At the beginning of the year, you set specific goals, some may have included healthy habits. You were going to exercise more, make healthy food choices, and lose weight. Perhaps this was the year where you were going to be intentional about your mental health. But let’s be honest, a mere month later, most people will forget those resolutions and default to habits that don’t support good health. And of course, COVID-19 threw a wrench into some of those plans.
Between your own tendency to fall off the wagon (and don’t we all?) and an unprecedented pandemic, your plans to build healthy habits may have fallen by the wayside. So what can a person do to build and maintain habits even when the circumstances are stacked against them?
What makes health habits stick? In this post, we will talk about 3 practical ways to make sure the healthy habits you want to adopt become real personal habits for you.
3 Ways To Make Healthy Habits Stick
Make it easy
Psychological research shows that the harder you make a task, the less likely people are to follow through. The same goes for personal habits you want to build.
If you make exercise and eating healthy a tiresome chore, you are not likely to stick with it. So make it easier on yourself.
- For instance, if you want to exercise in the morning, lay out your work-out clothes and shoes the night before. When you wake up in the morning, it won’t be a struggle to find your work-out clothes and you’re more likely to put them on to exercise.
- Another example: if your refrigerator is full of unhealthy food choices, eating healthy becomes difficult. Thus, fill your fridge up with more healthy choices and you’re more likely to follow through.
Find the easiest path to success with your goals and it is likely you’ll stick with it.
Couple your new health habit with another activity that is exciting for you
If you have activities you enjoy, you can couple the new habit you’re working on with that other activity. For instance, if you already love to listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks, why don’t you make it a part of your exercise routine?
Like the feeling that comes with saving money? Why not reward yourself for replacing an unhealthy snack with a healthy one by moving $1 into a special bank account. There are many ways you can “self-incentivize”. Why is doing this so effective? It has to do with the way we perceive rewards and punishment.
If you associate being healthy with punishment – a negative idea – the chances are that you will not want to engage in building up those healthy habits.
On the other hand, if you associate an activity with warm and positive feelings, then it is likely that you would engage in the activity again.
Research shows us that people are more likely to participate in an activity when there is peer pressure. Peer pressure can be both negative and positive. In this instance, we are talking about positive peer pressure. That sort of peer pressure allows people to be accountable.
Popular exercise and diet programs have gained their virality partly from this idea of accountability and peer pressure.
If you’re on the Weightwatchers program and you lose weight, you may celebrate that on social media using specific hashtags. You may even be featured in advertising material for the company. This influences people who want those results for themselves.
While it doesn’t seem that way at first, this public display of how successful a weight loss program is is to invoke that feeling of “wow, if they did it, then so can I!” This is why there are forums, Facebook communities, and even in-person conferences for popular exercise and weight loss programs.
It is also why wearable technology companies allow you to share your progress with friends and family. If you want to start a habit that sticks, one of the best gifts you can give yourself is the gift of accountability.
This may show up in multiple ways.
- You may hire a coach to help you with eating and exercising right
- You may join free social media communities organized by fitness and wellness companies
- You could also join paid communities that will provide you this accountability
- Or you could simply work with a friend/sister/brother to help you stay accountable
It is not all or nothing
There is a principle in neuroscience informally called “all or nothing”. This “all or nothing” principle describes the activity of nerves – nerves either fire and transmits signals to your brain, or they don’t.
There is no halfway point. Unfortunately, people use this idea to give up on their habits when they fail a few times.
Building up habits and making them stick is a lifelong endeavor. You get to decide which habits you want to build and the reality is that you can course-correct at any point.
It’s important to realize it is a process. Be kind to yourself and get back up again.