Somerset Maugham summed it up pretty well when he said:
“An unfortunate thing about this world is that the good habits are much easier to give up than the bad ones.”
Almost everyone at some point has set a goal or resolution to form a healthy habit, only to give up on it shortly afterward. But is it possible to turn a healthy lifestyle into a routine? To develop a rock-solid mindset? And how can we form good habits that stick?
Create Clear Intentions and Systems
When we decide to start a new habit, many of us want to overhaul our whole lives, all in one go. “I’m going to get fit,” we say, or “I’m going to be more productive!” “I’m going to eat healthier!” While these are all great things to aim for, they are so broad and lofty that it can be impossible to know where to begin or when you’ll get there. When faced with this seemingly insurmountable mountain, giving up is suddenly much more tempting and easy.
Instead, try breaking your grand plan into smaller and much more specific and incremental process steps, picking one habit to start incorporating into your life. Instead of saying “I’m going to eat more greens,” a much more achievable way to start might be to set the specific intention that “I’m going to eat a leafy green vegetable with one meal a day” or “I’m going to swap my afternoon cookie for a piece of fruit three times a week.”
You can also use a process called habit stacking to associate your desired new habit with an existing habit. For example, you could say “Whenever I go to the fridge, I’ll first look for a piece of fruit or veggie to snack on.”
Not only will these small steps feel less daunting, but your success will be much easier to measure, giving you a greater sense of achievement and motivation to keep up the new habit. After you have successfully mastered one small step like this, you can start adding in more challenging goals.
Make Habits More Attractive
This idea is pretty simple: if you like doing something, you’re more likely to want to do it often. Yet many of us think of healthy habits as tiring, boring, or just plain unenjoyable. After all, doing things that are good for you can’t actually be fun, right? Wrong!
If you want to exercise more, it doesn’t just have to be running or hitting the gym (though it can be if that’s what you enjoy). Why not try out a couple of different activities to see which ones you actually like? Things like rock-climbing, swimming, dancing, kickboxing, yoga or soccer can all be a great way to get active without feeling like you’re punishing yourself.
Similarly, if you’re trying to eat a more balanced diet, look for healthy foods that you actually enjoy eating. Nutritious food doesn’t need to feel like you’re dieting – it can still be tasty!
Finally, another proven technique is to pair your new desired habit with an existing activity that you enjoy. For example, if your desired new habit is to practice being more mindful and centered, you could commit (new habits) to sitting quietly for 1 – 2 minutes and connecting with your breath before you dive into Netflix or social media (existing habit).
A Problem Shared is a Problem Halved
When you’re trying to build a healthy habit, it’s important to use all the tools that you have available to you. One of the most important resources available to most people is the support of other people! These could be friends, family, or colleagues – if you all share the same goal. Alternatively, look for groups locally or online that you could join up with in order to help your new habit stick.
Looking to run more? See if there is a local running group suited to your level, like Couch to 5k or a local ParkRun. If you’re trying to read more, find a local reading group – or start your own! Hoping to start eating healthier? Try to find local cooking groups that will help you to learn to make healthy recipes. If these don’t exist near you, look online for forums on that specific topic – you’ll be amazed at how many people are also trying to build that same healthy habits.
Once you have found the right group, you’ll find it’s an amazing resource for sharing tips and tricks, as well as keeping each other on track.