30 minute HIIT workout might be more up your alley.
Find an accountability partner. A great way to not miss a workout? Schedule gym time with a friend. Knowing someone is there waiting for you is a great way to get you out the door when you’d rather stay in.
Start small. Want to move daily? For the first week, go for a 5-minute walk every day. That’s it, just 5 minutes. The repetition of doing the activity daily is what matters, not the time. As the activity becomes a habit you never miss, slowly increase the time to your desired amount.
Build one habit at a time. The smaller and simpler your goal is, the more likely you are to create a new habit and reach your goal. Remember the KISS acronym, Keep It Simple, Sweetheart!
This year, pick just ONE habit you want to create. Identify the cue that will remind you to do it, then identify potential rewards. Building habits isn’t easy, but it’s the best way to actually reach your goals. If you want to set and keep your New Year's resolution this year (maybe for the first time ever), follow these tips to create a new healthy habit! What’s your goal for 2020?
While January is a time to start fresh, it’s important to get into the right mindset before attempting change. Starting out in a place of self-acceptance, we can decide to make a lifestyle change to support our health and wellbeing.